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7 things yoga has taught me which is helping me in CrossFit

October 11, 2015

The importance of body positioning and alignment

Yoga places a big emphasis on placing your body in the right positions. The number one emphasis is not whether you look "perfect" doing the pose (even if you are super flexible and get into those positions), but rather whether or not you are using the right muscles to stabilise you in those positions.

Things like making sure you have a neutral spinal position, that the weight of your body is centred equally through your entire feet, always working from core to extremities, not just locking out your joints but making sure to contract the muscle around those joints, etc.

These are things I can take away from yoga and they have benefited me tremendously in CrossFit, both in my own training as well as in my coaching. I can see a lot more clearly when someone is favouring a certain muscle or side of their body, where they are generating their power from, and any strength leaks they may have which could be hindering them (things like poor grip strength, weak core, poor mind-muscle connection etc).

How to focus

So many CrossFit movements require solid focus. Things like doing big sets of wall balls and hitting the target over and over, having smooth double unders, getting into a rhythm with box jumps, setting up for an Olympic lift…the list goes on. Yoga places a strong emphasis on creating a focal point that doesn’t move so you stay consistent while you’re moving. Yoga also uses a lot of balancing positions, which means you need to focus to stay steady. Learning how to focus better has been hugely beneficial with CrossFit.

How to stay in the moment during training, avoid panicking or losing control of the mind

This is a big subject and something I am certainly still working on. Yoga emphasizes and teaches you how to be completely in the moment, to stop your mind from wandering, to not worry about what those around you are doing, but to only focus on your own practice and your breathing.

Once you can switch off from what is going on around you or in the room physically, you are then able to be completely in the moment & focused on what you are doing. Taking this back to CrossFit training, when I focus on controlling my own breathing amidst what would otherwise be a chaotic or nervous situation or a tough workout, that’s when I perform best and feel more relaxed.

The mind is so powerful and it plays a massive role in our performance and even in how we attack a workout. Yoga has taught me to focus only on what I am doing and what I can control, to stick to my own game plan, and not to be swayed by what’s going on around me. At the end of the day, what the person next to me is doing is of zero consequence. It’s useless to focus on the things that are outside of our control, and doing that during training will only leave us stressed, panicking, & unfocused.

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That strength comes in more ways than one and sometimes progress is hard to measure

Yoga is humbling. It has taught me that there are more ways to be strong than squatting 100kg, and sometimes the simplest looking movement can be the hardest to execute properly. Having excellent technique is strength. Making something look effortless is strength. Sometimes being still and staying balanced in a posture is 10 times harder than lifting weights, and takes all my strength and willpower. In some poses I can feel every last stabiliser muscle in my body working and shaking to keep me up. That takes a lot of strength, but it’s not what you would typically think of when we describe strength.

Yoga has also taught me to accept progress for progress’ sake. Regardless of whether or not you can always see your progress visibly or measure it physically it is still happening if you are being consistent and following the plan. All sorts of things are happening inside of you; in your muscles, your energy systems, etc., that you can never see or measure physically. This is all part of progress! So we shouldn’t get too fixated on physical “proof” of progress.

Using calm confidence before lifting

Sometimes we think we need to make a big scene or show how “pumped” and “hardcore” we are to satisfy our ego. When I put lessons learned in yoga into practice in CrossFit, all the jumping up and down, getting “pumped up”, grunting, yelling, stomping, overly tensing etc., that I felt was a must to hit a max lift, have fallen by the wayside. Yoga taught me to instead use visualization tactics, laser-beam focus, and to hit the lift countless times in my mind before I even approach the bar. I find approaching lifts in this calmer, more focused way so much better for performance, and also less mentally taxing and way less taxing on my CNS (central nervous system).

Yoga is also helping to teach me that it is what it is. You aren’t a winner for hitting a lift or a loser for failing a lift. This doesn’t reflect on you as a person. Sometimes you will smash it; other times you won’t, and that is completely fine. Did you nail it today? Notice it. Observe how it feels and then let it go. Did you fail a lift today? Again, notice it. Observe how it feels and then let it go. It’s soooo much easier said than done, trust me I know! But cultivating this attitude makes lifting and training so much less stressful in general.

How to breathe better and use my breath efficiently during tough workouts

Your mind never wants to shut the hell up. This has been a tough lesson for me. I use to have literal panic attacks during some tough workouts. I am getting a little better at it but it is so important to learn how to shut your mind off and just focus on your breath. When I do this it makes all the difference. I have even noticed that when my heart rate is extremely high and I am clearly in the hurt locker during a workout, I am still able to keep going when I have got my breathing under control.

We don’t give breathing enough credit. Learning good breathing patterns will help out our CrossFit workouts and transfers perfectly to a long grinder workout where the timing of your breath and rhythm is essential to pacing and staying in control. Yoga also helps you learn how to breathe deeply into your diaphragm, which directly translates into your ability to produce more power, increase work capacity and have better posture.

Don’t forget to breathe!

(I practice yoga at Bikram Yoga Parramatta. It’s an awesome place and the instructors are great! Give them a visit!)

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