I’ve taken yoga classes on and off throughout the years, but mainly I used to think it was a waste of time: I’d much rather spend an hour blasting calories with intense cardio or building muscle with weight training. Even though I enjoy the way yoga refreshes and relaxes me, I always felt like during class I should be doing something...more.
That changed last year while I was training for my first half marathon. I was running faster and for longer distances that I ever had before, and my muscles were paying the price. I returned from every long workout session (and woke up every morning) with tight hamstrings, even tighter calves, and general aches and pains all over.
I turned to stretchingand yoga in particularto help balance out my long runs and give my body the cross-training it needed. And I soon began to look forward to yoga classes whenever I could squeeze them in.
More than chanting and hocus-pocus
“When athletes are sent to me to prepare for the draft or a new season, they’re usually under the impression that yoga is ‘soft’ or ‘just for girls,’ and that there’s going to be a whole lot of chanting and over-the-top hocus-pocus,” explains sports yoga trainer Kent Katich, who recently designed a series of Yogaletics DVDs and products for Go Fit (on sale mid to late August) based on a program used by his clients such as NBA stars Reggie Miller and Blake Griffin and MLB All-Star catcher Mike Lieberthal. “I have these massive guys wriggling on the floor, sweating buckets in their first session saying it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done in their careerthere’s really something to it when they begin to see results and can’t wait to come back again.”
I recently had the chance to tour a new YogaWorks studio in SoHo, New York City, a beautiful space that puts you at ease the minute you walk in the door. (If you’re in the city, I highly recommend checking it out!) When I mentioned to the staff that I was training for a triathlon, they put me in touch with branch manager Liana Sheintal for her recommendations as to what styles of practice I might find helpful.
I’d never given much thought to this type of yoga; to be honest, I’ve pretty much stuck with typical Vinyasa Flow classes. But Sheintal explained that Ashtanga is actually a specific type of Vinyasa, in which every class follows the same set series of poses.
Since there’s less variation in Ashtanga than there would be in a more instructor-driven class, I assumed I would get bored with the repetitionand I’d guess that for some people, that’s probably what happens. But after a few classes, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself automatically repeating the moves I’d learned, allowing my mind to focus on other parts of the practice, like breathing, that I'm usually too distracted to even think about.
Ashtanga starts with sun salutations and a lot of standing poses, which are great for runners because they help with strengthening and improving balance. And it closes with back-bending inversions, which is reeeealllly nice for cyclists who are hunched over on their bikes for hours at a time and swimmers with tight upper-body muscles.
This is another weird word that I’d done my best to avoid on yoga schedules throughout the years, knowing only that it had something to do with posture and thinking that it didn’t really seem "active" enough for me. And the truth is, an hour in an Iyengar class is more relaxed (and considerably less sweaty) than one spent in my typical Vinyasa flow class.
But I do certainly see the benefits of this practice, which focuses on proper alignment, executing the poses correctly, and using props such as belts and blocks. This helps you really get deep into your poses, opening up your hips, your chest, and your shoulders to an extent you might not get on your own. I left this class with a whole new appreciation for flexibility, and a new understanding of the poses and postures that can help keep me injury free.