Yoga: Upping Your Gym Game

No - it's not your imagination: adding yoga to your weekly fitness schedule will give you a leg up (pun intended) in the gym.  I've noticed improvements in my squat depth, strength, and recovery in the past couple of months.  What's changed?  Yoga.  I turned to Lily Scott, a Kripalu-trained RYT who specializes in pain management, to explain the connection.  

 Lily Scott, RYT

Lily Scott, RYT

OK, so am I nuts, or is a weekly yoga session totally changing my gym game?

LS: This is absolutely happening, and different people will notice "shifts" or changes in their ability and performance depending on their current physical needs.  Yoga can help your gym performance in every stage of your physical goals.  As a beginner, yoga will give relief from soreness from lactic acid buildup.  Maybe you took a high intensity fitness class and can barely hobble up the stairs the next day?  Rotating a mellow yoga session in the day after classes like these will help your body recover and ease the tension to release from your muscles.  

And likewise, for the more advanced athlete, adding yoga to the training schedule can help to keep lean muscles lithe and relaxed.  Runners may see a lengthening in their natural stride over time, swimmers may notice a longer reach.

As moms, I think we can agree that a strong core is a key to life.  But honestly, I don't have the patience for a ton of ab work - nor do I like the look of a hard six pack on myself.  Is a yoga tummy a strong tummy?

LS:  Yoga will help us to notice our muscles. That may sound strange. Think of it like this; you may find yourself in "Mountain Pose", which is standing tall, arms engaged by your sides . If you can stand and walk, you can do Mountain Pose. But there is so much to feel in this pose. Done correctly, you begin by noticing all 4 corners of your feet, then the strength of the ankles and calves. Next you bring you awareness to your quads, they should be engaged. *This is key*, if your quads aren't engaged as you stand in Mountain Pose, try picking all 10 toes up off the mat, this usually can help us connect to the upper legs as we stand. And now tighten your tummy. Here is the connection that wakes up the CORE. Yoga can help you go beyond crunches and isolating your abs. Yoga can help you to feel how your quads and glutes are the beginning of the stabilizing muscles that help us stay strong and fit as people, and most certainly as moms. Feeling the connection of quads and abdominals really changed yoga for me. It changed the way I experience my work outs and it changed how I teach my students because it encompasses so much strength.

In this way, being an effective yoga teacher is similar to helping a client get the most out of his or her personal training session: the right cues can help connect the dots to better engagement.  I'm going to be more mindful of my Mountain Pose from here on out!  Tell me more about your postpartum yoga experience.  

LS:  After having 2 children very close together, I discovered I had an abdominal diastasis, or a separated abdominal wall. My abs split apart during pregnancy to make room for the baby, and just never came back together. This is fairly common, but my doctor did not check for it and I found out about it 8 months post partum, through a friend who happens to be a fabulous Physical Therapist and experienced it herself. So I was doing abdominal exercises, like crunches, for 8 months after having my son to try and get back in shape, only to discover that I was actually ripping the abdominal wall father apart!!! Now that I've healed my muscles, I love and treasure having a strong tummy. Balancing poses help us, as students, to both feel the leg and glute muscles working with the abdominal wall, and to hone all the muscles working together to sculpt a strong body. 

It seems that more women are reaping the benefits of heavier workouts - weighted hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts, and lots of gluteal accessory work.  It's all about the butt, which is awesome (those muscles are the largest in the body), but it can take a toll on the hips and lower back.  Are there any specific poses you'd incorporate into a post-workout stretch session?  

LS:  YES. I love lifting weights, I love to feel strong. And I also love the release that a good yoga flow will give my body when I need softening. This means I like a good sequence of yoga poses that I can flow through. Poses that work together and build on one another to lengthen and cool down. Here's what I do when I'm feeling tight in hips and lower back:

I start on hands and knees and do some Cat and Cow pelvis tilts.This gets the sinovial fluid in the spine flowing, making the back more lubricated and ready to move.

 

I move down to my belly and do a few gentle back bends. Starting with sphinx pose, coming back down to the belly. Working through cobra and then pressing up to downward facing dog.  

 

 Sphinx pose

Sphinx pose

In down dog, I like to pedal out my feel, getting some nice extension in the calves and hamstrings. Being careful not to overdue the hamstring stretch, keeping knees bent is very safe in this pose. 

YES!!! That feels amazing on the hams.

From here I alternate coming up to Warrior 1 on each side. I like to stay in the pose for a while, say 7 to 10 breaths, wiggling my hips ever towards the front of the mat. If my right foot is front, I think about pressing my right hip back, and bringing my left hip forward. This brings the hips towards parallel and I feel a huge stretch along the front of the left hip. I then switch to the left foot front and do the opposite, feeling the stretch on the right hip.

 

 Warrior 1

Warrior 1

I then come down into a low runners lunge on each side.

 

Now I like to stand up into Tree Pose on each side. This relaxes and stretches the periformus- key to lower back comfort. 

 

From here I like a version of standing half moon pose, where I cross my right foot behind my left and then lean to the left, arcing my right arum up and over to the left. This lengthens the IT band and intercostal muscles along the rib cage area. Then I switch feet and bend the other way.

 

Then I make my way down to my back and do bridge pose 3 times, holding for 5 breaths each time. 

 

 Bridge pose

Bridge pose

I will then move into pigeon pose on my back, holding for 6 to 10 breaths on each side.

 

A final supine twist to each side.

 

Shavasana.

You completed your yoga Yoga Teacher training at what's widely regarded as the mecca of yoga.  There are a lot of posers out there - ha!  Get it?  You know what I mean: personal trainers who moonlight as yoga instructors, or worse instructors with zero training.  What are the hallmarks of a quality, trustworthy instructor who's going to help, and not hurt?

LS:  This is an excellent question because it is so important to keep yourself safe. It is also worth mentioning that a teacher does not need to be certified to teach yoga (but most definitely are).  Look for teachers with more than the minimum 200 hour teacher certification training.  The vast majority of additional teacher training devote hours and hours to yoga specific anatomy education (in the same way a massage therapist would). 

If you are injured, or rehabbing an injury, or just feeling tight or sore in some way, ALWAYS mention it to your teacher at the beginning of each class. And if you forget to do this, it's ok. Many excellent teachers will come over to you mid pose and offer an 'assist'. This means they will touch you and help you to go deeper into a pose. If you're injured and they don't know, they could inadvertently hurt you, so before they touch you just quietly say NO and shake your head and tell them you're injured. It's very important to communicate those details.

SUCH important advice.  I was once pushed down a bit too aggressively into pigeon pose after failing to telling my instructor that my right hip is...a disaster.

LS:  The most important thing you can do for yourself in yoga is to work within your limits and respect your own practice. If possible, save your competitive nature for another place (your weight work outs, your long runs, etc) and pay attention to you body. The more frequently you do yoga, the easier this will become.

Namaste :)

Thank you Lily! In the Providence area and looking for one-on-one instruction? Visit www.meadowmorningyoga.com 

Enjoy your stretch, enjoy your life!