Yoga for Physical Culturists

By Leilah Devi

The benefits of establishing an ongoing yoga practice are many and varied. In the context of a well-rounded physical training program centered on strength and conditioning and/or martial arts, the inclusion of a short and simple daily yoga practice can support our main focus, as well as serve as a rewarding endeavor on its own.

Perhaps the most obvious result of yoga practice is increased flexibility and mobility. Via the kind of static stretching and isometric holds used to perform yoga asanas (postures), excessive tension in the soft tissues can be alleviated, allowing inhibited joints to move more freely. Through linking mindful movements with full, rhythmic breathing in what is termed vinyasa, we stretch dynamically and deliberately into deeper ranges of motion. By patiently developing our connection to the breath in well-aligned yoga asana, restrictions to a healthy range of motion can be softened and gradually overcome. This provides a sense of well-being, ease, and comfortability in the body.

An improved ROM can help to protect us from injury not only in daily life, but in particular during activities such as weightlifting. When impaired joint mobility no longer forces us to compensate, we can more easily maintain perfect form and technique while performing resistance training, and while under load. This ties into another crucial aspect of physical fitness which is cultivated by posture practice- that of stability. While our media is brimming with dramatic images of poses that emphasize extreme flexibility, the importance of stability may be overlooked as a main component of correctly performed yoga asana. In fact, strength and stability are at the very core of a good practice.

The skills of proprioception, detailed attention to alignment, and the mind-body connection are all strengthened through yoga. These abilities clearly transfer to other physical practices.

The yogi learns to proficiently move the prana, or life-force, as well as his conscious awareness around the body-  noticing, activating and relaxing muscles, and potentially whole systems, at will. Through direction of the breath, and while withdrawing the other senses into a powerful focus, the yogi develops the ability to control both body and mind. Yoga practitioners experience increased health, calmness, clarity, and presence.

The rewards and goals of yoga are not only physical or mental, but ultimately spiritual. Today’s posture-based yoga has its roots in traditions of Tantra and Hatha Yoga, and is a modern continuation of ancient mystical paths to liberation and power. From this perspective, the body is seen as a vehicle to awakening, and as an expression of the Divine. It is not rejected, but embraced as a means of participating in life to the fullest. The physical body, in the material plane, is considered to be the most accessible way to approach the deeper mysteries. It is through learning to govern the energies of the gross body that we become able to experience, and influence, more subtle elements. Incorporating the philosophy and esoteric techniques of yoga can add profound depth to a physical praxis the aims of which include self-knowledge, fortification of the will, and even attaining to a god-like state.

Establishing an authentic yoga practice will require some discipline, but just 5-10 minutes each morning is enough to start. As you continue, your practice may lengthen, but even fairly short, consistent practices are sufficient to receive many benefits. It is far better to practice 15 minutes 4-5 times per week, than it is to practice for an hour once a week! By carving out a small piece of time, ideally soon after awakening, one can easily establish a routine which could include hip, shoulder and spinal mobilization,  deep breathing, , and meditation. Sun Salutations and a few carefully-chosen poses can wake up the body and clear the head. The isometric bodyweight holds of yoga asana, and the warming, opening flow of vinyasa, help to prepare an athlete for the variety of positions and efforts he will make throughout an active day.

Like most things, yoga should be learned from a qualified teacher. Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals so that you can practice them anywhere. Set aside a regular time for your practice, soon after you’ve risen for the day. Establish the habit of getting on your mat early each morning. At this time it is appropriate to enjoy an invigorating, solar practice, such as one based around Sun Salutations. Consider also including a more relaxing, grounding, and reflective practice to unwind before bed in the evening.

Yoga does not need to be complicated to provide numerous advantages on many levels. From producing a greater freedom of movement leading to improved positioning for lifters, to helping hone the concentration of a martial artist, it is certain that authentic yoga practice has an important place in any comprehensive physical culturist program.

By Leilah Devi

The benefits of establishing an ongoing yoga practice are many and varied. In the context of a well-rounded physical training program centered on strength and conditioning and/or martial arts, the inclusion of a short and simple daily yoga practice can support our main focus, as well as serve as a rewarding endeavor on its own.

Perhaps the most obvious result of yoga practice is increased flexibility and mobility. Via the kind of static stretching and isometric holds used to perform yoga asanas (postures), excessive tension in the soft tissues can be alleviated, allowing inhibited joints to move more freely. Through linking mindful movements with full, rhythmic breathing in what is termed vinyasa, we stretch dynamically and deliberately into deeper ranges of motion. By patiently developing our connection to the breath in well-aligned yoga asana, restrictions to a healthy range of motion can be softened and gradually overcome. This provides a sense of well-being, ease, and comfortability in the body.

An improved ROM can help to protect us from injury not only in daily life, but in particular during activities such as weightlifting. When impaired joint mobility no longer forces us to compensate, we can more easily maintain perfect form and technique while performing resistance training, and while under load. This ties into another crucial aspect of physical fitness which is cultivated by posture practice- that of stability. While our media is brimming with dramatic images of poses that emphasize extreme flexibility, the importance of stability may be overlooked as a main component of correctly performed yoga asana. In fact, strength and stability are at the very core of a good practice.

The skills of proprioception, detailed attention to alignment, and the mind-body connection are all strengthened through yoga. These abilities clearly transfer to other physical practices.

The yogi learns to proficiently move the prana, or life-force, as well as his conscious awareness around the body-  noticing, activating and relaxing muscles, and potentially whole systems, at will. Through direction of the breath, and while withdrawing the other senses into a powerful focus, the yogi develops the ability to control both body and mind. Yoga practitioners experience increased health, calmness, clarity, and presence.

