There is more to yoga than just losing weight and increasing fitness.
When Vaishali signed up for a gym package, her main goal was to lose weight. It seemed to be working but she wanted lose more weight faster. Listening to a weekend warrior at the gym, she joined a power yoga session. Everything was just fine till, one day, she heard a click. She had hurt her spine. Now, she is sitting at home putting back all those lost kilos.
Power yoga is a vigorous fitness-based approach that gained popularity in the west. No doubt power yoga sequences give one a whole body workout; it improves flexibility, strength and stamina but also increases the chances of injuries.
Yoga means union of mind, body and spirit. This age-old tradition is not just about the body. Pushing oneself despite pain is not, and cannot be, yoga. Yoga is a way of life. The physical aspect of yoga — Hatha yoga — includes asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), and kriyas (cleansing). The main focus is to gain control over the body and prana and, thereby, over the mind. The other aspects of Yoga are yamas (restraining from negativity), niyamas (observing positivity), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharan (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (super conscious state). All this seems rather difficult and beyond the reach of a lay person. This could also be why most people focus on the physical aspects of yoga, which seem tangible and doable, like the asanas and pranayama.
When doing the asanas, holding the pose helps the body adjust itself to the acquired position and tune into the state of calmness, as one starts concentrating on the breathing. The direct connection between the mind and body is the breath. For a couple of seconds shift your focus to your breathing. Feel the air move in and out of your lungs, windpipe and nose. At that moment, you will realise that the mind is still. When you can do this for longer periods, the mind starts slowing down. This makes Hatha yoga a great mind-body practice.
However, power yoga is physically overwhelming and pushes the body to extreme levels. When done at a fast pace, it can be exhausting. The focus here is on physical development or to attain a great body whereas the real essence of yoga is accepting and respecting the body that one has.
In the traditional way, whatever the asana, one gets into the pose slowly and with a lot of awareness. This helps the body sense excessive stretch or tension. The brain will then instruct body to stop.
According to body biomechanics, every joint has a Range of Motion (ROM). That means a joint can perform a set of actions at particular angles and degrees. The movement is restricted by inflexibility, joint capsule structure and tightness of surrounding muscles. Some asanas take the body beyond its biomechanical design so, when done slowly, one can control each move.
Another problem occurs when neuro-receptors in the muscle and tendons sense these excessive stretches and tension. This sets off reflexive responses (autogenic and reciprocal inhibition) that is completely out of our control. Similarly when one moves very fast to assume a pose, it does not give the body enough time to cope with the new length of the muscle. All this leads to snapping of muscles and injuring them temporarily or, worse, tearing connective tissues like ligaments permanently. A muscle is an elastic component whereas ligaments and tendons are visco-elastic. They can stretch only up to a point. Beyond that the tissue will be permanently damaged.
Yoga asanas are all about flexibility; and this is joint specific. When a muscle is stretched, the length comes back to the original size. But in the case of ligaments and tendons, when stretched beyond the original length and held for more than 10 seconds, the length increases permanently. This also increases the joint’s ROM and flexibility. But an abnormal increase in ROM is not good because it can inhibit the body’s protective mechanism.
If weight loss and rippling abs are your main goal, then go to the gym. Leave yoga to those who are looking beyond their body.