Do you use yoga as your main form of exercise?
For years now, Alex Howarth Yoga has encouraged not only stretching but strength and so much more into your yoga practice, and here’s why.
When I first started teaching yoga I was all about the functionality of the stretches, we stretched to get more range of movement, we wanted more range of movement so we were able to move well and lift more, it was as simple as that. But then as my own education and yoga experience continued I realised how much more there is to it, and how the huge range of movements we practice on the mat can have a huge knock on effect to the other movement and sports we take part in off the mat.
You may know from practicing yoga with me that we work on strengthening as much as we do stretching and lengthening the muscles, I encourage the use of tiny movements to perfect a pose and ensure you’re helping your body get the most from the pose.
Stability, balance, flexibility, strength, coordination and even, sometimes, cardio are bought together to help you achieve the best all round yoga practice you can have.
And I can’t tell you how much I wish it was enough…
Many yoga teachers have been convinced that their yoga sequence is everything anyone needs for all round health and wellbeing… But let’s be honest, we know that can’t be right, and I am not about to tell you that it is. And as much as I love to see you on your mat as much as possible, I urge you to apply more than just yoga to your weekly exercise regime.
Last year I introduced many of you to the concepts of Ayurveda, an ancient science that addresses everything from diet, sleep, meditation, breath work and movement, and it compliments a yoga practice in many ways.
I’ll be honest, I was shocked to discover how many of my regular yogis, those of you that practice yoga with me 2+ times per week, either don’t do any other for of exercise or just add cardio to your weekly movement plan, and the biggest shock to me was the fear some of you had of lifting something heavy.
If we use the 3 categories of exercise found in Ayurveda as a guide, it will help keep things clear.
Ayurveda recommends we combine Cardio (running, walking, skipping, boxing, swimming etc), Hardening (weight training, lifting, pulling, pushing load etc) and Softening (yoga, tia chi, pilates, stretching etc) exercises into our weekly movement plan.
A lot of you have the Softening in place with your yoga practice, many of you have the Cardio element in place, but there were many of you that hadn’t or didn’t want to lift in any way.
We gain some strength from yoga, we absolutely do! But resistance training where we use a weight that isn’t your own bodyweight stimulates muscle growth in a different way, and because we are able to apply larger loads we can create bigger adaptions to the body.
Lifting weights will help you maintain muscle and bone density that slowly diminish with age, it will reduce the likelihood of a break should you fall. It will help you stand taller. You will feel more confident. And there is no doubt you will find not only your yoga practice easier, but your chosen cardio too. The stronger your legs the stronger your push into the floor as you run. The stronger your shoulders the heavier your punch or the more effective your golf swing. The stronger your core the better your balance and ability to hold that plank for just 10 more seconds.
But let’s address a common fear… Getting ‘bulky’. The odds of you lifting a few weights a couple of times a week then suddenly becoming ripped, with bulging biceps is slim to none. That kind of looks takes serious work and dedication. When I’m talking about lifting weights, our goal is to support muscle growth, bone strength and joint health and stability. So don’t worry, you’re not going to need to change your wardrobe to allow space of massive shoulders, but you will probably feel a bit ‘tighter’ in a good way, you may find a little more shape and definition in all the right places.
So we’ve established why lifting weights is important, but getting started can be terrifying… often lifting weights means joining a gym, or buying equipment that you don’t know how to use, so I want to tell you about an opportunity that could make your introduction too, or recommencement of, lifting very simple.
Every Saturday morning at 10am I now teach a Power class at Hustle, Norwich. Hustle is a boxing gym at it’s roots, but Hustle has grown to offer a huge amount of variety in their classes, including Power classes, so everyone can get their weight training in too (It’s not just me that knows it’s important).
These classes are 60 minutes, and my Saturday class focuses specifically on lifting, but on lifting and moving WELL. With 9 years of yoga under my belt and 5 years of coaching CrossFit, it’s almost impossible for me to allow you to lift badly.
We break down the movements we are working on each session, we start light and practice until the movement is right for you. Once you’ve got it right we apply load, and this could be something small to start with, such as a 6kg slam ball or a 5kg dumbbell, but over the weeks as you learn the foundations you will find you’re able to apply more weight, move with more confidence and be able to walk into a class knowing what your body is capable of.
In each and every class with me you will get coached, suggestions and adjustments will be made that are just for you. You will come away from every class having learnt at least one thing, if not about the movement, it’ll be about yourself. You will be able to take what you learn in these classes into all areas of your fitness, such as other classes at Hustle, out on your runs or onto your yoga mat.
Hustle owner, Bobby, is offering a free class to anyone new to Hustle, all you need to do is head to the website.
Hustle offer a great range of class passes, so you don’t need to sign up for a monthly membership to come along to the Power class with me on a Saturday, nor do you have to turn up every week (even though I recommend it).
If you have any questions about strength training, joining me for a class at Hustle, or incorporating more cardio into your life I’m always here to help.
Love and light
Alex Howarth, owner of GAIN Mobility, Fitness, Astanga, Hatha and Vinyasa teacher. Lover of meditation and writing. Even if I can't spell.