Let me start out by saying that I hate the gym. I hate elliptical machines, I hate grimy weight benches, I hate waiting in line and splitting sets. I hate complicated machinery, and running on a treadmill makes me feel like a hamster. Then why have I spent so much time there? For a long time I thought it was the only way to stay in shape. It’s what I was taught at school, you do 20-30 min of cardio, 20 min of strength training and then 10 min of cool down and stretching. First of all how does that make any sense at all, second who can actually manage to stick with that? If you’re like me then chances are you skimp out on at least one of these aspect. Most guys will skimp on the stretching and the cardio, most women will skimp on the strength and stretching. I would do about 10 minutes of cardio (maybe… that was pushing it), then about 40 min of strength and then maybe 5 minutes of stretching at the end of my workout. My rational was always that with my other activities I got plenty of cardio, and flexibility. This may have been true when I was wrestling two times a day, and going to separate runs, but this was not true after I “retired”.
I more or less grew up in a gym of some sorts. I started going when I was about 12 years old. My training has never been for appearance, purely performance. I started doing plyometrics when I was 13 to improve my quickness for hockey. While these are fantastic exercises, they have little practical everyday use. Through high school I would spend my off season in the gym, staying in shape for the next season, this continued through college. There were very few occasions that I enjoyed being at the gym. I liked working out, but I always hated the gym (we have a very complicated relationship). After school I did my certification testing and was a certified personal trainer. One problem, I still hate the gym. As you can see that didn’t really work out to well.
This past winter I really started to get into yoga. My darling wife (Darling? Is that supposed to be sarcastic? 😛 ) and I purchased introductory passes to a yoga studio near us and we went almost every day. What a difference from the gym. Yoga offers a completely different style of exercise, one that is not limited to sets and repetitions, or timing and miles. Yoga offers a flowing combination strength, cardio, and flexibility. My first thoughts were wow, this is amazing; my second was WHY DIDN’T THEY TEACH ME THIS?
Yoga comes in so many different styles that it is very easy for you to tailor your workout to your needs. There is very athletic based yoga (my preference), that moves at a quick pace and features lots of strength and balance orientated poses. For those of you looking for something more relaxing and slower there are many less extreme styles as well that focus more or flexibility. Feeling tired and worn out? Try restorative yoga for the most relaxing 90 minutes of your life.
Yeah, yeah, yoga is great and all, but what’s in it for me? Well consider this; what is the most forgotten element of a workout? Flexibility. We spend so much time worrying about how many calories we are burning or how much we are lifting, but never think of how our range of motion is affected in these activities. As a muscle strengthens, it also gets tighter. Put your hand under your desk and press up into it for 15 seconds at a steady force. When you stop, relax and see what happens. What usually happens is that you will notice your hand start to rise up. A thin rubber band will stretch easily, a heavier thicker one requires more force to stretch it out, our muscles work in a similar manner. Ok so my outer ROM (range-of-motion) is a little less than it used to be, so what? Well it has been well documented that many chronic joint pains (not all) are caused by lack of flexibility in a muscle group. The most common being the lower back triangle. Tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors cause you to unconsciously lean forward, to keep from leaning forward all day your lower back takes it upon itself to keep you upright. After 12+ hours of this you can imagine that this muscle is getting pretty tired and worn out, this manifests itself as low back pain. See you don’t need meds; you just need to be bendier.
Yoga offers a more gentle way to exercise; this takes much of jarring out of your joints. When running you are coming down with up to 8x your body weight on your knees and ankles. Because you are going much softer, you can do yoga everyday, helping to keep your metabolism up and maximizing your flexibility training. Also because there is no machine to guide your movements, all those little stabilizer muscles that surround your joints are now getting used. This is a very good thing as these muscles protect and stabilize your joints, reducing the risk of injury in sports and everyday life.
Finally if you are still not convinced that this is better for you than the gym, let’s talk about motivation and atmosphere. Does anyone really like getting yelled at? A good kick in the butt sure, but drill sergeant yelling? I sure don’t. A yoga studio is probably the most positive place in the world. There is no yelling or stress, just encouragement. Teachers offer encouragement and helpful tips. Your motivation comes from those around you doing something crazy advanced (like being in a handstand with your legs stretched out into a V). Plus you get the same endorphin high as any other workout. Just being in the environment can change your outlook on life; personally I have become a much more positive person since starting yoga.
Yoga is not for everyone, but neither is the gym. I am 100% converted to the yoga way of exercise, and I don’t eat tree bark and chant sutras all day. But for the average individual who is trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, yoga is a great way to get your exercise in. Flexibility is probably the most neglected aspect of wellness, yet is one of the most important. Yoga offers a great balance of cardio, strength and flexibility, all within a great group or private trainer setting. If you are a professional or high end armature athlete, looking to greatly improve your strength then, the gym is the right place for you. By for the average Joe yoga is more than enough to keep you fighting fit.