Yoga is not for everyone for countless reasons. For some, it’s a lack of time, others a lack of desire or understanding of what yoga is. Some find it’s not a cost they can justify. Or if there is only x amount of hours in a week to workout, yoga is not how one of those hours should be spent. If you’re not interested you’re not interested, but for those who aren’t sure what it is, or who have never tried yoga, we thought we’d fill you in.
GAIN Mobility was created with CrossFit in mind. As a yoga teacher, a CrossFit coach and a Personal Trainer at GAIN Fitness Norwich it was hard not to notice how the way people move was holding them back from their full potential in CrossFit classes. And more alarmingly, it was putting them on a fast track to injury. This got me, and other coaches a little worried. We always encourage members to stretch at the end of class, but is 5 minutes enough to undo years of sitting at a desk? Or years of endurance sports such as long distance running? Carrying children on one hip? Or even years of building muscle in a ‘regular’ gym? The list goes on, and the answer is probably no. 5 minutes stretching at the end of class probably won’t do much to change or improve any ones range of movement.
GAIN Mobility’s Fitness Yoga classes take into consideration the common struggles of the everyday CrossFitter, such as the struggle with overhead mobility. There are so many factors that can cause this but unfortunately, a lot of us spend most of our days at a desk causing our range of movement to suffer. It also helps terrorise our squat, rendering us unable to squat to full depth, or causes pain when we do.
The wonderful thing about CrossFit is that we are able to train around most injuries, and we are able to rest the afflicted ailment. But when the injury recovers it’s likely to reoccur, due to the fact our mobility may well be the same or even less due to not keeping mobile during our recovery period.
Yoga, or what we consider yoga today, was designed thousands of years ago with the goal of being able to sit comfortably for hours on end to practice meditation. No joke. The postures we practice were designed to increase the muscular endurance and flexibility required to sit and meditate for hours (or even days). Have you ever tried sitting on the floor cross-legged with no support, with a straight back for more than half an hour? It starts to burn.
So straight away our basic yoga postures look to improve our core strength, our hip mobility, our ankle mobility and the position of our spine to name a few. All of these directly improve our ability to perform well and avoid injury from CrossFit.
Having always come at yoga from a strictly ‘fitness’ perspective, I trundled off to Nepal do a second and third teaching qualification in hope to gain some spiritual insight into the practice. Having always been a bit of a sceptic I was pretty disgruntled that from day one we were expected to chant and sing mantras. Little did I know that these would become such an ingrained part of my day that without them I felt a little lost. There was a huge focus on meditation and mindfulness throughout both the different styles of yoga I went to Nepal to learn about. Never once did I expect these aspects to affect my Fitness Yoga practice. Nor did I think it would help CrossFit in any way. It turns out I was wrong.
For those of you who haven’t done yoga before, may I use this opportunity to tell you yoga is hard! I was asked a few weeks ago if any calories were burnt during a yoga class. If you’re unsure, come along and try it. (That GAIN Fitness members now books into the Wednesday night class that’s included in her membership, every week without fail). It does depend on the style of yoga you practice, but you can burn a lot of calories in just 45 minutes. We’ve had members in class with a heart rate of 165bpm, we’ve left puddles of sweat on the mats, we’ve been out of breath, shaking with effort and feeling the deepest burn, in muscles we weren’t aware we had. It’s been announced mid class that “Yoga is harder than CrossFit” before, so there you have it. Yoga is challenging, and yoga in Nepal was just as challenging, so much so that during one particularly gruelling class our Guru announced almost flippantly, “pain is temporary.” This very quickly became something like a mantra to me. During holds that were uncomfortable and challenging I’d repeat to myself (in my head) “pain is temporary, pain is temporary, pain is temporary”. Then before I knew it, the hold was over and I’d achieved holding that posture much longer than I would’ve without the mantra. Just by reminding myself that the pain was soon to be over, that the pain was making me stronger, better, fitter, more mobile and so on. Strangely enough, when I got back from a month in Nepal, my first CrossFit class hurt, a lot, and this little mantra got me through that work out and has continued to help with many since. I’m not claiming that you have to use this mantra to make yourself better at CrossFit, but what yoga does offer you when practiced, is a calm patient and resilient mind. This will enable you to push harder into a workout, hold on for a bit longer, lift a little heavier and take yourself away from the pain of what you’re actually doing.
Being more aware of our thoughts and how they affect our actions is a huge part of why we meditate. If during a workout you tell yourself “I cannot lift this barbell it’s too heavy”, or “if I do another burpee my lungs will definitely explode.” The odds are you’ll stop, you will spends seconds or minutes trying to recover before talking yourself into getting down on the floor again, or attempting to lift that barbell.
