Yoga as a movement modality is not enough on its own. There, I said it. Not your friend who's obsessed with Crossfit, not that personal trainer at your local gym, or the fitness influencer on your news feed. Me: a seasoned Yoga practitioner who loves the practice but has learned that it is not as well-rounded as our bodies need it to be.
"Do you just do Yoga?". Oh wow. Once upon a time this question was enough to make my blood boil. A dedicated Yogi and advocate of the million-and-one benefits of the practice, I used to get SO defensive anytime anyone asked me this.
I suspect this was partly due to my emotional connection to the practice, but also because it was the only form of movement I practiced for many years. I never felt a need to do any other form of physical exercise (beyond my weekly 5 Kilometre runs which had been in my fitness regimen since I was young) because Yoga, in my view then, gave me everything I needed. It made me STRONG, mentally and physically. After all, it was a dedicated daily Yoga practice that took me from not being able to do a single push-up, to being able to out-muscle even the most frequent gym goers in push-up repetitions.
So what changed my mind?
Some Yoga related, others not. But all of them stemming from my very limited movement regimen. And through my years of teaching, I've come to understand that my experience is one of many.
I still love the practice of Yoga so much, don't get me wrong. I will always love Yoga. It has not only given me a career that I adore, but it's pulled me out of some of the loneliest, darkest moments of my life and given me a space to heal and grow.
However, I've come to realise that it is a movement modality that repetitively works a very limited range of movements, which means that while some muscles get worked a TON, others barely see any action. And while this imbalanced stress on the body isn't critical if you're a once-a-week kinda Yogi, it can be if you're practicing frequently.
Indulge my inner Yoga nerd for a moment while I explain.
Yoga primarily trains two types of movements: "pushing" motions (think like plank or Chaturanga) and flexibility (the ultimate demonstration of this being the coveted "splits" or, Hanumanasana).
The pushing motions we see in Yoga work the anterior (front) of the upper body, strengthening primarily the muscles of the chest (pectoral muscles) and tend to neglect the supporting muscles that appear on the backline of the body. This overtraining of the frontline over time can lead to imbalances, muscle tightness, loss of range of motion (particularly in the shoulders), joint pain (wrists, elbows, shoulders) and poor posture.
Likewise, it's no secret that there is a huge demand for flexibility in the Yoga repertoire, particularly hamstring flexibility. However, when this area of the body and the supporting muscles (namely the glutes) is repeatedly stretched over and over again without being properly strengthened, the tissues can become lax and weak resulting all too often in muscle tears, joint instability (hips and SI joint) and damage to the connective tissues.
And sadly these injuries, amongst others, are common place in the Yoga world. For years there weren't many conversations happening about injuries in Yoga. It was seen to be a fairly "low-impact" form of movement, even prescribed by doctors for patients recovering from injuries. And so, if you suffered from an injury, chances are you hid it or blamed it on something other than the Yoga (like I did).
I learned better when I took a trip to see a physiotherapist about, what I would later discover was, a torn pectoral muscle. I was told that my years of Chaturanga-ing had shortened and stiffened the muscles in my chest making them vulnerable to tear and forcing other muscles to work even harder (like my deltoids). On the other-hand, the muscles in my back-body were severely under-used and basically, weak as shit. Common imbalances, I was told, for Yoga practitioners. After a series of manual releases, dry needling appointments, and some daily rehab exercises I was able to get back on the mat and revive my love of Chaturanga!
Well not really.
I did go back to practicing but couldn't stop thinking about the fact that it wasn't bad form, or terrible alignment, or an unsafe practice that caused this. It was the movements in the practice themselves and their repetitive nature and me not doing anything to balance that out. So I began to wonder, if I didn't want to be marching my ass to the physio every month to fix the host of imbalances accumulating in my body (which I can tell you only gets wayyyy harder after you turn 30), then what? What exactly can be done to establish a more sustainable Yoga practice?
I don’t think the answer is to try and “fix” the practice by shoving more mobility and strength drills into yoga classes that are already short enough (because let’s be real, 5 minutes of drills in an hour-long class is hardly enough to strengthen anything). I think the practice of Yoga is so wonderful and significant and deserves its own moment.
In order to create meaningful impact, I advocate for complementing Yoga with movement practices that work: 1) cardiovascular exercise, 2) opposing actions like "pulling" and, 3) muscle strengthening for areas and supporting muscles that are repeatedly being lengthened. Movements like, rock climbing, weight training, pull ups, reformer pilates, cycling, rowing and resistance trainings are all great examples.
Knowing that Yoga (the practice that I love so much and want to be able to practice sustainably for a long time to come) needs a little help, is a huge part of why I created the IMMERSION workouts that we offer on OMOLOGY ONLINE. It is a separate moment to train the muscle activations & cardiovascular exercise that are not typically seen in the Yoga repertoire, but that our bodies need to maintain a sustainable and strong movement practice.
And for the record, I think this goes for all movement practices. We all have our preferred form of movement but surely you've heard the saying "too much of a good thing is a bad thing"? Diversity is the key. Bodies enjoy moving in all kinds of different ways. They're designed to! So whether you're an avid Yogi, a marathon runner or a weightlifter, a diverse movement practice is a sustainable one.
And before the Yogi's in the audience ask, because I know you will ;) ...No, you will not “bulk up”, you will not turn into the hulk, and you will not “lose” your flexibility progress by strengthening your muscles.
In fact, you might *sustainably* maintain your flexibility along with years of pain-free practice.