While many yogi/nis dislike weight rooms, and while many weight trainings consider yoga to be a ďsissyĒ exercise, the truth is that both disciplines complement each other. Weight training is the classic way to build and tone muscle, but by itself it neglects the stretching necessary for muscles to move well. Yoga aligns body and mind and increases flexibility and joint health, but itís possible to become hypermobile and overstretch due to poor muscle strength. As is true with any kind of cross-training, combining the two approaches leads to a more balanced body.
Some gym or hybrid yoga classes have incorporated weights into yoga classes, but this is not the best idea. Especially in a vinyasa flow class, the addition of weights takes attention away from where it should be: on the breath and on oneís drishti or focal point. Itís better to keep yoga flows ďpure.Ē Itís easier to move in the other direction, adding yoga moves to gym routines. For example, asanas which work the core, such as Vasisthasana and Navasana, combined with leg lifts, work all the muscles of the stomach and back as a group, in contrast to a standard crunch, which isolates the obliques and/or rectus abdominis muscles.
Planks and side planks are in fact examples of full body compound movements. In other words, these are activities that work a group of muscles at a time. When incorporating weight lifting into an established yoga routine, it makes sense to focus on multi-muscle exercises because they mimic the way the body moves through asana. Using light weights while doing a series of lunges, for example, will strengthen the muscles used in all three variations of Virabhadrasana, helping the body to hold the positions with greater strength. Then, when working on Vira III, the focus can be on the balance and extension of the top leg rather than having the strength to hold the body up.
Body weight exercise gym routines are also good for strengthening the muscles used in yoga. If Chaturanga is an issue, then practicing push-ups (either full body or with the knees down) can help to strengthen the triceps, and because the motion mimics whatís needed in Chaturanga, the body can more easily cross over. Arm balances are difficult if the shoulders and arms arenít strengthened, but adding light kettleballs or weights and a shoulder press to standard planks can help to develop these areas.
When using weights, itís usually a good idea for yogi/nis to keep the focus on muscle toning rather than muscle building. This means using lighter weights and more repetitions. Building muscle is not necessarily a bad thing, but increasing muscle mass can lead to a decrease in flexibility. Of course, if one is hypermobile, this can be good, as the increased stiffness can in fact help prevent over-stretching and injury. Consider an appointment with a personal trainer to determine an appropriate workout if youíre going to commit to a regular gym program.
Cardiovascular exercise will also benefit the yogi/ni, as it can be difficult to move through a vinyasa fast enough and for a long enough time to truly work the heart. While taking a walk outside may be more fun, itís important to move fast enough to get the heart rate up. The plethora of cardio machines at the gym can be an advantage here, as itís possible to work the body in different ways. Try doing ten minutes each on three different machines!
In general, itís always a good idea to mix up exercise so that the body gets pushed in different ways. Cardio machines and weights can help to strengthen a yoga practice, allowing one to focus on stretching, on restorative movements, or on vinyasa can add a great deal to a gym routine. If your goals tend towards the physical benefits of yoga, a combination may be your best bet.