This past Sunday one of my favorite yoga teachers was conducting a special practice called “108 Sun Salutations.” This practice is traditionally done on the Winter Solstice and consists of 108 Sun A’s.
At the same time as the practice, one of my fellow yoga students was doing a marathon-training run. This morning he told me that he thought about the 108 Sun Salutations just as he finished Mile 17 of his run, and decided that he was fortunate to be running instead of saluting. What’s that say about 108 Sun A’s?
After sharing that bit of wisdom, my friend and I embarked on a Hot Vinyasa practice. Consistent with the Lifetime Fitness format, the practice primarily consists of three Sun Salutation series (A, B an C) before throwing on a few “logs” – i.e., holding a series of strenuous poses for several minutes. They are called logs because the three Sun series are supposed to generate a blazing fire in our bodies while the finishing strenuous poses are supposed to be “logs” to keep the fire blazing a bit longer. Although today’s logs weren’t particularly sadistic, the logs this past Sunday were. They caused me to wonder, is that really yoga?
So I asked Google – “Is yoga supposed to be hard?” The first result came from a Fitness blog, with an entry titled, “Is yoga supposed to kick your butt?” The author seemed eminently qualified because she taught both yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In a nutshell, her answer is “no”:
- “I don’t look at my students before a yoga class and think, ‘This class is going to kick everyone’s butt today.’ (Full disclosure: I do have those thoughts before teaching my HIIT classes!) With yoga, the intention is different. We are there to shift our energy and find inner peace. That doesn’t mean the class is just gentle stretching. We build power and heat doing Down-Dog flows. We discover our strength in Warrior and Plank. We challenge ourselves with balancing and other advanced poses. But all that’s done with a mindfulness toward inner peace, a sense of stability and a deeper connection with oneself. No one feels ‘beat up’ after class.”
Other blogs talk about yoga expanding its boundaries in recent years to include strength and cardio fitness, and that is what has happened at Lifetime Fitness. Its website describes a Hot Vinyasa practice as follows:
- “Enjoy an energetic yoga class that uses a flowing series of postures to create heat within the body as you increase strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. The teacher first guides the class through the flow together before freeing each student to move at his or her own pace. Hot Vinyasa is good for new students who are physically active, those interested in the fitness benefits of yoga, and anyone who wants to dive in to a strong, multi-faceted practice. This practice is typically accompanied by more upbeat music.”
The concern with an energetic yoga class is analogous to the concern with vitamins and medicine – i.e., if a certain dosage is good for you, is a double dose twice as good for you. Some yoga teachers inevitably start thinking that more energy is a better class, so they push their students to use more energy, which can leave them feeling “beat up.”
The solution, of course, is for each student to modify their practice to suit themselves. The problem is that many teachers, either explicitly or implicitly, discourage modifications. In fact, after practice one day last week, a yogi came up to me and gravely asked if I were injured. When I said I was fine, she said she had noticed so many modifications that she assumed I was injured.