The rewards and goals of yoga are not only physical or mental, but ultimately spiritual. Today’s posture-based yoga has its roots in traditions of Tantra and Hatha Yoga, and is a modern continuation of ancient mystical paths to liberation and power. From this perspective, the body is seen as a vehicle to awakening, and as an expression of the Divine. It is not rejected, but embraced as a means of participating in life to the fullest. The physical body, in the material plane, is considered to be the most accessible way to approach the deeper mysteries. It is through learning to govern the energies of the gross body that we become able to experience, and influence, more subtle elements. Incorporating the philosophy and esoteric techniques of yoga can add profound depth to a physical praxis the aims of which include self-knowledge, fortification of the will, and even attaining to a god-like state.

Establishing an authentic yoga practice will require some discipline, but just 5-10 minutes each morning is enough to start. As you continue, your practice may lengthen, but even fairly short, consistent practices are sufficient to receive many benefits. It is far better to practice 15 minutes 4-5 times per week, than it is to practice for an hour once a week! By carving out a small piece of time, ideally soon after awakening, one can easily establish a routine which could include hip, shoulder and spinal mobilization,  deep breathing, , and meditation. Sun Salutations and a few carefully-chosen poses can wake up the body and clear the head. The isometric bodyweight holds of yoga asana, and the warming, opening flow of vinyasa, help to prepare an athlete for the variety of positions and efforts he will make throughout an active day.

Like most things, yoga should be learned from a qualified teacher. Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals so that you can practice them anywhere. Set aside a regular time for your practice, soon after you’ve risen for the day. Establish the habit of getting on your mat early each morning. At this time it is appropriate to enjoy an invigorating, solar practice, such as one based around Sun Salutations. Consider also including a more relaxing, grounding, and reflective practice to unwind before bed in the evening.

Yoga does not need to be complicated to provide numerous advantages on many levels. From producing a greater freedom of movement leading to improved positioning for lifters, to helping hone the concentration of a martial artist, it is certain that authentic yoga practice has an important place in any comprehensive physical culturist program.

Drills for Eka Pada Sirsasana

I recently had the privilege of practicing with Laruga Glaser for 2 weeks. What an inspiration! I attended all of her afternoon workshops on the Intermediate Series, and took copious notes.

One workshop focused on leg-behind-the-head postures from Intermediate, both Eka Pada and Dwi Pada Sirsasana. The good news is, Laruga swears that with enough practice and preparation via drills like the ones I demonstrate in this video, pretty much EVERYONE can find the hip opening needed for these challenging postures.  She didn’t say anything to the effect that some people will never be able to get their leg behind their neck due to physiological differences in the hip joint and angle/length of the neck of the femur….rather, according to her, with time and patience and drills like these, we can all not only do these postures, but maybe even come to enjoy them!

I hope you like the video! And let me know how it goes…

Hip Openers, Beginner to Advanced

 

Here’s a quick but logical progression from the very basic hip-opening posture called Agni Stambasana (or as my teacher John Scott somewhat jokingly calls it, Agony Stambasana), through to the more advanced Eka Pada Sirsasana. Please please don’t try to put your foot behind your head unless you’ve been taught how to do so by a qualified teacher, hopefully mid-practice, in the context of an ongoing Ashtanga practice. Just use these cues to work where it’s comfortable and beneficial for you. I hope some of the tips on Eka Pada can come in handy when you’re nice and warm and approaching the posture in the sequence of your daily  practice.

And here’s the progression to Eka Pada Sirsasana:

Beginning the 4th Series

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I’ve been in India for 2 full months now, and things are fine. Since arriving this season at Purple Valley, I’ve had the great good fortune to practice with John Scott, Sharmila Desai, Dena Kingsberg, Ty Landrum, and now Mark Robberds, all of whom I’ve practiced with many times before, over the course of the past 9 years since I started coming here.

Ashtanga at PV is amazing for so many reasons. The teachers of course, but also the beautiful dedicated shala, the ease of getting there (it’s just a short walk through a moonlit garden) and the simplicity of life at the retreat that supports a vigorous asana schedule. Thus, after fully 5 years of working on the complete 3rd series, I’ve begun (under the guidance of Ty and Mark so far) adding on the first 3 postures of the 4th series. I remember asking Petri once how many people he thought there were in the world practicing all of fourth and being shocked at his reply of “Probably about 200.” There’s a reason it’s such a small number!

I have no hopes or real desire to ever get to the end of the series. I don’t ever want to do that one pose where you stand on your head and walk around your own body! Never say never, but it would require some major effort, as well as some physiological changes that I’m not sure could or should ever happen. Meanwhile, although I assumed it would be no big deal, adding on these 3 postures (Mula Bandhasana, Nahushasana, Vrschikasana) has been kind of huge for me.  I’ve only even tried them a few times over the course of a week or so, and already I feel tectonic shifts happening in my body, psyche, and life off the mat. The changes are all for the better, but I feel these deep, subterranean currents rearranging pretty much everything now.

For one, I feel compelled to take the practice and myself more seriously. That may sound absurd to those people who see me and think I’m already outrageously disciplined; I can tell you, I have not been. But now I am becoming more focused and determined. As I approach my 45th Birthday next week, it is clearer than ever that it’s time to get serious not just about practice but about other aspects of my life which are connected to it. Proper diet (more protein, less sugar, hitting those macros like it’s my religion), hydration, and rest not least, but also teaching, training, and career advancements in those domains. It all weaves together. Now it is time to thrive, and to soar!

I’ll be blogging more about what’s in the works with me, including about my upcoming series of instructional videos, as well as progress and thoughts on training, diet. and physique. I’ve got a lot to say about the inner dimensions of Yoga as well, and the more esoteric aspects, so please subscribe if these things interest you.

Namaste from Goa, India!