There’s a feeling amongst ashtanga yoga practitioners that doing other physical pursuits negatively impacts your ability to do yoga postures; that running tightens the hamstrings and hurts your knees, climbing causes the shoulders and upper back to become stiff, cycling tightens the hips, lifting weights in the gym causes all the muscles to become tight and stiff rather than supple. Friends of mine were even advised to take rickshaws everywhere in Mysore because walking would make them stiff for yoga practice.
If you’ve practised yoga for even a short time you might recognise that there is some truth to this. If you go for a long hike in the mountains you will feel stiff the next day in your yoga practice. If you run long distances (and the word long is, of course, entirely subjective here) you’ll probably find the same thing.
A friend I met on my first trip to Mysore in 2007 said: “Yoga makes you able to do everything else better, and doing everything else makes yoga worse”.
So what should we do? Should we forsake all other physical pursuits so that we have an easier time doing the yoga postures? Long-time readers of my emails will probably guess my answer to this, but it sort of depends really.
If the most important thing to you, at the moment, is to progress through all the different series’ of ashtanga yoga then it might be smart to avoid other things which are going to negatively impact that. Progression in asana is a valid goal and probably the one which keeps most people hooked on ashtanga yoga, at least for the first few years.
If like me, however, you have realised that you are never going to finish all six series (and, in fact, you’re unable to do some of the postures you used to be able to do) then you might end up with a choice.
Give up practising altogether because making no progress is too frustrating. So many people choose this and it is extremely unfortunate in my opinion.
Ask yourself what your motivation to practice yoga really is. There are hundreds of reasons to keep practising (a few of them are listed here). If we find something that motivates us to return to our mats over and over again, then we don’t need to worry about whether or not we can do the postures the way we might like.
So if we are practising regularly and are not worried about progressing through the series then we must revisit whether or not we should also allow ourselves to pursue other physical disciplines. It seems self-evident to me that we should endeavour to live our lives unrestricted by our own fears. If we feel like running we should run, if we feel like climbing we should climb, if we feel like learning a martial art we should learn a martial art, and if we feel like going to the gym and lifting heavy stuff then we should do that. Surely all of these things can help in the pursuit of physical health and mental clarity, both of which we are striving for in our yoga practice.
Anything which challenges us in new ways provides us with the potential to grow (that’s part of the reason the ashtanga yoga asanas get harder the further we get through each series), and personal growth and self-awareness are at the heart of yoga practice.
Don’t live in fear of stifling your progress in asana. Live a full life and grow old with no regrets.
I went to my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class today. Practice is going to be tough tomorrow!