Yoga is Not Just Stretching

By Amy Thoma

I’m obsessed with yoga. But before I get into the how and why, let’s get a few things straight. For better or worse, delusional or not, I fancy myself an athlete. I’m not a jogger, I’m a runner and I can beat a good chunk of high school and college cross country athletes. I regularly run double digits before work and it’s not uncommon for me to break 50-60 miles per week. I work really, really hard to race and train as hard as I do and for a long time I thought yogis were wimps. I thought the whole thing sounded really dumb and that yoga is all about sitting in a candlelit room, softly saying “om” and stretching. I thought… how boring, and certainly not a workout.  And then….

My fellow Girls on the Grid blogger (and total badass athlete I might add) Julie Soderlund dragged me to a class at Zuda Yoga. For years she’d been talking about how yoga had changed her life and body and how much she loves it. I’d usually roll my eyes and make some condescending comment and go about my day. I honestly thought the whole thing was a big, expensive , stupid trend. I don’t need to sit in a room on a $70 towel wearing $100 leggings to relax or get a workout. Ridiculous.

The first class blew me away. I was sweaty, shaky and much to my surprise I had a ton of fun. This was not some hippie love-in—it was 75 minutes of push-ups, core work, lunges and yes, a little bit of stretching. The style of yoga at Zuda, “vinyasa flow” is extremely athletic and not for the faint of heart. You move during the entire class and I promise that you will sweat more than you thought humanly possible. Seriously- I weighed myself before and after class on Tuesday and I sweat out 4 pounds! And no, it’s not some weird, hippie, spiritual thing. This week we rocked out to Ben Folds while flowing through some poses and the week before that we stretched to Kanye West. And I still don’t chant.

I’ve  been a runner but for years and I’ve struggled with IT band and calf injuries. Nothing serious, but enough to make running uncomfortable and painful  from time to time. I’ve been to the chiropractor and physical therapist on and off for about for four years. But guess what? In the year since I’ve started practicing yoga I’ve been to the PT twice. And both times were totally preventable and completely my fault. The combination of a stronger core, stronger legs and hip openers have allowed me to run 50+ miles per week injury-free for about a year. This is a borderline miracle.

Physically my body has changed quite a bit too. I’m genetically “blessed” with muscles that bulk up really fast so I’ve never lifted weights—I’m not interested in looking like the hulk. But after a few weeks I started to notice that I had more definition in my arms, legs and even my abs. All the running made my body look a little unbalanced and slightly weird, but yoga has corrected that. Obviously I’m not anywhere near perfect, but  I look much better than I did before. And yoga is hard. A year later I still get sore!

Physical benefits aside ,the biggest change I’ve seen from yoga is in my mind. Don’t tune out here- I’m not lying. With running and other sports I’ve always had a hard time staying tough mentally and pushing through when things get hard. But through yoga I’ve learned how to push past what I thought were physical limits and to distinguish between physical and mental limits. Learning how to relax, stay calm and sometimes just breathe when I want to quit has helped me to set new PRs in races and to endure some pretty difficult workouts.

Finally, if you have a high-stress job or life, taking 75 minutes to put the blackberry down and sit in a warm room while really great people boss you around and say nice things to you is awesome. Last year was pretty stressful for me and taking time to go to yoga a couple of days per week kept me sane.

I highly suggest giving yoga a chance. I’m now one of those people I used to mock- I even practiced yoga at the beach in Hawaii. Yep, I’m that person.

Sacramento is full of great yoga studios. I love Zuda but I’ve heard amazing things about One Flow, Asha Yoga, Yoga Seed, Padme and more. It is a little expensive but I’ve found that since I’m no longer paying for physical therapy or the chiropractor it basically evens out. Plus, I’m easier to be around and that’s worth its weight in gold.

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