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Posted on 07-01-2015
As a yoga practitioner, teacher, and business owner, I’m sure it will seem biased of me to say so, but the answer is YES to the question of yoga being a form of crosstraining for some other activity. But, before I get into the finer details about why it is so, let me be clear about the definition of “Yoga” being used here. Many of us in the United States, or more broadly, in the West, consider “Yoga” to be the sequence of poses that we do at a studio, gym or personal practice. When you say, “I’m going to do some yoga now”, you probably mean you’re going to get out your mat and do an hour or so of vinyasas or deep stretching poses.
When I refer to “Yoga” here, though, I mean the broader, more traditional understanding of “Yoga”. Meditation, breathing, poses, and more. There are 8 limbs or areas of yoga, and all of them can be extremely beneficial to any other fitness regimen you have planned.
And before you get concerned that I will suggest you have to become a vegetarian barefoot buddha wearing mala beads, please just keep reading. You can keep doing all the things you’re doing. But, to paraphrase a wise old yogi, you might just find that you want to embrace a different lifestyle because it makes you feel better. Can’t say I didn’t warn you about that.
Here I will list the 8 limbs of yoga in the order they’re taught. The concept is that by learning and practicing one step and then another, you’ll work your way towards the attainment of your true self.
We all know there are things we should avoid, and many of the yamas of yoga are familiar to those that have a spiritual or religious practice. And some of these are just common sense and a good idea.
Ahimsa/Non-violence- As it pertains to our topic, don’t push your self past your limit. Find your edge, play it. Know your limit, respect it. Follow the training plan. Rest when you’re supposed to, but challenge yourself appropriately. It is when we are challenged that we grow. We can also see ahimsa as being good to yourself emotionally. You’ll get there, so give yourself a break if you’re not getting there as fast as you’d like. Don’t push yourself into getting hurt.
Satyam/The Truth- See things, including yourself, for what they are. See the others on your team or training group as people just like you, because they are. Set appropriate goals for where you are and where you want to be.
Asteya/Non-coveting- Don’t compare yourself with others. He or she might be faster, stronger, more flexible. So what? They aren’t you. If you want to get faster, stronger, better, then do it. But just be faster than you were yesterday. Stronger than you were last week. More flexible than you were last month. Don’t base your goals on someone else. Challenge yourself.
Brahmacharya/Celebacy- You don’t have to be a monk, here. I’m not your mom. Just be smart and do the right thing when it comes to how you share yourself. Let’s not get some funk because you celebrated a 19 minute 5K.
Aparigraha/Non-attachment- This can be applied a lot of ways. Don’t stay in your pace group just because you like everyone there. If you need to move up or back to help train, do it. Don’t get too attached and comfortable with just one kind of race, even. Do something longer to test your endurance. Do something shorter to test your speed. Or go out without a Garmin and just do this thing for fun. What a concept!
Saucham/Cleanliness/Right living- Eat food that is good for you and makes you feel good. Take a shower after an activity to help your muscles and rinse off the sweat and grime. Be considerate on the path; share the space and announce when you’re passing on the left.
Santosha/contentment- Have fun doing this thing!
Tapas/Austerity- Self discipline. This is a tough one. You know what you should and shouldn’t do. Do what you can to stay on target. Keep a schedule. Train with a buddy or a group. If you want to attain your goal, you need to do or not do these things so find ways to stay with it. It also helps if you truly feel that this is fun (see Santosha).
Svadhyaya/Self Study- Keep a journal. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind. Maybe you do have a day that you’re just not feeling good, you’re ill, you’re injured; take a break if you need to. Pay attention to those foods that help or hinder. For me, I know pizza will not help my run tomorrow. Water, on the other hand, is always a good thing. I can tell when I eat crappy food or not drink enough water.
Ishwara Pranidhana/Let go of the ego- Not much else to be said about this one.
Asana/Posture- This is what you’re probably familiar with. The poses. There are a lot of great asanas for building leg/arm/back/core/mental strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. I recommend a hatha, vinyasa, or ashtanga class a few (3+) times a week. If you can do a yin yoga practice once or twice a week, you’ll gain more flexibility in your hips, hamstrings, back and more. As a runner, I can attest to this 100%. I do 3-5 sessions a week at varying levels for what I need. One tip, though, I don’t recommend doing a long yoga asana practice before an activity. You’ll tire yourself out and possibly be too stretched out. Afterwards, always.
Pranayama/Breath- There are so many breathing techniques in yoga that have different benefits. You wouldn’t use any of these techniques during your run or bike ride or swim or whatever. You would use these techniques during an asana practice or during a meditation or even during the day to build lung capacity, practice inhaling fully and exhaling fully, and to help with focus and relaxation.
Ujjayi breathing- Victorious breath- the 3 part, diaphramatic breathing we do during a vinyasa or moving sequence. Breathing through your nose you maintain a balanced inhale and exhale. You’ll get oxygen to your muscles, brain and lungs.
Sama Vrtti/Balanced Breath- This is a great way to increase your lung capacity. On your inhale you pull in for a count of 5. You hold for a couple of counts. Then you exhale for a count of 5. Hold. Then repeat. You would never breathe like this during a workout, but you’ll really be able to bring in more oxygen if you practice this regularly. And you’ll think better, too.
Pratyahara/Sensory Withdrawl- Arguably, this is one of the more challenging aspects. Stilling your mind. However, an athlete may understand this more than the average person. When you’re in any sort of game or tournament, there are moments when you can’t even hear the crowd cheering. It is this that you strive for in yoga. Go within yourself. Hear your own heartbeat. Focus on your breath. Tune out the world.
For those of us with “monkey mind”, this is very difficult, but with pratice, it can be done, and it is extremely rewarding.
Dharana/Concentration- It may seem that pratyahara, dharana, and then dhyana (the next on the list) are the same, but they are not. They are very specifically different, yet they can lead to the same outcome. They’re different stages in the same process, perhaps.
Once you’ve cleared your mind in pratyahara, then you are ready for concentration. Find something that captures all of your attention. Draw all of your focus onto or towards that thing. Maybe it is a tangible object like a flower, a candle, or the person racing in front of you. Maybe it’s your focal point, or dristi as we call it in yoga, the place in the distance you gaze or stare at when you exercise.
Dhyana/Meditation- With stilling your mind and focusing all of your attention into one point, you are then ready to move into meditation. Mind you, meditating doesn’t have to be done in a still, seated position. For me, my morning runs and my asana practice are moving meditations. You’ve heard some people say that cooking is a form of meditation for them.
Get into your groove. Clear your mind. Breathe. Move. Become one with the thing you are doing. You’ll find you will work like a well oiled machine when you are this focused.
Samadhi/Oneness with your true self- Liberation from the material world, superconscuousness. Some may call this enlightenment, but it’s not directly the same as Buddhist enlightenment. It’s when you are completely free. You are your true self. In yoga you’ll sometimes hear the term Sat Nam. True you.
If you get to this point, you know that you are truly happy doing this thing you are doing. It makes you feel good. It’s good for you. You feel alive. You were born to be doing what you’re doing right now.
I can’t say that everyone is seeking enlightenment or Samadhi or anything that deep when they’re training or racing. But, I think you can see that each of these aspects are things that you may already be doing. These are things that just make sense, but sometimes we forget them.
Achieveing anything and practicing well for that thing needs to involve your whole being. It’s not just nuturition and exercise. It’s your mindset, you attitude, your approach.
Whatever it is you want to do, do it well and have fun doing it.
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