Friday, October 5, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: Get Your Yoga On!

Image courtesy of

What do you think of when you hear the term “yoga”? If you had asked me that question 4 years ago, it would have conjured images of Hollywood types sipping wheatgrass while folded into pretzels, faint aromas of patchouli floating through the air, and the hum of non-sensical chanting and “Ohms”. I was once a hard-core cardio junkie, completely of the mind-set that real athletes don't waste their workout time practicing yoga. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My fellow athletes, cardio-junkies, and yoga non-believers, open your minds and listen up. I’m here to tell you that yoga changed my world for the better in more ways than you could imagine. I’m not exaggerating. I could go on for days, but here are 3 reasons you should hop on a mat and mix up your routine...


I used to think that yoga was only for flexible people. You were either flexible and did yoga, or you weren’t. If you were in the latter category, yoga wasn’t going to work for you. Seriously. Now I look back and realize the absolute absurdity of this point of view. It’s like saying only people who are full should eat food - it just doesn't make sense. 

Image courtesy of
They call it yoga practice, not yoga perfect, for a reason. You do it so you can get better. And you WILL get better. And more flexible. I promise. Runners and cyclists, in particular, have incredibly tight hips, quads, and hamstrings. I didn’t realize how tight my muscles were until I plopped myself into pigeon pose for the first time, held it for what seemed like an hour (in reality it was probably 90 seconds, max) and felt the difference when I got out of the pose. The only thing I can compare that sense of release to is the feeling you get after a great massage. My hips may have been screaming at me during the pose, but my muscles couldn’t have been happier at the end of it. And happy, flexible muscles mean a decreased likelihood of muscle strain and injury.


Image courtesy of
Yoga gave my body definition without bulking me up. I’m not talking Madonna arms here, but instead, just enough definition to wear a tank top without feeling self-conscious. After years of busting my butt on the treadmill, doing endless crunches, and high reps of curls, tricep dips, and chest presses, I felt cheated. Why didn’t anyone tell me what a difference this yoga stuff makes? Well, I’m telling you now. And this goes for men, too. Some of the most toned male bodies I know belong to men who practice yoga.  Think about it. In yoga, you’re moving through positions that require you to support your own body weight (building muscle strength) and you’re holding these poses (building muscle endurance). Yoga requires you to use a variety of muscle groups for each pose, so you’re getting stronger all over, as opposed to focusing on one muscle group alone, as you traditionally would if you were lifting weights.


Yoga teaches awareness – both mental and physical. These are valuable nuggets you can take from the mat into your other workouts.

Let’s discuss the mental piece first. During a yoga practice, your breath is your guide. Your focus is on maintaining steady, slow, deep breaths as your body flirts with its own limits. If things become too intense and your breath becomes shallow and quick, you learn to relax and reconnect to the steadiness of your breath, all while continuing to explore your physical limits. So why is this important for your other workouts? Think about your last hardcore cardio session. Think of that moment when your heart rate peaked and you were breathless with effort. The tendency at that point is to tense up. You clench your jaw, scrunch your forehead, and squeeze your fists a little tighter. All of these little reactions use up energy, not to mention, make you look slightly ridiculous. Yogic breathing teaches you to find the mental calm in the middle of the physical storm that your body is enduring. This means faster recovery, less wasted effort, and ultimately a more efficient cardio workout. Yoga teaches you to take the drama out of your workout – ultimately letting you push a little harder for a little longer.

Image courtesy of
Now on to physical awareness. Yoga will show you a whole different side of your body. As you work through each pose, you start to notice how things are connected. It’s truly a full body, integrative practice. I remember the first time I got into the downward dog position. I literally felt every square inch of my body come alive. The way that I shifted the weight from my fingertips to the heel of my hand directly impacted the stretch I felt in my calves and the rotation of my shoulders.  I truly got to know my body through exploring it in yoga. And now every time I climb onto the bike to teach, I’m so much more aware of every muscle group.  Understanding your body means you can make it work for you a heck of a lot better. 

So shed your preconceived notions, open your mind and your heart, and let a little yoga into your world by checking out a studio near you. You'll be surprised at what you can gain when you lose your inhibitions and step onto that mat.

Dani Pallo is a cycling instructor at Flywheel Sports Atlanta and a former competitive gymnast and gymnastics coach. Dani found herself drawn to yoga in recent years and now considers her love for yoga borderline obsessive. If you couldn't tell already, Dani is also one smart cookie - she graduated with a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech. When she is not working or teaching class, you can find Dani at Piedmont Park, her favorite place in all of Atlanta, reading a good book or indulging in a pint of her favorite Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Cherry Garcia. Hey! She worked it off in yoga class! 

To check out one of Dani's classes at Flywheel Atlanta, click here!

No comments:

Post a Comment