Yoga Supports Your Exercise Program

Bristol Yoga Studio

{By: Tracy Cooper Ramos}

While for many, yoga is the only physical exercise they do, a yoga practice can also serve as a great complement to any form of exercise.  While lots of types of exercise can be practiced with a kind of meditative, mindful attentive quality – like running or golf or Pilates, for example – yoga differs in that its purpose is to clear the mind; the physical fitness benefits are happy secondary results of the actual purpose of practicing yoga.

A regular yoga practice not only help support whatever one is passionate about by bringing more overall wholeness and well being, but by supporting the body physically.  The asana (poses) practiced in a typical class are designed to strengthen and lengthen muscles, stabilize joints and increase oxygenation of the blood through breathing with awareness.  All of this is done with the mindfulness and attention to the physical and mental being.  Sounds great, right? The sequencing of a yoga class – bending, stretching, twisting, or balancing – is typically designed to warm up the muscles, challenge the body, and require just enough thought so the focus stays on the mat and not on your ‘to do’ list.

Often my students will hear me say before and during a yoga class that students should feel free to ‘meet themselves where they are.’ So this means not necessarily trying to reach some goal for the time they are on the mat, but instead to use the poses and the breath work we do in yoga to be aware of the truth of this precise moment. How does your body actually feel?  What is your breath like right now?

Cultivating a deep curiosity about oneself and paying attention to the messages your body sends you is a key part of a yoga practice.  This is particularly helpful if you find yourself working with an injury or physical limitation. Yoga encompasses many different types of movement and breathing, so the practice can be tailored to the specific needs of whoever is practicing, depending on the day, the time and the way the person is feeling.

I’ve had many students in classes working with injuries, using the practice to heal themselves gently while staying physically connected and active.  I encourage students to use group classes a guide to developing their own personalized yoga practice.  Usually in an early part of a class, I’ll guide students into child’s pose (balasana) and I’ll use that pose as a resting pose throughout the class.  I encourage students to come back to balasana whenever they need to, no matter what the rest of the class is doing.  This practice of returning to balasana whenever one feels disconnected requires awareness of and kindness to the self, both of which are at the essence of yoga.

Sharpening the skills we learn on a yoga mat can support the rest of the work we do in our lives.  You don’t need to become a renunciate and sit in meditation for hours a day to gain the benefits of a yoga practice.  You can have a full, normal life and use yoga as a tool to support whatever it is you do and love.

Tracy is a Yoga Instructor and the Director at Bristol Yoga Studio. While she started practicing yoga in a heated fast-paced environment, she prefers the more mindful and meditative practices yoga can offer.  Tracy stays active by walking with her two little kids, practicing yoga and pilates, and occaisionally playing golf with her husband.