Think And Do

Fitness and Yoga - What's the Connection?

We hear the word “fitness” and our minds conjure up an image. Sleek body, strong and muscular, tight abs, a thin layer of healthy perspiration on the skin. A partially-consumed bottle of spring water nearby.

We hear the word “yoga” and a completely different image appears. Some of us will see a young, thin, flexible pretzel-like image posed in a very unlikely position. Others will see an old, somewhat frail-looking bearded man sitting quietly cross-legged, seemingly in a trance.

For many, these two images can never meld. We don’t think of yoga and fitness together.

That’s where we lose out.

We discover from the practice of yoga is that fitness emerges from the inside, from the deepest core of our bodies. We learn that we cannot be fit and unhappy. We cannot be fit and tense. We cannot be fit and angry, or unfocused, or unkind, or judgmental. It happens over time, in different ways for different people. But eventually we all learn the truth about ourselves, our health, and the ways that we choose to live our lives.

Yoga practice often begins with a relatively intimidating first class. We dress in clothing that we would NEVER be seen in outside, and with great trepidation, follow the instructions of the teacher. Ouch! We find places on our bodies that we never knew we had, muscles that we haven’t used for years, if ever, and tension and tightness ALL OVER THE PLACE. Many of us will not return after the first class. We assume that we “can’t do it”. So, we return to our daily lives seeking less invasive methods for “getting into shape”.

If we get past the first class, we are off to a great start. We’re already prepared to endure those first few weeks and to work with our bodies. Great! Much more than our bodies will reap the rewards of that decision.

If you have tried a Yoga class and given up, go back. The first and prevailing principle of Yoga is to leave your ego behind. To leave your pre-conceived notions at the door, to follow your breath, work with your body, and gently ease into the postures and movements of the practice. The rest will come. Take the first step. Then the second. And so on.

Yoga is not about stretching yourself until you are uncomfortable or in pain. Yoga is about placing yourself in a position, remaining there, and becoming more and more relaxed in that position. Letting your mind quiet down. Following the pattern and pace of your breath. Allowing, not forcing, your muscles to relax. The breath guides the practice, and as you practice, you will realize that in the tensest moments, you are in fact HOLDING rather than RELEASING your breath. The posture itself is not the real issue with the practice. It is what you do when you are in the posture that matters. Yoga is about staying focused. Not letting your mind wander. And, more significantly, not letting your mind get “noisy.”

So try it now. Notice the way that you are sitting. Start with your head and face. Notice if you are frowning or squinting. Notice if you are clenching your jaw. Feel the sensations in your shoulders. Become aware of your arms and especially your elbows. You don’t even need to go further than this right now. Take 5 minutes. It will seem like an eternity – 5 minutes focusing on your head, shoulders and arms. But the value is in what you do when you feel the places that are tense in those areas. Let each part of the body relax as you feel the tension. Un-grit your teeth and relax your jaw. Let your shoulders fall down and slightly back away from your ears. Let your neck muscles relax. Follow, don’t control, your in-breaths and your out-breaths. Just 5 minutes!

Are you watching the clock on your Windows taskbar? Are you thinking, “Oh, no, only 1 minute has passed! This is taking WAY too long!” Well, if you are, you’re not paying attention to those parts of your body. You are paying attention to what you think about what you are doing. Bring your attention to what you are doing and keep going. Just 4 more minutes!

If you truly practiced this for 5 minutes, you probably let out a big exhale when you were finished. Why did you wait so long? That exhale at the end, the one that released you from that boring, grueling 5 minutes, was what you should have been doing all along. That’s the hard part. Noticing that you are holding your breath. Remembering to release it. That it is not the outside world that is making you tense; it is your own mind and body.

That was a short practice, an example of what Yoga is. Rest assured that a Yoga class, and hopefully, your own practice at home, will be more invigorating, relaxing, healthier and certainly less BORING than those past 5 minutes.

If you decide to try a Yoga class, or purchase a video, or read a book, stick with it. Bring your own personality into the practice, and learn from that personality. This is pretty difficult, but learn not to judge yourself. But, as you let judgment diminish over time, you’ll uncover layers and layers of joy, health, serenity, and strength. Oh, and of course, fitness. You’ll become physically strong, more mentally alert. You won’t tire as easily. You’ll get colds less frequently. As time passes, you’ll realize that you’ve changed your eating habits. That you don’t crave the foods that you used to crave. Your body, mind and spirit will become healthier in the ways that you need. And it will become healthier with less outside help, whether that help comes from a forced diet plan, an exercise machine, a pill, or a therapist. This won’t happen overnight. It will happen, as you are ready.