I am a bit of a whore when it comes to exercise. Loyal to my yoga, but a whore nonetheless.
By this I mean that over many years I have tried just about every type of movement out there. I have been a runner, a swimmer, a cyclist, a gym-bunny, a weights lifter. I have tried Pilates, aerobics, step classes, dance classes. I have learned ballet, tap and modern dance, captained the netball team for years, played rounders, hockey and tennis at school. Oh, and did I mention that I practice yoga?
In fact, yoga is the only form I have stayed faithful to. I started out on the path of Bikrams (but let’s be honest, that’s not truly yoga anyway eh?!). But after a year of that, I discovered ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and 8 years later, I still practice my ashtanga faithfully. Sure, I sample lots of other yoga styles, but always in addition to my own ashtanga practice, which I have never quite got over, and still love the silence of flow, breath and the aspect of self-practice.
I do know truly faithful yoga spouses – my husband is a prime example. So often I’ve tried to encourage him to the gym, or to try running or swimming with me, or even just to cycle to work. I invariably succeed for a short time, but ultimately I fail. In fact, he has been a member of my gym for nearly a year now, and I’ve yet to see him do anything but his own yoga practice in the studio there – oh, and he uses the sauna! What I’ve learned to do is admire his utter commitment to the practice, and to the practice alone, and notice how, despite a daily ashtanga practice, I still need to dabble in other waters.
So, as a result of all this experience in movement, I am often asked by students what other forms of exercise are ‘ok’ with yoga. I have heard teachers decry that ‘Yoga in itself is enough!’ I have heard time and time again the age-old argument that ‘it’s all there in the practice’ – as if any single form of exercise could give the body everything it needs. Yoga comes closer than many, but still – my experience of yoga is that it can raise the heart rate – a little, and it can build body-strength – a little. But if it’s a full-on cardio work-out you’re after, or abs of steel and Popeye-type limbs, it’s likely going to take more than a yoga practice, except for a few super-advanced yogis I’ve seen, who practice hard-core vinyasa daily.Believe me – I have tried. When I started ashtanga I was a marathon runner and a gym-going weight-lifter. I remember thinking that yoga and swimming was for old people. Just 2 years later, I’d given up all other forms of exercise – including the gym – when my beloved ashtanga teacher left the gym to set up in a yoga centre and I followed enthusiastically. I practiced nothing by ashtanga for the next 2 years. But over time I started to notice that my arms and core were weak, and worse – I wasn’t very fit anymore. The days of completing my full primary practice with tonnes of energy to spare felt long-gone, as I struggled to get to the end, taking rests and needing to go sloooow.
At other times, I have gone through periods of reigniting the addiction to running. Any runner will know exactly this feeling – I mean, running should come with a health-warning attached: “This exercise can become seriously addictive as those little endorphins are mighty powerful!” There really is no feeling like a seriously good run – especially outdoors in the fresh air, with the sun shining and the world bright around you. There is equally no feeling like completing a good yoga practice – the ‘high’ or sense of vitality and connection is also utterly addictive, and in many ways even more so than running. There is a depletion that comes at the end of a cardio work-out, despite the endorphin-driven high, that yoga (practiced correctly with proper breathing) replaces with a feeling of utter connection, wholeness and vitality, that once sampled wants to be experienced over and over.
The problem with running, in fact the problem with swimming, gym-ing, cycling, stepping, aerobics – you name it! – is that it can really mess with the yoga. And this is something I’ve been battling, er I mean, experimenting, with for many years now, determined to find that perfect balance. I now accept that there truly is no perfect balance, and indeed, for each person, the experience is unique, but I would like to offer you some of my acquired wisdom – if you are someone who loves to move and hates too much of one thing?
Check out my tips in next week’s blog!