Will goes to a Yoga class: Enlightenment does not ensue – Part 1

yoga-catI’m just going to state my bias from the start here: Yoga really doesn’t do it for me. Standing, sitting, twisting and Om-ing in a hot room sweating my balls off while in close proximity to other sweaty people just doesn’t get me inspired, excited, or particularly satisfied that I’m accomplishing anything of great worth for my body.

So when a fanatical Yogi (perhaps a redundant term: virtually all Yogis are fanatical) friend of mine asked if I wanted to come along to a Yoga workshop hosted by a world class Yogi guru, on the other side of the city, on a Sunday afternoon, for three freakin’ hours, I was hardly chomping at the bit at the notion. But I agreed nevertheless. You know, new experiences and all that jazz. 
After all, it had already been a weekend of pretty chilled out and different experiences (let’s call it parasympathetic restoration to sound sciencey) with my first floatation tank experience having occurred on the Friday prior.
Plus, I’d ventured into a commercial gym on the Saturday arvo to crank out an awesomely stupid high volume lower body session, satiating my need for activity I consider more toward the productive end of the training spectrum. And I was sore.

So, Yoga? Why the hell not.

My prior experience with Yoga had consisted of eight weeks attending the hour-long Sunday morning group Yoga class at the gym I was working at several years ago.
I felt this gave me enough of a foundation to provide at least a somewhat informed opinion on Yoga to the general fitness public.
But apparently not so in the eyes of the Yoga elite. No, that was merely a shadow of “real” Yoga. But attending a workshop (by the way a workshop, I figured out, just means a class. A really, really long class) with an emphasis on inversions (handstands and stuff) run by an instructor to the instructors, was to earn me some genuine Yogi street cred.

So off I went, with an open mind and a critical biomechanical eye to see what I could learn from someone who, as far as my understanding goes, is regarded as pretty much top tier in their chosen field.

Rather than recount a play-by-play of the whole workshop, I’ll dot point some features and expound on a few below.

What I liked:

  • It is relaxed.

I’m all for things that slow people down and get them to just chill out a bit. Well, not all the time. A lot of people need to speed up and do anything active. But among the people I spend most of my day with, a common theme is a perpetual rush, a constant stress, or what we sciencey types call “sympathetic dominance”.
The tempo throughout the session was very calm, nobody was rushed, nothing was urgent. That was a pleasant changeup for me.

Sympathetic-Parasympathetic balance. Kinda.
Sympathetic-Parasympathetic balance. Kinda.
  • An emphasis on breathing.

For similar reasons to the above point on stress, proper breathing mechanics are something that have received a lot of attention recently from the anatomy geeks of the fitness world, and something that I’ve incorporated into both my own and my clients’ training programs.
Proper breathing is an activity that I’d place in the restorative category as it promotes parasympathetic activity. That is, the Yin to the sympathetic system’s Yang.
Both how and when to breathe was drilled into us consistently throughout the class.

  • An emphasis on mobility.

Most people move like a crowbar. Fact. Working toward improving joint mobility, particularly through the “big rocks” – the ankles, hips and thoracic spine – is a key component in the success of most intelligent training programs, particularly when it comes to injury prevention/reduction and athletic performance.
Working on mobility for the better part of three straight hours will make some good inroads into that improvement.
However, I flat out disagree with the idea that we want to increase mobility everywhere,  and as such this was a double-edged sword with the class and, in my opinion, Yoga in general…

  • An emphasis on chicks.

I was one of five dudes in the class. There were about twenty females. A couple were flat out hotties. Untapped resource fellas, untapped…

  • Balance/proprioception work.

Whatever you want to call it, we spent a fair amount of time in positions that required a high degree of concentration and effort to hold: single leg, long split stances and various versions of handstands and headstands. There’s something to them.

I can do that but I don't want to
     I can do that but I don’t want to…
  • Core work.

Surprisingly to me, as direct core work in a class format is something I tend to attribute more to Pilates than Yoga, we spent a tough ten minutes or so focusing solely on anterior core work.
My anterior core strength and stability is pitiful, hence it’s something I don’t enjoy doing and often neglect, so I found this portion of the class quite challenging (thankfully everyone else did too, so I didn’t feel like a complete failure).
The exercises we did were pretty good choices, too. We worked in a subtle flexion, but mostly from the thoracic spine and/or the hips (posterior pelvic tilt) rather than cranking on the lumbar spine as most “ab work” is typically prescribed.
I liked these and will steal some for my own programming.

The story so far

Sounds like Yoga is all rainbows and unicorn sparkles, right?
Welllll, not so fast. So far all we’ve done is breathe a lot, stretch a lot, stand on one foot and checked out the eye candy.
Well check back for part two and I’ll unveil the dark, sinister side of the Yoga facade.
Ok not really. But, if you want to find out why Yoga can be the worst thing for back pain, and why it doesn’t really qualify as “training” per se, then you should definitely come back in the next day or two.

Thoughts, questions, anything I missed? Feel free to drop a comment below.
And of course, liking and sharing this article will naturally help you jump the queue in your wait for karmic justice to start paying out.

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