It’s time to mix up your yoga routine

Who doesn’t want a lean body or a yoga butt? Practice yoga regularly and you’ll see these results — but are yogis as healthy on the inside as they look on the outside?

Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, particularly over the last 20 years. In fact, it’s grown in popularity with American practitioners by 50 percent from 2012 to 2016. This is evidenced by numerous advertisers now using yoga to sell their products, even McDonalds!

While yoga has a multitude of benefits, so does chocolate. And just like one wouldn’t live on a complete diet of chocolate — although we may want to! — relying only on yoga for fitness isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Many yoga teachers I know who solely practiced yoga are now dealing with yoga-related injuries. These injuries, such as fractures, tears, and joint injuries, can come from years of overuse. Within my own circle, arthritis and osteoporosis are increasingly common. What was once thought of as a cure-all may in fact be a “cure-some.” For optimal fitness and a holistically healthy body, experts are now recommending incorporating other forms of training, such as weights, cardio, and Pilates.

Adrian Carvalho, MPT and owner of the prominent San Francisco rehabilitation center Golden Gate Physical Therapy believes that “Yoga is a great compliment to weight training, and vice versa.”

Lisa Covey, DC, ART, and owner of FitWell Chiropractic Sports Medicines agrees, adding, “In a perfect world, everyone should engage in daily Pilates and yoga.”

It’s really a win-win to mix up your routine. Just as yoga supports other forms of fitness, different modalities will improve your yoga game too!

Here are four things to consider including in your exercise plan to create a well-rounded workout regimen:

A yoga class already includes stretching and strengthening, but the strength yogis build is very different from the strength built from weights. Yoga poses build strength isometrically, by statically holding a position or using one’s own body weight against an unmovable force, like the floor or wall. As a result, you build longer, leaner muscle tone.

However, Carvalho reminds us that when working isometrically, “You’re limited by body weight and gravity for resistance” — meaning you only get as strong as your own weight. To take your strength to the next level, you’ll want to work with weights through a full range of motion.

Progressively increasing the weight load will also complement the isometric poses. For example, incorporating an overhead press with dumbbells into your repertoire will create stability in a handstand more so than practicing the handstand alone.

There’s a misconception that working with weights will bulk muscles. It doesn’t, but studies show that it may increase bone density! If you’re worried about bulking up, stick with lower pound weights with more repetitions. It’s a great way to get strong both inside and out!

There’s no question that a strong heart is the key to a healthy, long life. But whether yoga counts as cardiovascular exercise remains debatable.

Faster yoga classes, such as Power yoga and Vinyasa Flow, do increase heart rate and strengthen the lungs, but nowhere as much as traditional cardio exercises like running.

To gain aerobic benefits, yogis need to move very quickly, which increases risk of injury. This is especially dangerous for people with hypermobile bodies who tend to move from their joints instead of their muscles. Unlike muscle fibers, which stretch and return to their original shape, ligaments and tendons that are overstretched stay that way. Repetitive instability can lead to osteoarthritis and even dislocated bones, like the shoulder or hip.

Cardiovascular exercise such as cycling and jogging are more sustainable ways to elevate heart rate over a longer period and regular yoga practice helps one breathe better during cardio.

Yoga isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise. As yogis’ lives change, so do their bodies.

Jeanne Heileman, a senior yoga teacher who leads trainings worldwide, explains: “I am learning as I get older to work less ‘hard’ to prevent tearing muscles and harming joints, as I have seen in many students and a few teachers.”

Heileman incorporates nonimpact practices with her yoga, including swimming at her local gym. Heileman also recommends breathing exercises such as the yogic practice of Pranayama to “work the inner muscles and increase [one’s] capacity for breathing.”

Pilates is an excellent nonimpact complement to any workout style. The isolated movements challenge the core of the body much more effectively than yoga alone, where practitioners tend to “cheat” by moving from the lower back, which is quite mobile, versus their center. Knowing how to properly engage the core can vastly improve your yoga practice, making poses more cohesive and strong.

Anything we do repeatedly risks becoming routine, and if we do them mindlessly, an overuse injury is inevitable. Changing up your fitness repertoire isn’t only great for your body, but also for your brain.

CrossFit and similar boot camp-style workouts involve training the body through multiple exercises within one workout period. People go between weight training, isometric work, and cardio drills, which require the muscles and brain to recalibrate each time one switches modalities.

Even simply changing the hand with which we do an activity will exercise the brain in new ways. Since yoga is the ultimate form of mental conditioning, it in turn helps athletes stay sharp and alert when trying other styles of fitness.

Yoga teaches us how to balance. Literally, like standing on one foot, and more generally, like not doing too much of any one thing. So, not only will your whole body benefit by adding in other fitness modalities, but your whole life will too!

Based out of San Francisco, Sarah Ezrin is a motivator, writer, yoga teacher, and teacher trainer. She found refuge in yoga during college after a series of stressful life events and firmly believes in the power of yoga beyond the mat. You can follow her journey on Instagram.