Stretching and exercise may not be your thing, but after treating my scoliosis a few years ago I became a firm believer that yoga and strength training are a killer combination!
During my 2nd year of college I was diagnosed with scoliosis, although I didn’t start experiencing back pain until I started my first corporate job almost 4 years later. Because the nature of my work required I sit for long periods of time I developed sciatica, an impingement of a major nerve that runs along your low back, hips, booty and legs.
My piriformis muscle, located in the glutes, was pushing on my sciatic nerve, causing a shooting pain to run down my leg, while the muscles along my spinal curvature were weak and hyper-flexible, challenging the support of my bones. Around that time I was practicing yoga religiously for my sanity and spiritual awareness. Although I was advised by my chiropractor to scale down my practice and start strength training, I stubbornly declined. That is until the end of 2016, early 2017 when my back pain returned with a vengeance.
I assumed if I practiced yoga more it would help relieve the pain but because I was already hyper-mobile, flexibility was not what I needed. It was vital that I strengthen the muscles along my back to stabilize the curvature. So I hit the gym and started learning everything I could about strength training.
Keep reading to learn how my practice improved and why yoga and strength training are an ideal combo!
1. Increased Strength and Endurance
If you’re looking to gain muscle and lose fat, strength training is for you my friend, especially if you’re doing compound lifts that utilize your full body, like squats, deadlifts and pull ups. After strengthening the muscles in my back the pain along my spine dissipated drastically, so much so that I reduced my chiro visits from 3x a week to once every 2 weeks.
While full-body compound movements used in strength training support explosive motions, yoga develops endurance because of the reduced pace. This activates smaller, slow-twitch muscles which provide the stamina needed to retain longer holds in the asana practice
2. Improved Joint Mobility
Healthy, well greased joints are the fountain of youth, real talk! Because yoga places an emphasis on spine, sacrum, hip, knee and ankle alignment during both static and dynamic postures, it encourages optimal mobility in the joints.
Not only will this prevent injury while strength training, it will increase the range of motion in your body overall – can you say loose, limber and liberated, hunny!
3. Better Muscle Definition
I know you want to look good, me too! While strength training helps you put on muscle and ultimately bring shape to your body (yes you can build curves), yoga helps tone your muscles for further definition.
4. Relax and Repair
Pranayama or breath is the foundation of yoga. Not only does deep, meditative breathing take the body out of fight or flight mode, relaxing the muscles, it also improves muscle elasticity. Check out my video on how to build a breath practice here.
When you breath, your muscles do as well. As you inhale your diaphragm contracts, as you exhale new blood runs through your system, improving muscle elasticity while repairing muscles fibers. The meditative aspects of breathing also relax the mind. With every inhale and exhale you begin to drift into a state of meditation, ultimately matching the frequency of your own breath. From there you begin to allow your thoughts to float pass the eye gates as opposed to attaching a meaning to them, the same way a river carries a log down the bank. When you no longer identify with every fleeting thought that comes to your mind you begin to transcend them.
5. Enhance Mental Health and Self Awareness
I saved the best for last! Without self awareness we’re not fully cognizant of why we do what we do and may inflict undue suffering onto ourselves and others as a result.
Mental health, on the other hand, is a global epidemic effecting everyone from your co-workers to Kanye West himself. Our souls and minds desire a respite from the chaotic and constant streams of negative thoughts we feed ourselves. A practice of presence draws you in the moment and clears the mind. It also helps you identify with higher levels of Spirit, so you don’t feel like a victim to your body or circumstances.
Where to Begin?
If you’re new to both yoga and weight training I suggest you choose 1 and start there. Keep it basic, what I mean by that is start with more a structured yoga class like Iyengar, an intro series or gentle Vinyasa as opposed to jumping into a hot power class.
Same goes for strength training, start with a group fitness class that introduces you to major compound exercises safely, like a bootcamp or HIIT class. You’ll gradually learn how to connect your body with the movements and begin to develop a personal preference from there. Lastly ask for help from a yoga instructor or personal trainer. They’re knowledge goes a long way and will ultimately benefit your practice and or fitness program!