Marolt: Yoga is not just for granola crunchers anymore
I think the thing I like most about yoga is that I used to not like yoga. It proves to me that I can be as flexible in my mind as I can be with my body. That’s saying a lot for a guy who used to have to lie on the bed to put his socks on and once believed Republicans made sense.
I admit yoga is weird when you think of it as a means of alternative extreme spiritual discovery, but once you see that it is just stretching, strengthening and relaxation, you wonder how you ever did without it.
The biggest problem with yoga is that it doesn’t build muscle mass. I say this as the kid they used to call “the scurvy poster child.” My mother thought I had a tapeworm, and I think secretly she still does, and this explains why she still fixes two hamburgers for me when we have dinner with her. Since I was a teenager, building girth through weight training and ice cream eating has been important. You definitely get stronger with yoga, in a different kind of way, but you shed muscle mass like a Labrador looses hair in August. It makes you lean and not mean, but the other benefits definitely outweigh these drawbacks.
The biggest benefit I reap from my daily roll on the rug is that I enjoy skiing more. In my former fitness life, I was a gym rat. I pumped iron until I was good and stiff and sore. If I performed curls until my arms were so pumped up that they felt like over-cooked linguine, I had a great workout. Waking up so sore the next morning that I couldn’t wave to the paperboy was a source of great satisfaction. The day after a leg workout, when my glutes were so tender that I couldn’t sit on the toilet, created an endorphin high so powerful that I’d strive to reproduce it every trip to the squat rack. The problem is that skiing skills are limited by pain and stiffness, no matter how strong you get.
I remember when core strengthening started getting popular. I noticed people balancing on one foot while standing on rubbery domes under the watch of personal trainers. Some were doing simple arm lifts with embarrassingly small hand weights while concentrating so hard that they couldn’t even continue gossiping. They didn’t grunt. They didn’t sweat. I figured it was a fitness fad that imitated actual kinetic movements promising incredible results in a short period of time without any effort, like the Thigh Master. My concern was what effect all those rubber half-balls were going to have on our landfills.
I still wonder that, except my time frame has increased. With yoga, I have learned the value of core strength and that you don’t need those bouncy rubber contraptions to stand or sit on to achieve a position that requires using invisible muscles to balance with, but when you are just starting out you can use them like training wheels. For people around here who spend half their lives slipping and falling on icy sidewalks, it’s funny that we need to learn how to be off-balance on purpose.
A great enlightenment from doing yoga is that there are plenty of positions you can put your body into on solid, flat ground where not falling over requires incredible concentration and strength. The gigantic ball we live on is challenging enough to stay upright on if you use a little imagination. Alcohol works, too, but is frowned upon before a workout.
Although not heavily promoted by industry insiders, the truth is that you do not have to go to a studio where they play sitar music to do yoga. You can do it in a grimly, old gym while listening to rock and roll. The problem is that your muscle-bound friends will wonder why you spend so much time on the ground. Meditation isn’t necessary, either, but it fills the time while you are exercising and don’t have to count out the number of times you lift any particular piece of iron.
I’m definitely not stronger since I started yoga, but I am able to use more of what little strength I have left because my stable core allows for a better platform from which to launch it, at least that’s how the yogis explain it. All I know is that I haven’t felt this good on my skis in years. And isn’t that what really counts?
Roger Marolt still doesn’t get the idea of hot yoga, but doesn’t see the health benefits of a sauna either. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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