Yoga Refresh: Spring Stretching
In addition to using the foam roller, yoga has continued to be an important aspect of my training. Since my initial post about Ignite Yoga, I’ve continued to enjoy the benefits of hot yoga and the deep stretching that comes with practicing in a humid, 105 degree room. During the long winter, there were times when the 60 minutes I spent in the yoga studio were the only minutes I was warm the entire day! By the end of the winter, I found myself wishing I could start and end every day with a yoga class. If only my schedule (and budget) would allow it!
Since my initial hot yoga class, and making the connection to running, I seem to continue to encounter more and more evidence reflecting the benefits of yoga for runners and other endurance athletes. Based on the number of professional athletes in more mainstream sports, such as football and basketball, that are taking up yoga, I guess I’m not alone. Now, I will fully admit that yoga is not an instant silver bullet for increased performance, flexibility, strength, and endurance, but these are definitely some of the benefits. Researchers have examined the rates of injury in yoga and found surprisingly high levels in some instances. These conversations, coupled with the hesitations of acquaintances that emerge from time to time, got me to thinking more about the actual risks involved.
Ultimately, the research on yoga is far from conclusive in terms of physical and mental benefits. However, the combination of narrative evidence and anecdotal evidence can’t be denied. Obviously, something positive can happen when you practice intelligently and responsibly. These two caveats seem to be the catch, in my opinion. We (Western society) are a competitive culture. As much as me might deny it (myself included), we love to compete with others, even if they don’t know we are competing against one another. When I’m out running, I’m typically thinking about previous runs and attempting to better myself in some way. When I’m running with folks, the competitive thoughts that lead to pace increases or extra distance always seem to creep up, even if I don’t act on them. In the end, we can’t help it. So, why should yoga be any different?
Whether you are stepping into a studio for the first time or the thousandth time, those thoughts will probably emerge. Any good yoga instructor will tell you, as my primary instructor reminds me each week, that the practice is your own and the intent is to become more in touch with your own body. Since I began going to Ignite Yoga, I’d say I’ve gotten much better at focusing my energy on my own practice, but I still catch myself looking around from time to time. I still find myself with moments of frustration when I can’t extend a pose as far as I’d like or my body doesn’t bend the way I want it to bend. I also catch myself pushing too hard at times to try to reach that next plateau of flexibility. Now, if I’m aware of what I’m doing and I’m still doing it, then it stands to reason that plenty of folks are doing with and completely unaware at the same time. I would also venture to guess that these same folks are operating under the assumption that they can push it just a little bit harder, as they do when they are out on a run. Thus, the resulting injuries should come as no real surprise.
This is where the 75% rule becomes important. A few weeks ago, our instructor mentioned this idea, that you should try to limit your practice to 75% percent of your available energy and focus on maintaining your breathing and calmness throughout the practice. This was an exciting idea for me. Although I don’t as much anymore, when I began practicing yoga, I viewed it as a new athletic challenge and I pushed myself to work as hard as I could. Although a certain level of pushing can be healthy, I think going all out can defeat the purpose of yoga. If you are spending all of your time trying to extend a bit further or get into more and more difficult poses, you aren’t benefiting from the mental training that comes with yoga. When I walk into that steaming room, it is my opportunity to let go of all of the stresses of the day and the week. In addition to the aches and pains I may collect from the rest of my endurance activities, I collect mental aches and pains throughout the week. In yoga, I have a chance to let them all flow out of my body as I give myself the comfortable stretching and relaxing routine I really need.
In a way, yoga serves as my spring thaw after a long, tense, and tight winter of gearing up and pushing through the snow. 75% is the prefect level for a quality mind and body refresh!