Yoga and Weight Training - Never the Twain Shall Meet?
Yoga has become part of Western fitness training techniques. However, there are some who have never tried it, relegating it as a hippie trend from the 60's. Those individuals would rather look at their flexed bicep in the mirror at their gym. They look for the feedback loop from that experience which gives them the feeling of working out. This is definitely the group they want to be in. They consider themselves the hard core fitness enthusiasts and label yoga as something for women in white leotards. Is there any truth to this?
The answer lies in a more general definition of fitness. We need to step back and look at the big picture. Those who participate in any kind of exercise, do so to improve their physical fitness level. There is also the benefit of feeling good, mentally and emotionally. Fitness satisfies the needs of the body, mind and spirit. It is a great feedback loop to make the human being better able to handle the world around them.
Traditional Western fitness methodologies have addressed the need for cardiovascular improvements, benefits from resistance training and stretching. Cardiovascular methods are defined by those activities which increase the heart rate to a specified zone and keep it there for the duration of the activity, a minimum of 20 minutes. These activities include running, walking, cycling, swimming, and hiking as natural activities. When weather or other conditions do not permit outside activity, machines can be utilised such as cross-trainers, treadmills and stationary bikes.
All training that is carried on in Western style fitness programs are based on physical reactions to external stimuli. If your mind is not focussed on the exercise, there is still some benefit to the actions alone. However, all fitness enthusiasts are constantly reminded that they need to be focussed on the activity to obtain the greatest benefit from it. Lifting a weight still has its physical implications if the action is carried out as if one were on auto-pilot.
Yoga was invented to bring the human being to the same goal of achieving fitness through a different approach. The word Yoga means joining in Sanskrit. The science of yoga aims to join the disparate body, mind and spirit into an integrated human being who is better able to interact with the outside world in a more efficient manner. The practice was invented in India, 5000 years ago and was developed into a science by observing the effects of various body and mind states on the overall human being. In yoga, one must be focussed or the effects are simply not there. The mind acts on the physical body and it responds in turn. In order to improve the state of the being, then, both body and mind must be focussed or joined to an integral viewpoint.
In a more general sense, the Eastern science of body-mind interaction further implies that all diseases of the body can be cured through the power of yoga. Yoga is not just about the physical body. Yoga incorporates many mental techniques for gaining command over the physical body. Breathing exercises were developed to gain control over one's own mind. Many different breathing exercises were developed in order to produce different physical results. All of them have warnings attached to them for special populations. In fact physical yogic positions or asanas are also limiting to certain special populations. Each such exercise needs to be taught in more detail to participants, rather than in a haphazard way as a general method for fitness to all populations. The exceptions should be understood so that people do not experience negative effects from the yoga asanas. It is therefore important to have a teacher who is aware of contraindicated populations for all exercises. This information is well known for traditional resistance training, but is not taught to populations studying yoga.
The beauty of yoga is its absolute dependence on nothing but the human being. No external equipment is necessary. However, it is important to focus the body and mind in an integrated way. Ultimately, ones spiritual energy is awakened. The person is better able to interact with the world in a more efficient way. This is the goal of yoga.
In those cases, where the teacher does not understand yoga properly, negative effects can occur. In the previously discussed case, the special populations need to be considered. The second problem with incorrect or incomplete information lies in the release of latent energy through the practice of breathing exercises and physical and mental practices. One's internal spiritual energy is latent, active or energised. If the energy is not released properly, or is not directed properly, or is released from an incorrect area of the body, very detrimental effects will occur in the person.
It is in the best interests of all yoga students to seek the advice and instruction of a recognized professional from a school such as Swami Vivekananda Yoga Institute (SVYASA) which carries out research in yoga in a scientific way. It is recognized for its technical research by medical institutions all over the world.
Yoga is not just for hippies or women in white leotards. Care should be taken not to fall into the trap of someone else's mere idea of fitness, rather than a thoroughly researched 5000 year old body of verified knowledge.
A variety of personal interests and professional paths have led Siva to her current role as a personal trainer and lifestyle consultant with over 20 years experience. Siva is an author, lecturer and Can-Fit-Pro certified personal trainer who specializes in body-mind-spirit consulting and training women. Currently she is writing a book which discusses her particular style of training the complete being, rather than just the physical body.
Siva is a yoga instructor, an expert on East Indian Philosophy and teacher of Sanskrit. She holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Toronto and has balanced her time between personal training and engineering for over 20 years. In January 2005, Hema spent an intensive month studying a course for Yoga Instructors, at the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Institute in Bangalore, India to further her interest in yoga as a science of holistic living and not merely as yoga postures.