I often hear folks say that they want to practice yoga but they don't have the time. Especially this time of year when people don't want to sacrifice work out time for yoga time (after all, bathing suit season is fast-approaching and many folks want to slim down at this time of year). Sixty to ninety minute yoga classes are just too much for the majority of people to keep up with on a daily basis.
I understand the time crunch and the desire to balance a yoga practice with a calorie-burning workout. When I first started practicing yoga, I had a regular cardio/weights routine. I'd get up at 5:00AM to workout before heading into work (I don't miss those days, that's for sure). Because my cardio/weights routine would run anywhere from 40-60 minutes, I would practice yoga for anywhere from 25-45 minutes. I continued on this way until I noticed that I wanted more time to practice yoga. Thinking I was being smart by multi-tasking, I endeavored to combine fitness and yoga by practicing a vigorous vinyasa yoga for 60-90 minutes a day.
While trying to do everything, I ended up accomplishing nothing. My yoga practice was hardly what you'd call yoga -- there was no sign of sthira and sukha in my practice (I was holding my breath, working too hard, my mind wasn't all that focused on what I was doing, etc.). This experience taught me some valuable lessons:
- Yoga isn't meant to be a workout -- The Yoga Sutras clearly state that an asana practice should have sthira and sukha. It's easy to lose sight of that when you're pushing yourself through the 25th chaturanga of your practice (bookended by some pushups to build upper body strength). When your goal is strength and cardio conditioning, it's easy to forget about the deeper principles of yoga, such as focusing the mind; connecting mind, body, and breath; and maintaining ease, stability, comfort, and strength throughout your practice.
- A yoga practice doesn't need to be 60 or 90-minutes -- I rarely practice for an hour much less an hour and a half and I don't think I've ever given a client a practice that exceeds 30 minutes. Yes, it's possible to enjoy and efficient, effective, and beneficial yoga practice in half the time of a traditional yoga class. It took me many years to learn this lesson and I'm so very glad that I did.
- Keep asana and workouts separate -- I know that there are a lot of Bikram/Hot Yoga fans who believe that sweating their way through an hour class is the perfect workout, as it burns 600-800 calories. I'll speak from personal experience here -- practicing yoga this way throws the concepts of sthira and sukha out the window and the heat is not appropriate for everyone. Not only can the heat exacerbate inflammation, but it gives the illusion that the body is more flexible than it is, which leads to injuries. I took some hot yoga classes (not Bikram) back when I lived in Boston, and I would often wake up the next day feeling muscle pulls despite the fact that my body felt warmed up and extra flexible during class. I can also say that using my yoga practice as a workout cut into my aerobic stamina.
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Now I balance my desire to remain fit and practice yoga by doing high intensity interval training. I'll do some high intensity interval training (for example -- 3 minutes of strength training, 2 minutes of cardio, 1 minute of abs three times through without rest or a 1 minute warm-up, 45 seconds of cardio, 1 minute rest, 60 seconds of cardio, 1 minute rest, 45 seconds cardio, 1 minute rest, 30 seconds cardio, 1 minute rest, 30 seconds cardio, 1 minute rest, 20 seconds cardio, 1 minute rest). Cardio for me consists of plyometrics or jump rope or jumping jacks (I like to keep it simple). For strength training, I do body weight exercises and pilates. I'll spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes training this way, which leaves me 30 minutes for yoga.
Now instead of spending over an hour working out, I spend 60 minutes. And because I no longer rely on my yoga practice to fill the shoes of calorie burner, aerobic conditioner and strength builder, my practice is more like the asana that Patanjali describes in the Yoga Sutras. That leaves me fit, stress-free, blissed-out, and with plenty of time on my hands (which I'll use for pranayama and/or meditation).
Some folks believe in the separation between church and state, and I believe in the separation of yoga and working out. I've been that person that combines the two and for years now I've been someone who separates the two. As far as I'm concerned, separating the two is the way to go.
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Photo by lululemon athletica via Flickr