I don’t think I need to tell you that I think yoga is special.
If you’ve done yoga before you’ll know it’s special. You’ll have felt a shift in your body and mind that you come back for again and again every time you get on your mat. Practicing yoga makes you feel good and that’s why you do it.
In fact, I had a student in class the other day who said she doesn’t even really like yoga because she’d rather be doing something else with her time but she comes anyway because her body wants and needs it. That is a great example of someone listening to her body over her mind!
Unfortunately, feelings aren’t always enough for everyone.
I had another new private client the other day who had trouble wrapping his mind around what we were doing. Because he couldn’t intellectually understand the movements, his body resisted moving into those shapes. He was an example of someone who let his mind get in the way of his body.
Many people in today’s world need to understand something intellectually AND THEN feel it in their body before they can truly sign on and fully “get” why yoga is so darn special.
The science of yoga
This is where science helps. People love their facts, figures, scientific studies, and peer-reviewed research journals.
So here’s a quick science lesson for you. (If you would have told me even yesterday that I was going to someday be blogging about physiology, kinesiology, anatomy, and the awful S word – science – I would have laughed in your face. If fact, I’m still chuckling that this is where I am today. I have hated science all my life. And here we are.) Because I hate science so much, I try my best to make what I write and say comprehensible in non-sciency terms.
Most exercise that we do involves one plane of movement. If you’re a runner or a cycler, you’re moving forward in one direction (unless you run and pedal backwards, which is fun, but doesn’t really get us anywhere). At least in swimming you move your arms in different directions, but again, you’re typically just moving forwards and backwards and there is very little lateral movement (side-to-side) or twisting in your spine. Lifting weights is pretty much the same thing. You keep the body in one plane and then use your extremities to lift heavy weights – wait for it – up and down.
Your spine moves in 6 directions. Most of us have mastered moving up and down. Less of us are great at moving the spine side-to-side, and even fewer of us regularly twist our spine in our daily movements.
This is the difference between yoga and other exercises: yoga explores all ranges of movement. Perhaps this is why yoga is so hard. You’re forced to move in all the directions you’re not used to moving!
The difference between exercise and movement
There is in fact a difference between exercise and something called a movement practice. Yoga, pilates, and dance are considered movement practices because these techniques emphasize moving in all directions and exploring different ranges of motion. Movement practices are all about building upon mobility and flexibility.
You say you’re not flexible? Well, that’s probably because you don’t have a movement practice in your life.
When a (good) yoga teacher really sits down to intelligently sequence a yoga class, she prioritizes both strengthening and lengthening the muscles that are needed to perform a “peak” pose (warm-up) and then includes counter-poses to stretch the opposing muscle groups after the “peak” pose has been performed.
For example, if the peak pose is Triangle, your spine, side body, core and legs need to be warm to perform. Similarly, you’ll want to twist through your spine and do some forward bending after a Triangle pose to release the muscles you just engaged.
When a yoga class is sequenced in this way, your body will strengthen and stretch through all planes of movement, you’ll feel stronger, and you’ll feel like you got a nice stretch. Hopefully your body will feel balanced.
Other exercise formats are not sequenced the same way. They count on increasing speed or weight, not moving in different directions.
Sports and daily life have us moving in all directions
Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart and will help you become more fit overall but you’re only moving in one direction (most of the time). Weight lifting is great and will help you to become more strong, but again, you’re mostly only moving in one direction. When you step onto a playing field to play a sport and you pivot quickly in one direction to chase a ball, if your body isn’t used to moving that way you’re more likely to tear something.
When you’re carrying your baby and your other kid throws something behind you and you suddenly turn around to see what happened, if you’re not used to twisting, you’ll probably pull something in your neck, shoulder, or back.
It’s those times when we’re not even thinking about what we’re doing and how we’re moving when we are most prone to injury IF we’re not used to moving in all directions.
Yoga isn’t everything, but it’s should be something in your life
Yoga is special because it helps you lengthen and strengthen every single muscle in your body, every joint in your body, and even the fascia around your muscles. It gets your spine moving in all 6 directions. Sometimes it will even get your heart rate up.
I’m not saying that yoga is the only thing you should do – you should move in many different ways throughout the day. I personally love barre workouts these days, as well as long walks and hikes. Every once in a while I run, but we know I hate running. And I practice my yoga. When the weather is nice I get on my bike.
Yoga will help you stay safe in your daily life when you’re suddenly moving in a direction your body isn’t used to moving. Other exercises will help you stay fit overall and contribute to your progress in your yoga practice.
As always, everything is always interconnected and moderation is best in all aspects.
Are you interested in increasing your flexibility and range of motion? Get in touch and we’ll set up a private lesson or check out my class schedule to attend a class.