January 31, 2018
When starting your fitness adventure, you most likely have a clearly outlined set of goals upon which you need to base your exercise regime, as well as your nutrition. Some people want to lose weight, others look to build muscle, while there are people who just want to overcome an injury with proper rehabilitation exercises. And with so many options to choose from, how are you to pick the right one, or the right mix, to reach your goals?
Gym workouts and yoga have long been at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with people loving either one or the other, but rarely daring to mix the two. But how can they work together, complement each other and provide a complete fitness program to fulfill all your health dreams?
Since all of us (or at least a vast majority) lead a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, we have few opportunities to exercise our muscles and joints, keeping them mobile and flexible in optimal amounts. And in all fairness, no matter what physical activity we choose, we still need to make up for the fact that we spend most of our time sitting for hours on end.
While there is a certain level of stretching involved in various movements you can perform at the gym, yoga asanas are based on pushing your flexibility limitations continuously. But even more importantly, since it combines static, breathing exercises in challenging stretches, as well as dynamic, strength and mobility-building moves, yoga provides room for practicing your mental patience and uses its philosophy to build your inner flexibility, as well.
If your Instagram feed is filled with selfies of fitness stars, and you perpetually compare yourself to them, resort to negative self-talk, experience confidence drops, it’s mostly your ego playing tricks on your mind. I’ve heard many dedicated lifters saying that before they enter their temple of gains, they make an effort to leave their ego at the front door: no comparing yourself to others, no pushing for heavier weights if you feel your body cannot take it, no showing off, and above all, safety first.
But that is an effort you need to decide to make on your own, whereas a yoga class is based on a non-competitive atmosphere to begin with. With your teacher’s guidance, you can transcend the focus on “me” and allow yourself to experience the moment in its most profound form. Yes, working out in a gym will give you a physique to die for, if you exercise correctly, but yoga strives to cultivate a peace of mind before everything else.
Weightlifting is a noble sport if you approach it with such a mindset that it doesn’t merely serve to build your muscles and grow your physical strength. True athletes, for instance, choose protective gear such as compression clothing for greater safety, lifting belts, gloves, and similar equipment, all in an effort to overcome their limitations (both mental and physical) and leave the gym stronger.
The strength you can achieve through yoga, on the other hand, physically may not compare to the power of muscles that lift, but it is a form of self-reliance, a shifted perception of the world that always leaves room for kindness and resilience to rise above all else. Or, as Swami Vivekananda once said: “The world is the gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.” And yoga prepares you for that world with a legacy of gratitude and patience.
We’ve all met too many good-looking, physically healthy individuals who are just not happy with their lives or themselves. And while it’s a healthy mindset to strive to overcome your own limitations as opposed to comparing yourself to others, this constant desire to grow should not come with self-criticism and lack of self-love.
As a journey that constantly reminds you of the importance of open-mindedness and leaves no room for judgment, yoga is a healing spiritual skill that provides the tools to overcome your self-dissatisfaction. It moves the focus from your outer appearance to your inner beauty and teaches you to find love and understanding for yourself as well as others in all mental and physical states.
In the wise words of the world’s most famous bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” Before you become a religious gym-goer or a yoga-devotee, you need to recognize and define those struggles to discern which skill will give you the means to overcome them.
Perhaps your desire to shed some fat and get a flat belly seem like the only relevant issue for the time being, but if you strive to incorporate both physical well-being and emotional, spiritual resilience, then don’t underestimate or give up on yoga just yet. Why not hit the gym three times a week and incorporate yoga on rest days? Most transformations we crave to happen are so much more than skin-deep – let them come with the right balance and diversity of knowledge.