What's all this exercising malarkey?
I am not an exercising type of person. It's not my 'thing' at all. I'd love to be fit like an athlete but the truth is, I like food too much. Before I found yoga, I didn't work out at all. I may have gone for long walks but that was about it. I stumbled upon yoga out of curiosity and feeling slightly unfit while travelling.
I have been practising yoga three or four times a week, sometimes more, for five years now. It's helped me build strength and balance I never knew I had. I'm now at a point in my practice where I'm wanting to try the harder postures and have had to turn to other things to help.
Using other exercises to enhance your yoga practice
A year or so ago I heard Mark Robberds, a well renowned Ashtanga teacher, say he had been going to the gym to gain the strength required for the more advanced series of Ashtanga. I remember at the time I was shocked. I had thought he'd gotten so advanced in his practice due to yoga alone. I mean, the yogis in ancient times accomplished these postures without the gym. Why can't we?
The difference between then and now...
A year on and I'm thinking completely differently about it. Our lifestyles are much less physical than they would have been a long time ago. We (and I'm included in this) sit at a desk most of the day, our joints getting stiff and our bodies making very little movement throughout the day. We are sedentary beings now. Back when yoga was being taught in India 6000 years ago, life would have involved more movement with people living off the land.
A life living off the land would naturally produce stronger humans. We'd be lifting things and moving around all day making the yoga postures more achievable. Today, we're learning these postures with lots of the damage already having been done from our sedentary lifestyles. We're learning these postures with our bodies being so tight and tense that all the postures are hard to start with.
Weight training to help your strength in your yoga practice
Having been doing some weight training on and off for two months, I can already feel the benefits to my yoga practice. This is a hard thing for me to swallow. I was adamant I could do it without any extra help but actually, I'm not a naturally strong person. I needed some props, so to speak.
To be clear, I am not willing to start weight training to the point where it makes my shoulders and back so tight that I go backwards in my practice, not forwards. Yoga is my priority. I am only lifting small weights to help gain some more shoulder and chest strength to complement my practice.
You don't even have to do weights to gain some extra strength. I find practising a few press ups (with your knees down to begin with) is a massive help. I couldn't do one with my knees down when I started, now I can do ten (on my better days). You can incorporate some of these exercises into your yoga practice - it doesn't have to be another thing you have to find time for. Ekhart Yoga wrote a brilliant article on using weights in your yoga practice.
I see now that having other forms of exercise can improve your practice. If we can get into a posture because we feel stronger on a physical basis, it will have an uplifting effect on the mind. We will feel brave and full of joy. Of course, getting into the final posture isn't necessary in yoga - we only go as far as we reasonably can comfortably. But by me gaining more strength, my edge is increasing allowing me to experience things in my practice that I haven't before.
Using another form of exercise to get our bodies fit is a positive thing. It means we can learn to clear our minds in another way, a way that's off the mat which is where we should also be practising yoga. It allows us more chances to cleanse the body through exercise. We will feel fitter. It might not have exactly the same benefits as yoga (stress reduction, relaxation, breath work etc) but working hand in hand with your yoga routine, it can surely only improve your practice in more ways than one.