Yoga is thought to be around 2,500 years old. Whilst most westerners may be unaware of it’s original and main point, and see it as a great way of getting and staying fit (which it is), yoga is actually a way of releasing tension in the body to allow the person to achieve a deeper level of meditation.
Whilst there are Yoga snobs, who see the mainstream explosion of yoga as counter to the ideology behind most forms of yoga, anyone who has developed the inevitable tolerance you achieve in life when you are dedicated to yoga wouldn’t mind what people get out of it, as long as it is right for them. However, there are principles, whether you are trying to get in touch with your soul, or you simply like a good stretch once a week, that feed out into life, and as I’ll explain in this article, three things I believe will lead to better training in the gym and to a healthier body.
Awareness of the body (awareness of self)
If you have done yoga, your instructor will most likely have encouraged you to “be inside your body.” You may have focused on specific feelings in the body, like how the chest rises when you breathe or how much tightness you feel in the hips. Most of the time, we are in our heads, worrying about life. Becoming aware of how the body feels both while still and while moving, is a great way to get away from racing thoughts.
Being purposeful and being aware of the feeling of a movement is also essential in weight training. We’ve all seen those people aimlessly throwing bicep curls up, arching their back wildly like an inflatable tube man outside a car forecourt. Then we’ve seen the people slowing curling the weight with an aim. Those people often have the biggest arms, because they understand that to feel the movement will get more out of it. Schwarzenegger himself was famous for saying, “put the mind in the muscle.” Feel what you’re doing for better results, and a stiller mind.
Be aware of your breathing
Another thing a yoga instructor does if their worth their salt is encourage you to breathe. These breaths aren’t aimless. You are supposed to stay calm (sometimes while in extreme pain) and the breaths are timed with the poses you are performing.
How many people think about breathing when lifting? Not many. In general, you take a breath in before the eccentric (lowering) part of the lift, hold during the eccentric, pause and then breathe out (whilst bracing the core) during the concentric (lifting).
Breaths in and out and paused in the right parts of the lift, drastically improve stability, particularly on compound lifts and will help you lift more weight.
Connect to the ground
Our skin has a rather large surface area, most of which is covering areas which are not in contact with anything solid. When you think of it, it’s truly astounding that we stay upright with only the soles of our feet touching the ground. That area of the body is essential to how fixed we feel on the earth. You may not be aware of it, but if your balance isn’t good, you could be swaying around like a tree in the wind, and this is causing you stress. And if you haven’t thought about your connection to the ground you’ve always walked and stood on, it’s likely you’re not as stable as you could be. Being “grounded’ is key in yoga and in life.
If you do lifts like deadlift, squats, lunges or step ups, you are missing a huge opportunity to improve how grounded and stable you feel by not being aware of how the soles of your feet contact the ground. When I deadlift, I use this trick to be more grounded:
- Deadlift barefooted (if gym rules allow, trainers aren’t the end of the world)
- Wiggle your feet around and be aware of how that feels on the ground
- When you plant your feet to lift, start to apply force, but not enough to lift the bar from the ground. FEEL that sensation.
- Finally, and most importantly, imagine you are stationary in space, and as you press with the legs, you are pushing the world away, not you moving away from the world as you press. It is an incredible feeling, will help you lift heavier weights and is empowering to the mind.