It sometimes seems as though weightlifting and yoga exist in two completely different and incompatible universes.
A number of years ago, I journeyed to FEDEX Field to watch the Washington Redskins take on my beloved Miami Dolphins in an NFL regular season game. During one of the TV timeouts, the players on the field were trying to keep loose and I saw one of my heroes Zach Thomas who played middle linebacker for the Dolphins do something that completely surprised me: He went into Pigeon Pose, right there in the middle of field—fully dressed in pads, uniform and helmet.
I couldn’t believe it; a man who can bench press God-only-knows-what and regularly takes on 300-pound linemen to then attempt tackling a 240-pound running back was in full eka pada rajakapotasana.
I myself lifted weights for 20 years, but once I started my yoga practice, my interest in weightlifting fell by the wayside and I really haven’t been back since. I notice that within my community when I practiced yoga in a local gym that the male participation was roughly the same as any other yoga class—about 20 percent. Apparently, the large majority of men in the weight room did not feel the urge to come to a yoga class as part of their routine, and I had little interest in going back to weight room as part of my routine.
You can Google the term, “pro athletes yoga” and you will come up with a myriad of hits. One in particular that I pulled was this link, which has a list of ten pro athletes that incorporate yoga into their routine. It appears that professional athletes don’t have a problem integrating a weight lifting program along with a yoga exercise.
This leads me to wonder: what’s the difference between the state of mind with pro athletes and us the rest of us in our workout routine?
I think one of misconceptions that men have about yoga is that it just involves stretching. While it is true that yoga heavily involves stretching, a well-rounded yoga practice will involve many physical and mental facets which benefit all athletes, including balancing though standing postures, upper body strength through arm balances and inversions and lower body strength through lunges, chair pose and warrior poses.
I personally feel that my yoga practice is enough of a strength workout. In my yoga practice, an inversion or an arm balance with my body weight of 175 pounds is quite a workout for me. There are some yoga classes that I attend where I can feel a certain amount of muscle soreness the next morning. The soreness isn’t as intense as with a good weightlifting session, but still sore nonetheless.
Physical aspects of yoga aside, the mental aspect of yoga is perhaps the most appealing aspect to a professional athlete, whereas an amateur doesn’t think that much about it.
The practice of calming the mind and scanning the body helps the athlete to maximize his potential while helping to avoid injury. The calm mind helps give greater focus towards reaching competition goals while at the same time teaching us to slow down and listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. This helps define that point when the body has had enough and effort and struggle cross over to pain and injury.
I do have to admit, though, that my yoga practice has been helped by all those years of weight training. Weight training does a great job of targeting specific muscle groups and developing and strengthening them. I feel having strong shoulder, triceps and pectoral muscles is of real benefit to performing some of the various inversions and arm balances.
Maybe the answer is that amateur jocks just don’t have the time to do mix weightlifting and yoga as part of a practice. Maybe they feel that they only have so many hours in a week to devote to exercise, and so those that like yoga stick with yoga, and those who like weights stick with weights.
So is weightlifting incompatible with yoga?
One thing that I have learned from my practice is that whatever one does, balance is required. This is something all professional athletes know. In order to hit peak performance, you need to draw from multiple disciplined routines. Weightlifting develops the individual muscles and yoga teaches how to make those individual muscles work together. All yogis could benefit from sometime in the weight room and all the people in the weight room could benefit from sometime in the yoga studio. I think all of us benefit from a balanced approach in everything we do.
To be the best you can be, get off the mat and into the weight room, or get out of the weight room and get onto the mat.
Jamie Nicholas hails from southern Maryland. His interests include yoga, meditation and environmentalism. He enjoys writing about men’s issues in the world of yoga because mainly he didn’t see anybody else doing it.
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Ed: K. Macku & B. Bemel