Eleanor Forder, Head of Yoga at Local Motion Movement digs a little deeper into the ever growing practice of Yoga and how we’re putting our own little twist on things.
YOGA FOR MOVERS
Yoga has become one of the most widely practiced forms of exercise in the last decade or so. It shows up in so many ever-evolving styles and forms, so diverse that it’s hard for newcomers to navigate the menu of choices.
What are we doing all this yoga for? Since the health and fitness industry is pushing us to practice yoga so much, how does it fit into a healthy lifestyle — and what does a truly healthy human look like anyway?
We all hear that we should go and try yoga, whether it’s to help with flexibility, strength, anxiety, stress, sleep — the list goes on with all of yoga’s promises.
The various styles of yoga (and all the individual teachers) have potentially very different intentions. This is crucial to understand when deciding whether you want to try a class.
Yoga can be used to elicit relaxation; it can challenge strength, balance, coordination; it can help us consciously regulate our nervous system; it can be a tool for learning more about ourselves. And even within these categories of intentions, the experience of the practice can vary widely in terms of intensity, pace, and introspection.
In my opinion, yoga is best utilised as a tool for human optimisation. ‘Optimal’ can look different from person to person, but overall it’s a consideration of what will allow us to perform best as humans: how can we be fit, agile, calm, energised, robust, resilient, rested — the whole gamut of qualities at all the appropriate times?
Much of the yoga out there focuses either on achieving advanced poses (often to the detriment of joint health, nervous system regulation, and self-esteem), or solely on relaxing. As well-rounded humans, we get to experience the whole spectrum of mind and body states. Neglecting either end can reduce health longevity, and leave us unable to effortlessly and joyfully move through the world.
Incorporating a yoga practice that complements forms of natural movement training can therefore be the keystone to optimal human performance. A yoga practice that can hit these notes includes:
1. Alignment-specific postures for body awareness & stability
Although not all yoga postures are necessarily ‘functional’ in terms of their direct cross-over into daily life, the skill of directing specific postural adjustments can teach your body optimal alignment for musculoskeletal health, as well as improving your mind’s map of your body. These skills are particularly important when learning complex gymnastic movements as well as improving every-day movement patterns and posture.
2. Flow-based movements for spatial awareness & mobility
Transitioning from position to position with grace and precision can teach you to move that way in daily life. In practicing different ways of moving, you’re able to strengthen and coordinate muscles in all kinds of ranges, improving your body’s ability to gracefully improvise as you move through the world. As you progress, you’ll learn more complex and challenging flows, all while maintaining a breathing pattern that promotes a calm mind and nervous system.
3. Active stretching for mobilisation
Yoga can sometimes be accused of promoting flexibility over strength, but when approached with physiological consideration we can create intricate control through ranges of motion. This means that we’re not just trying to make ourselves ‘longer’, but rather allowing our bodies to feel in control and therefore willing to ‘open up’ range.
4. Passive stretching for recovery & nervous system down-regulation
Because active range is so important, we can also lose sight of the benefits of passive stretching. For extremely tight people, passive stretching can help gain overall range of motion — which can then be brought under control with mobility work. Even more crucially, holding longer stretches in which the muscle is relaxed can help calm the nervous system, and is therefore very helpful for recovery. Beyond even what’s happening at the level of muscle and myofascia, this part of the practice is about asking your mind and body to slow down so your tissues can heal.
5. Breathwork for regulating state of mind & body
The breath is our one and only conscious doorway into our autonomic nervous system; we can’t directly control our digestion, sleep or muscle repair, but we can change the way we breathe to indirectly regulate these systems. Breathwork can be used to elicit relaxation or to increase alertness and focus. These skills can therefore be game-changers when it comes to relaxing when you’re feeling stressed or getting ready to sleep, and getting focused when you’re exercising or working.
6. Mindfulness of mind & body for stress reduction & self-inquiry
Beyond body awareness for the sake of physical health, mindfulness of our body can help us to hear messages that we can’t pick up with our minds alone. We can learn to listen to the signals that tell us things like when we feel safe, or when we need to rest. Mindfulness of our thoughts is another way to glean insight into our subconscious mental patterns, and can ultimately help us make decisions better aligned with our true desires.
7. Meditation for mental focus & stress reduction
Meditation is probably the most effective techniques for training the mind to focus, steering away from habitual rumination and anxiety. This means meditation can be used as a preventative tool for stress, whether that’s in the context of work, home, or the gym.
At Local Motion, we’ve taken this holistic approach to developing a movement practice. Students mainly come to us to learn their favourite gymnastic strength and mobility movements, so we emphasise the importance of developing mind-body skills in yoga to optimise their progression as a mover, as well as a human being.
Whether you’re new to yoga, new to gymnastic strength and mobility, or new to both, this multidisciplinary approach to health and fitness could be the initiation of a whole new dimension to your performance, mental health and wellbeing.