How I deepened my yoga practice by getting my Crossfit on.
First things first, yoga is my first love. But recently, another special someone has come into my life and has caught my attention. I started doing Crossfit a few months ago at a local “box”—box is Crossfit speak for gym. Crossfit is a fitness regimen developed by Coach Greg Glassman and is defined as that which optimizes fitness and uses constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. A hallmark of Crossfit is the WOD or “Workout Of the Day.” WODs are performed at high intensity and typically leave you on the floor in a pool of your own sweat, not unlike a great hot yoga class. Although Crossfit may seem like it is in direct opposition to yoga, my Crossfit experience has not only complimented my yoga practice but has deepened it substantially in the following five ways.
One of the benefits of yoga that any practitioner can attest to is a heightened sense of body awareness. Our bodies communicate with us in the language of sensation. By bringing awareness to specific portions of the body, yoga students learn how to listen to their bodies and respond accordingly. Moreover, students learn to “feel” their body exist and move in space. Yoga students become accustomed to sustained movements that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. The more yoga we practice, the better we become at abiding in the uncomfortable for longer periods of time.
Speaking of abiding in the uncomfortable for long periods of time, anyone who has completed a Crossfit WOD knows what abiding in unpleasant sensation is all about. Sure, it’s empowering to hold a warrior pose and maintain a sense of ease, but thrusting a 95-pound barbell over your head 21 times while keeping your cool takes body awareness to a whole new level. Crossfit will teach you how to move your body in entirely new ways. You will learn not only to abide in the uncomfortable, but actually learn to love those uncomfortable moments. Consider yourself warned.
I found yoga while I was a collegiate soccer player at a division one school. After spending years being pushed and prodded by coaches, I fell in love with yoga’s non-competitive nature. Yoga became a safe haven for me, a place to just be me. I love that yoga accepts us as we are and accepts everyone equally. I think these qualities of yoga are often confused with the idea of progress. Progress is not the same as competition and is one of the basic principles of Crossfit.
In yoga, there is nothing like the feeling you get when you fly up into your first crow pose. Small victories like that are exciting and absolutely should be celebrated. An inherent part of Crossfit is tracking progress—whether tracking the weight of your max back squat or the amount of time it takes to complete a WOD. We even have a PR (“Personal Record”) board up in the gym where you write your accomplishments. After writing my first PR on the board, I realized that my fourth grade teacher was a genius. It feels freaking awesome to put a gold star next to your name, even if it is only for doing one unassisted pull-up (which, for your information, I worked my ass off for). And let’s face it, people need progress. If we are not growing and learning, we are shrinking.
I would love to see more celebration of our victories in yoga—whether getting that first headstand or successfully sitting still for a five minute mediation. There is value in progress, it is the result of our hard work and effort. Progress is not competition but is forward movement. Since I have started to celebrate my yoga victories, not only has my yoga practice become more exciting, I have become more appreciative of the teachers who have guided me along the way. Another way to implement the principle of progress into your yoga practice is to use your regular yoga practice as a benchmark for keeping track of how your body feels. Some weeks you may notice your balance is off, other weeks you may find your energy soaring. Using your yoga practice as a benchmark for your overall wellness is a useful tool for making good decisions about what foods, activities and people work for you and those that do not. You can use this information to make decisions that lead you toward your goals.
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. Teaching your body to move in new ways and under heavier loads will build strength. Period. The portions of my yoga practice that I previously struggled with are now easier. Notably, the increase in physical strength pales in comparison to the mental boost Crossfit provides. For every Crossfit class I have completed, there has been a moment when I wanted to stop and give up. I have fought through each of these moments by focusing on my breath and the present moment, uncomfortable sensations and all. This is a lesson yoga taught me long ago and it has carried me through tough times both off my mat and on. Crossfit is another means to build the mental toughness necessary for those trying times in life.
I know what you are thinking, there is no way Crossfit improves flexibility, and you are half right. In my experience, I have become much more flexible in certain areas and slightly less flexible in others. Let’s go back to the definition of Crossfit: that which optimizes fitness (constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity). A major aspect of fitness is flexibility. Certain Crossfit movements, such as overhead squats, require a high degree of hip and shoulder mobility and flexibility. For this reason, there are WODs designed specifically to build mobility in the body. Herein lies another overlap between Crossfit and yoga, both disciplines are meant to be sustainable for a lifetime. Moderation and balance are two key components of each.
One of my favorite things about Crossfit is the community of people who surround it. Going through WODs together day in and day out and seeing your classmates progress alongside you builds a lasting bond. A universal feature of Crossfit is that each participant cheers on the rest of the class if they complete a WOD first. To me, this no-(wo)man-left-behind attitude is an amped up version of compassion and connection. It is the very same quality we try to cultivate on our yoga mats. All too often, I find myself rushing in and out of yoga class and missing one of the best parts of yoga—the community.
Katie Surma is a Pittsburgh based attorney, yoga teacher, and crossfitter. She teaches at Pittsburgh-based Amazing Yoga and crossfits at Integrated Fitness. You can reach her at: [email protected]
Editor: Maja Despot
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