With this past week being a yoga-challenge week, I think I’ve changed my way of thinking about yoga as a fitness staple. I’m not sure that, for me personally, yoga has any place in a fitness regimen.
Of course yoga has yielded for me numerous fitness benefits including learning how to breathe while running, cultivating the skill of open-eyed meditation to mentally cope with physical stress, and reducing my upper-arm chafe by ever so slightly tightening up my bat wings. But those benefits, while quite nice, are still just collateral windfalls. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy, or even desperately require, regular yoga practice.
It’s that I don’t need it as a component of fitness training. It’s occurred to me during this past yoga week that if you have a mind like me (seriously, first and foremost, God help you.), it’s actually rather damaging to think of yoga as fitness. Here’s why:
It Makes You Competitive with Others
I heard once that if, after a yoga class, you can report on what yogis around you were wearing, then you didn’t do it right. The idea obviously being that you should be so tightly focused on your own practice that you fail to even notice those around you, unless of course it’s for the strength and oneness you draw from their ujayi breathing and communal oms. For a Luluphile like me, it’s impossible to be stuck in a room of yoga fashiOMistas and not do at least a little shopping. (“Oooh. Charcoal Groove Pants; nice vintage throwback!” and “Hooooold up. Is that an ombre dip-dyed Cool Racerback? What is that – new?!“)
But that’s not all I’m doing. I’m checking out whether the impossibly slim soccer mom on my left is just a damn good dieter or whether she had the tell-tale tricep divot of a “serious yogi.” I’m deciding if the college sophomore on my right as uncovered the ultimate secret of crow pose cross-training, or if he’s just rehabbing last season’s near ACL tear on coach’s orders. In any case, I spend the better part of every hour in yoga trying ardently to stop giving a damn about where I rank among a group of total strangers.
It Makes You Competitive with Yourself
Every practice is different. Each time you arrive on your mat, your presence is the summation of the circumstances of your day: more time in the desk chair shortens hamstrings; morning long run tenderizes knee joints; and suppressing the sadness of missing someone packs stress into tightening hip creases. This may be one of the most uniquely valuable aspects of yoga since it is reliably exactly whatever it is you need it to be. And it would be exactly that if only I could quiet the mind and let it.
Instead, with a training mentality that is unable to accept anything other than onward and upward, I struggle from practice to practice chastising myself for faltering in a tree pose that’s been solid for three years. I have done this, sho I should never find myself unable to do this. Right? And even as I think about this now, it strikes me that this isn’t the healthiest of approaches to fitness training either since, fundamentally, human ain’t linear. I’m hoping that being less fitness-minded about my yoga will help me be more yoga-minded about my fitness.
It Helps You Procrastinate
Again, if you are anything like me (then you probably abandoned this post three minutes ago in favor of a fifth cup of coffee and a tiny Mr. Goodbar), the very minute you decide it’s something you should do, you reflexively justify why you won’t do it. If yoga is fitness, then getting in some other workout gets me off the hook for going to yoga. That’s no good because I’ll never get the calming of internal organization I get from yoga from running hill intervals (I’m too busy keeping ill-formed snot rockets off of my sleeves and convincing myself that even if this is a heart attack, it’s probably not The Big One.) Alternately, if yoga is fitness, then making it to yoga gets me off the hook for my other workouts. Because, you know, from a stamina and strength standpoint an hour of yoga and an hour of running are virtually indistinguishable. (I said it was SELF justified, not WELL justified.)
If I re-think yoga as some necessity other than just another workout, like – say – Personal Time, then that must-fill check box can only be by yoga (Or napping. Or snacking.), not by a spinning class, a brisk walk to the fridge during commercials, or some other fitness activity. It will become yoga for yoga’s sake. As it always should have been.