I used to practice just Ashtanga yoga and do little other form of exercise. I thought the intensive yoga each morning was enough, and there’s no doubt that it’s a very healthy thing to move and stretch and strengthen the body with Ashtanga yoga.
But it’s not a complete form of exercise because it’s not really meant to be seen as just exercise; it’s supposed to be a method of self-inquiry, of connecting to the breath and meeting yourself on your mat each day with the physical benefits simply as a side effect. And if you’re doing just the first series of poses – the primary series – it’s not an all-round balanced exercise routine anyway!
These days I practice it just a few times a week, for as far as yoga asana practice goes, I find Mysore-style Ashtanga to be the most focussed and meditative of any. But with a niggling problem with my left adductor (inner thigh muscle) forcing me to examine this body of mine and its strengths/weaknesses, I’ve recently discovered a huge passion for physical activity in general – grab the lycra leggins and Sketchers runners and bingo!
This is the new Liz!
I tried jogging for the first time since perhaps the nineties, surprising myself by not collapsing in the first two minutes.
Running gave me an incredible sense of freedom especially when I got my second wind and picked up the pace, feeling the power and energy of this magnificent body as the landscape flashed by and I had the wild notion that I could do this forever.
And then my body remembered how good it is at being a couch potato scoffing chocolate, my muscles started to fatigue and my lungs began to wheeze like an asthmatic mouse. Felt exhilarated by the time I’d finished but hell, I was completely knackered.
The interesting thing about running, especially when you include some sprinting, is that it gets your whole body working, not just the legs but your core and, if you really go for it, your arms too. Anything that does that is a winner in my book!
Hoping to try out another form of cardio that would be a little softer on my joints, I borrowed my Dad’s bike to give cycling a go and it was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air, not to mention it made for a powerful cardio and leg workout. But I don’t think it’s for me.
I had a proper sore botty the next day and felt intensely vulnerable to being shunted off the road (and my bike) by unusually aggressive drivers.
So no cycling! For now, until my lovely allergies arrive and keep me locked up inside (hopefully inside a gym!) I’m all about the running.
But what of my yoga? And how will all this ‘normal’ exercise affect the lovely supple, flexible muscles I’ve been stretching??
Although my quads in particular are lately taking on a slightly rock-like quality, this intense cardio stuff is feeding a part of me that I hadn’t even realized was hungry before. And if anything, I could use more strength in my yoga. I can’t do a jackknife (essentially a full body sit-up) or a proper pull-up which, to the average person are both advanced strength moves. However I can twist and fold my body in ways that might make the average person scrunch their face up in surprise – so that imbalance needs to be addressed, for a high level of flexibility needs a correspondingly high level of strength.
At the end of the day, who needs to be able to do contortionist poses like the more advanced yoga postures, unless that’s they want to join Cirque du Soleil; the point of doing yoga asanas is simpy to maintain a strong, healthy body that allows the mind to work on the big shtuff, e.g. inner peace. So striving to get the splits or hook your leg behind your head are only external methods to push us out of our comfort zone; to stretch our beliefs of what we’re capable, not just to stretch the hamstrings.
So far, with the bare minimum of extra cardio/strength-training (yup, I’ve been doing push-ups and weights) I’m feeling lighter, happier and stronger. Imagine what could happen if I took this up a notch? Imagine if I dragged my couch-potato loving lazy lolly part of me off that spud-sofa and got her really going?! All kinds of wonderful could ensue. And Ashtanga will still be there to keep me calm and grounded and, as a friend describes, “super bendy!”
Maybe one day, it’ll be my regular morning practice again. Or maybe not. And that’s ok too.
p.s. watch a funny video of today’s run here!