Falling in love with yoga can be like falling in love with a person. Suddenly, yoga is all you think about. Nothing else matters as you live, breathe, sleep, and eat yoga all day long. But like any relationship, with time the passion cools a bit. Maybe that spin class at the gym starts to look appealing. Or your coworker invites you to go jogging after work. It feels like cheating to even consider trying out a new activity, but you can’t help yourself! Don’t worry. You don’t have to give up your yoga practice just because you’ve found a love for snowboarding or jiujitsu. Yoga is a fantastic tool for cross training, both mentally and physically. Also, trying different activities can support your yoga practice. Here are 5 reasons why cross training with yoga and other sports is a great thing.
The mental aspect of yoga helps other types of activity. Pull-ups are hard. Pushing through the last mile of a long run can sometimes feel impossible. Even learning something more “fun,” like layups in basketball, can be frustrating in the beginning. This is where all of the mental training of yoga comes to the rescue. Remembering the time you held a challenging posture for 11 minutes, 31 minutes, or even longer can be incredibly refreshing and motivating when your mind starts telling you that you can’t do one more pushup, or run one more step. If you take up something like ballroom dancing, you may call on all of the self-acceptance you’ve developed to calm your nerves before your first recital. Whatever the activity, yoga can help calm and focus your mind when it starts to spin off.
Weight bearing workouts make aspects of yoga easier. If you cross train with weight lifting, or even simply body weight exercises, flowing through poses in a vinyasa practice becomes much easier. Your stronger muscles will also be able to better support you in holding postures for longer periods of time. On the other side of the coin, the flexibility that yoga provides will help to keep your increased muscle mass more functional (imagine a kick boxer who can get his foot to head height, versus a body builder whose muscles are more for show).
Doing something different is interesting. Of course with yoga there are always different asanas or kriyas to try. But doing something new, like training for a 10k run or triathlon, is interesting and challenging in different ways. It adds something to our regular routine, and can give us new goals to work towards. Different disciplines also work different parts of our bodies, or may use them in different ways. We’ve all struggled with moments when our yoga practice feels a bit stale or rote. Trying something completely different can help us return to our yoga practice with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Just imagine how amazing it would feel to cross the finish line in your first race one day, and accomplish your 40th day of a difficult sadhana the next!
Pranayama helps everything. Getting control of your breathing is immensely helpful for just about any physical activity you could name. So often when we find ourselves in taxing situations, whether physically or emotionally, we tend to hold the breath. When we aren’t breathing properly, our blood can’t circulate oxygen to our working muscles. When we practice pranayama regularly, we learn to control our breathing patterns. This will definitely translate in our other activities, giving our bodies more oxygen to fuel themselves.
Yoga can work out the kinks caused by your favorite sport. Many runners find themselves complaining about tight hamstrings, sore knees, and sore ankles. Tennis players may develop shoulder and elbow issues. Boxers sometimes look hunched over, from years of over-developing the front muscles in the body at the expense of their upper backs. Yoga can’t cure pre-existing injuries, it’s not a magic bullet. But what it can do is help athletes learn to use their bodies more effectively, making it possible to stop an injury before it starts. Increased flexibility and mental awareness are powerful tools that will benefit people in many disciplines, which is why so many professional athletes are rolling out their yoga mats for support.
So next time someone invites you to play tennis with them, try it out. You may find a new activity to go with your yoga practice!