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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I have been weight training for 3 years (following a long career as a cardio guy), with a lot of gains in strength, core strength, and definition. I have however recently gotten introduced to (and into!) Ashtanga Yoga, and I have found the poses and moves stimulating, demanding, and revealing of the many, many areas where I am not remotely close to being flexible. Your article suggests weights and yoga are compatible, but I was wondering if you could be much more specific about what weight/ strength exercises are compatible with yoga and will preserve the flexibility gains yoga provides. Is there a specific weight routine(s) you could recommend, or do you know where I might find one?

(Article continued below.)

You seem to be overthinking the whole issue, since there is no specific answer for your question. If you are mindful to what your body tells you, you will develop a solution to suit your own personal circumstances. That said, there are a few things worth mentioning.

Years ago, people were often advised against practicing both Yoga and weight training. Nowadays it's so common for people to do both that there are even exercise routines that combine the two, and many workout DVDs and group fitness classes include a few Yoga poses in their cool downs and stretches. For your average individual in search of a fit lifestyle, there are many benefits to combining Yoga and weight training. The two have different, but complimentary purposes. Yoga is meant to balance your body and soul, enhance your flexibility in body and mind, and strengthen your body in a very general, (w)holistic manner. Weight training builds muscle and bone strength, but in a more specific way. Even compound moves tend to target certain body parts and not as much attention is paid to the rest of your body (although you've probably noticed that you get improved results if you do pay attention to what the rest of you is doing. Pulling in your abs or keeping your knees soft, even if a move does not involve the abs or the legs, can make a big difference). Actually, if done properly, weight training also involves mental conditioning — you'll get far better benefits if you perform each move while being completely mindful of proper form.

Can you see why both Yoga and weight training are beneficial? Yoga improves the overall conditioning of your body, while weight training can build up any weak spots you may have, or develop strength and muscle tone in a way that Yoga cannot. The two can enhance each other quite nicely. Women who strengthen their upper body through weight training can meet the challenge of Chaturangas faster than women who rely solely on Yoga to become strong. Men who practice squats and lunges in the gym, keeping good form all the while, will find that the standing poses in Yoga feel more natural. Meanwhile, the Yoga practice will keep muscles supple and the body flexible, which improves the range of motion when you weight train.

The whole key to getting Yoga and weight training to work together is through balance and the use of mindfulness. If your weight training regimen is cutting out the flexibility gains that you want from your Yoga practice, then you need to modify what you are doing in the weight room, perhaps by doing it less intensely and stretching more between sets. If your strength gains are starting to suffer, you could be overtraining. Always make sure you give your muscles a rest if you have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). That includes resting from Yoga — remember that Yoga involves your whole body, so it will include the sore body part you should be resting. It sounds like you are aware of how powerful Ashtanga Yoga is, so don't kid yourself into thinking you can do it on rest days. Remember that it's the down time that gives muscles the ability to rebuild and become better versions of themselves.

So now we're back at the beginning — are Yoga and weight training truly compatible? Yes they are. Are there certain exercises that are more complimentary to a Yoga program? Be mindful in both your Yoga and your weight training and you will know what's right for you.

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