In the first installment of the Shades of Yoga Cross Training category, we discussed what cross training is, and why would it would be beneficial to your yoga practice. To briefly summarize and refresh:
The practice of yoga is focused around increasing flexibility in the spine, and increasing movement in the major joints in the body. However, not enough emphasis is placed on increasing the muscle strength around these joints, this will ensure that the joints are not only flexible, but strong and stable as well. Thus creating a strong, flexible body that is well balanced and not at risk to serious injuries. In this article we are going to focus on warming the body up with some gentle stretching, as well as briefly cover why it is important to include a cardiovascular element into your cross training regime.
It is important to do some light stretching before you start your cross training for yoga work out, especially if you living in a cold climate, or are exercising early in the morning, shortly after waking up from a good night’s rest. It is a good idea to start with some Sun Salutation stretches, including holding forward bends (Uttanasana), planks (Plakasana) and downward facing dogs (Adho Mukha Svanasana) for a minimum of 5 breathes each.
In Downward Dog position, reach the right arm underneath the body and grab hold of the outside of the left leg. Rotate the right shoulder down towards the medial (centre) line of the body while you hold the leg. The more flexible, the lower down the leg you will be able to hold. Hold this position for 5 deep breathes, and then switch arms.
In Upward Plank position, ensure that the shoulders are stacked directly over the wrists, and that the feet are hip-width distance apart. Holding the plank position, and without ‘dipping’ in the lower back, raise you right arm up, turn the palm to face towards the medial line of the body and extend the arm away from the head. Simultaneously raise the left leg up and extend it away from the body, point the foot and hold this position for 5 breathes and then alternate limbs. It is important to try to create a straight horizontal line with the body while your limbs are raised. The hip of the raised leg will also have a tendency to tilt up higher than the grounded leg, try to ensure that you keep your hips in line with one another. If this is too tough to start with, perform the same action, but with both knees on the ground as your starting point. A great way to ensure that you are not tilting your hips is to get a partner to place a cup of water on your lower back (lumbar spine). Make sure however that you have a towel on hand in case you spill some water! It is important that this exercise is performed with as much control as possible, and that all movement generates from the core or centre line of the body, thus ensuring an increase in strength in the core muscles surrounding the spine.
Sometimes it can be really hard to motivate yourself to exercise, so next time you are questioning whether or not to go to the gym, remember that cardiovascular fitness is basically how strong your heart is, and of all the muscles in the body, the heart is the most important, as it pumps healthy fresh blood to all the limbs and internal organs. According to Laura Evans “when you exercise your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply your body with more oxygen for fuel.” A simple 20 minutes of cardiovascular workout at the gym before you start your cross training session can go a long way to creating endurance in your yoga practice. Yoga is incredibly good at stimulating the nervous system, however it does very little for your cardiovascular fitness, even if you are doing a strong Vinyasa Flow class. Therefore it is important to exercise your heart, ensuring that you increase your muscle strength and endurance levels while allowing you to push yourself that little bit harder the next time you practice yoga.
There are many ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness levels, these include taking a jog down the road, using a skipping rope, riding a bicycle, swimming, using a rowing machine or doing push ups and sit ups or joining aerobics or Zumba classes amongst many others. Make sure to change up your cardiovascular exercise routines in order to maximise the workload on your body. Another great tip is to exercise at high intensity for 2 minutes, and then regular intensity for two minutes, and continually change between the two levels for the duration of your session. A simple 15-20 minutes, 3 times a week will go a long way to keeping you healthy, fit, strong and balanced.
In the next installment of Shades of Yoga’s cross training series we will begin to look at specific cross training exercises in more detail…
Shades of Yoga is a yoga teacher training company running year-round yoga teacher training courses in Bali and Costa Rica. Details here.