What meditation can help with is making you more aware of what you’re thinking, it helps you quieten your mind, enabling you to just get on and get work done. Your mind will give up over and over but your body can always carry on. The two elements of yoga (the postures and meditation) combined with CrossFit seem to be getting results in both gym and in the yoga studio. Squats are becoming deeper, recovery is speeding up, and we’re gaining strength both physically and mentally.
And this is what yoga is all about.
Blog Post 1:
GAIN Mobility has been running at 14 classes per week for 3 months now, and each month we have a different focus. August we had core strength, throughout September we worked hard on overhead mobility, and October (we finished today) we had the squat program. Each month similar postures and sequences would come up every class to allow members to practice, get a feel for each posture and then have the time to work on it. This has resulted in great improvements over the 4 short weeks, with more and more members hitting the advanced poses and more members feeling their improvements as the weeks go by.
November brings us a new focus: strength and stability.
GAIN Mobility was born from the determination to help CrossFitters move well, improve lifts and reduce the risk of injury. The overhead focus speaks for itself. A lot of the common lifts and movements performed in CrossFit involve lifting overhead. With so many members struggling to get their arms straight over their head it was a concern I was keen to address and will always continue to do so. The squat program doesn’t need much of an explanation either. At CrossFit, every day is leg day, so the importance of nailing our squat position goes without saying. This improvement in mobility will transfer to the squat, but it will also help with cleans, the snatch, wall balls and thrusters, as well as take a lot of pressure of various joints such as your knees, ankles and back.
Core strength, and strength and stability, as focus months might not be so obvious. They’re equally as important as the overhead and the squat program due to the fact they will help reduce your risk of injury (As well as make you stronger, win!). Without strength and stability at our shoulders for example, we are much more likely to cause damage. Maybe even enough damage that we can’t train or lift overhead for a while.
So we might be able to get the weight overhead, but can we keep it there safely? Can we bring it down safely? Are we engaging during the lift? Is our core working to help us with our lifts?
Have you ever tried to do a headstand? Having taught many members to do a headstand it’s amazing the realisation on their face when they get it right. Usually this happens right after I say, “tense your abs and squeeze your butt.” They switch on through the midline and voila, they’re balanced. Moving away from gymnastics or fancy tricks. When front squatting for example, if you don’t engage your core the odds are the barbell will pull you down and forwards and your ability to stand that bar up is minimal. Every movement we perform starts at the core and ends at our extremities, so we strengthen the core, we stabilise and strengthen the joints and watch our movements (whether it be CrossFit or Yoga) become more controlled, stronger and a lot safer.
We have two more things to focus on within our yoga sessions at GAIN Mobility. The Vinyasa Flow sequence being the first of them. We have just one week left of the current sequence. It’s been challenging and created some high thresholds to lactic acid (the quad burn has been real). What’s been really special is the number of members that have nailed their piking headstands this month. I haven’t been kind, insisting we practice our pikes, workshops have happened regularly and tips and tricks pulled out of the bag, but the improvements have been worth the time, hard work and patience.
Next month we move into a sequence with at least two movements we’ve not done before at GAIN Mobility, and I’m excited to introduce them to you. Remember you don’t have to join the class at the start of the sequence; we relearn and refresh every Vinyasa class. Everything is scalable and it’s the most wonderful form of moving meditation. Get booked in… You don’t have to be a member, drop ins are always welcome.
The mention of moving meditation brings me so concisely onto our last point of focus. Mindfulness meditation.
We have 5 minutes mindfulness at the end of each class. Just 5. Most of the classes are fit to bursting with CrossFitters and their ardent desire to work hard for as long as possible, so getting them to lay down for more than 5 minutes isn’t always easy.
Throughout this meditative 5 minutes I ask members to focus on their breath, and just their breath. Have you ever tried this?
You will undoubtedly realise that your mind is never quiet. An internal monologue turns on as soon as we try to switch off. A great looming:
“Helloooooo, remember that time in middle school that you fell over in that puddle and everyone thought you’d wet yourself… OR remember how hungry you were before class? Well now your starving. It’s going to be really embarrassing if your tummy rumbles now… How about we explore the avenue of how much work you should be doing right now…”
And so on. Switching this off entirely would be a challenge. Realising it’s always there and this is what your mind is doing most of the time is also something to come to terms with. Surely it’s exhausting?
So with our 5 minutes of meditation we look to focus on the breath, just the breath, and allow the torrent of thoughts that we have just pass us by. These thoughts WILL distract you. They have a power to pull you away, but it is important to realise that this doesn’t matter. What we hope to achieve is the realisation that you’re not thinking about the breath. So you quieten the thoughts and get back to that focus. It may happen 50 times in 5 minutes, but this doesn’t matter. Each time you bring the thought back to the breath it is progress. The temptation to get frustrated will be there, but if we feed this frustration then it is likely our mind will stop even noticing what we’re thinking about, as this just leads to frustration. So be kind to the thought process, let it go on its way and take your focus back to the breath.
Inhale. Exhale. Namaste.