I became a yogini over two decades ago, quite by accident. A college-mate of mine had enrolled for a class on her parents’ recommendation. She suggested I check it out. It was the first time I had tried any activity like it. I discovered not only that I enjoyed the experience but also that I was rather good at it.
Once a month, the 60-something Yoga teacher would invite other Yoga teachers from his matth, which practised the Iyengar style, to break up the monotony. On one such occasion, the invitee teacher led us through a particularly complex routine of yogasanas. As the complexity grew with each pose, more and more participants started to stall. To my surprise, I was among a handful that could complete all the poses as directed. The teacher beamed at me as I arched my back in a perfect Kapotasana, the pigeon pose, and said encouragingly, “Now, strive to maintain this flexibility throughout your life.” So that is what I did.
I am grateful for the day that my friend convinced me to go to that class with her. Yoga has been a constant companion in my life ever since. (My love for it eventually translated into a certification as a Yoga teacher following the Ashtanga philosophy a few years ago.) My belief in Yoga as a way of life has only solidified further.
Around me, I’ve noticed that the attendees in Yoga classes typically span a gradient from middle-aged women (especially homemakers), senior citizens (primarily interested in Pranayama), or exercise-starved corporate employees in a corporate-sponsored class, on one end of the spectrum, to young adrenaline-seeking enthusiasts of Power Yoga and passionate believers of the Yogic philosophy on the other. However, I see people attending Yoga classes to the exclusion of any other form of exercise. And that’s where the disconnect occurs.
Yoga, undoubtedly, has holistic benefits for not just health but also life in general. I would be amongst the first persons to attest to its importance in health and fitness. Among the benefits from Yoga are improved flexibility, which reduces risk of injury; improved breathing, which enhances cardiovascular health and stamina; improved posture and balance, which improve spine and bone health; and relaxation and stress-relief. A highly advanced practice can even improve muscle tone and strength.
I would venture as far as to say that among all types of exercise, the practice of Yogasanas is perhaps the only form to enable improvement on all five components of fitness. And, yet, it has limitations when it comes to progressive overload, a key requirement for developing musculoskeletal strength, the main antidote to aging, which I discussed in detail in my last post.
‘Progressive overload’ simply means giving your body a greater training stimulus once it gets accustomed to a particular level of training. For example, the veteran jogger who runs the same 5 kilometres every day is not progressing in his cardio training while the newbie who adds five more minutes to his ten-minute jog, or adds half a kilometre to his 2-kilometre run, or takes two minutes less to run the same 2 kilometres, is increasing the load and intensity.
Similarly, while training with weights, one might add a few repetitions to a set, or a whole set to an exercise, or increase the weight for a set, or do the same number of sets in less time than before, as a way to increase the load. The idea is to go beyond your comfort zone and push your body to do a little more once a particular training level is reached. For example, a novice to weight training might be able to do 15 reps of an exercise in her first week before experiencing fatigue. Once she finds that she can go up to 20 reps without fatigue, she could increase the weight or resistance to deliver 12 reps. As her muscles gain strength to perform 15-18 reps of the same exercise at the new weight, she can move to a higher weight again.
While doing yogasanas, there is sufficient progression until you learn the correct posture, balance, form, technique, and how to handle your own bodyweight. You might even gain some load by increasing the duration of your practice or adding variations of an exercise to target the same muscle group multiple times. However, it is impossible to add further resistance to such practice once bodyweight training comes within your comfort zone. For example, a person who can perform an Adhomukh Vrikshasana, a handstand, even when adding pushups to the handstand, will need to resort to external weights eventually to seek hypertrophy and further strengthen her shoulders, arms and forearms.
Weight training provides your body with the training stimulus to first break down muscle tissue and then build it up larger to be stronger than before. If fat loss is your goal, then the greater muscle mass means that you carry more metabolically active tissue, which revs your metabolism and increases your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Also, resistance training has the greatest after-burn effect among all types of exercise. Hence, you burn more calories even when you are at rest and not only during exercise.
So the next time you face a dilemma as to whether to sign up for resistance training despite the daily Yoga class or not, don’t choose. Go for it!
PC: The Big Yogi
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