Taking the Pressure off Yoga Asana

Strength training really takes the weight* off yoga (get it? ;))

*weight as in pressure, not talking weight loss here…

A question for you movers (that I hope you’ll genuinely answer in the comments below): if you who don’t use external weights in your movement practice: what stops you (access? understanding? lack of interest?). For those of you who went from only practicing yoga asana (or other bodyweight movement like pilates) to incorporating strength training, I’m curious what helped you try something new?

For the past 10 months, I’ve been weight /strength training 3-4x every week in addition to yoga and pilates-type movement that has been a part of my life in some form for 2+ decades.


But before that — even as a doctor of physical therapy — I was a bit intimidated to do strength training, i.e. lifting heavy weights. There is a major learning curve to weight lifting, not unlike yoga, even though I’d frequently taught yoga in gyms in the last two decades. I really didn’t know how to fill more than 5 minutes of time on my own without first spending excessive time on YouTube. Plus, the noise, clang, clatter and general testosterone vibes of a free-weight zone never exactly put me in my comfort zone.

At least guided yoga is easy to find. Without hiring a personal trainer, steady introductory guidance in weight lifting is a little trickier to find. Hence the popularity of Crossfit, which fills this niche nicely.

Aside from general lack of fluency and intimidation, I also figured that I would get injured lifting weights, especially if I tried a class. The old injuries that started me on the career of physical therapy still reared their heads from time to time. And generally I have some trust issues allowing other people to tell me what to do with my body (relatable?). I mean, what trainer was going to be up to par?

Despite my curiosity about all kinds of movement, doubts stopped me from adding external weights for a long time.

“Barefoot Power Playground”

Here’s the funny part: I started teaching a functional fitness class at my gym in January. (Functional fitness is a topic I’ve been keen on since finishing up my doctorate, and will have to describe better in another post, but in the meanwhile, here are some visuals on YouTube).

They gym gave it a name VERY similar to the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes they run.

My class was called “Barefoot Power Playground”, and the gym calls their HIIT program “Power Playground”, which basically forced me to try the aforementioned HIIT classes. HIIT focuses on cardio “blasts” (let’s call them…) with timed rest time, and often uses external weights (as well as TRX, burpees/body weight exercises, flipping tires, etc).

I tried it, didn’t die, and wasn’t more injured.

In fact, I loved the new challenge. I got hooked.

I tried the other strength-based classes at my gym. Each trainer taught a diverse set of movements (which cannot always be said of modern postural yoga classes, especially within one studio). Each class offered new formats, new movements. I realized I needed to learn much, much, more so long as I was teaching a class with such a similar name.

These new practices, novel stimuli for a body weary of the repetitive nature of so much vinyasa, quickly became part of my weekly ritual and rhythm. Months after my functional fitness class got re-named then dropped from the gym’s schedule, I’ve continued to train in these strength and HIIT classes as well as strength training on my own.

I’ve branched out – I even tried Crossfit and Solidcore. (My other new love is Zumba, but I digress.)


The result? I can now lift much heavier weights confidently.

I can do a pull-up. (These are words I never imagined writing).

I still love the guidance of classes, but I have tons of ideas about how to self-guide in the gym to compliment what I specifically need. (I even know the best time of day to avoid all the clanging and noise).

Carrying two loads of laundry down 5 flights of stairs was something I’ve always done just because I can, but today I noticed how EASY it was.

The little bait and switch that my gym accidentally imposed on me, has become a sustained joy in my life. I feel good. Friends have commented that I look strong, which is so nice to hear.

Why am I telling you this?

By adding a new form of challenging movement in my life, pressure that I didn’t fully realize had been placed on yoga, was now off. I no longer require yoga asana to be my gym. It’s taken the pressure of yoga asana to be anything other than a somatic (inward, self-guided) or therapeutic (countering the effects of modern life) practice.

Don’t get me wrong: yoga asana can still be really playful for me, and often challenging! But the subconscious pressure (which mostly I didn’t even realize it was there) for yoga to be my complete fitness is gone.

I’m in a new honeymoon phase with yoga precisely because I’m cheating on it.Because I’m no longer asking it to be something it just isn’t (for me, at this time).

Turning 40

It may also be pertinent to know that I switched decades this year.

I know from my medical studies (you probably also know this): women and others who don’t strength train by mid-life set themselves up for osteopenia, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia – muscle wasting. Mid-life is a great opportunity to start strengthening. It helps to slow otherwise progressive loss of muscle mass and bone density.

I’ve not been a slacker. I don’t own a car, I cycle and walk everywhere. But I knew I needed a movement switch-up for a while. There is so much more to say about why — after 2+ decades of regular practice — yoga is not a well-rounded physical practice for me. The principle of adaptation, movement variability, and functional movement will have to fit into another post.

I thought I’d leave you with some food for thought from the Yogaland podcast. This is one of the many episodes featuring the podcast host’s husband, yoga teacher trainer Jason Crandell. I highly recommend giving this episode a listen.

Thoughts on Cross Training from a respected yoga trainer:

Jason Crandell states “If I use a yoga asana practice to build my conditioning level, I hurt myself. Because I’m in pretty good cardiovascular shape, so for me to hold my heart rate up intensely and consistently enough through yoga, I have to push myself in this ridiculously difficult way that is not conducive to well being. I didn’t used to. I did it much more within the Ashtanga framework. That can work for some body types, but it didn’t continue to work for all body types.

Now it’s your turn:

Do you weight train in addition to yoga?

Does the idea of lifting weights or doing more conventional gym-type exercise intimidate you? What stops you (access? understanding? lack of interest?)

Did you previously only practice asana, (or other bodyweight movement) but now also do weight training: what helped you try something new?

Originally published- 10/11/2019

Categories: Yoga