When it comes to exercise, forget loyalty.
Practicing yoga is wonderful. But being exclusive to one form of movement to stay healthy is like taking a multivitamin and refusing to eat food and hoping that it will be enough.
Even though we are creatures of habit, novelty is so important to the health of our tissues. Quick science lesson: no cell is ever more than two cells away from a blood vessel. This is so that cells have a constant nutrient and waste management supply through the vascular system. The nutrients and wastes are moved between cell walls in the extra-cellular fluid. So what does this have to do with moving in unusual ways? If you only ever move your body tissues in the same manner, certain areas will have a build up of old chemical waste and a lack of nutrient delivery to cells. By squeezing the tissues of our body, we are constantly assisting the diffusion of materials (both nutrients and waste exchange) through our body.
Here is another thought: our bodies are a bit like plasticine. We have the potential to be really malleable, provided our tissues are warmed up first so that they become more fluid. This is a state known as thixotropy and it can be useful to imagine that our body is becoming more liquid as we move it around.
When we don't move it around, the opposite is true, we become more solid and more gluey. We develop what anatomist Gil Hedley calls "fuzz" [warning! real body parts - graphic!] Check this out and then meet me after.
So what does all of this mean for the dedicated yogi? We need to get creative. What else can we do to find novel ways of moving around when a sun salutation becomes second nature? The first step is to pay attention to what you are working when you are practicing. For example, my quads are the boss. When it comes to locomotion and power, my rectus femoris is basically Beyonce. It leads the charge and carries the whole movement. So even when I could be recruiting power from my hamstrings and my glutes, I don't need to because my quads already got the job done. One thing that I have found helpful in finding balance in the front and back of my body is cycling. The pumping action feels so good on my knees, and i can set it up so that I utilize and strengthen my hamstrings, making more space for me to get into backbends because now my quads aren't so tight. I have also recently taken up aqua cycle and I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of cycling with more resistance.
To find novelty to foster change you have to know where your habits are. This is way harder than it sounds, and it may require patience and the help of some good friends and skilled teachers to help. If we already knew where our blindspots were, they wouldn't be blindspots! The practice of coming to know oneself happens slowly and has so many layers. And how many of us feel like we don't even identify all that much with our physical selves? Have you ever caught yourself claiming that your body just isn't doing what you want it to? Who is the "you" in that sentence?! It can be really rewarding to just spend time getting familiar with the sensations that you experience on a regular basis.
Practically speaking though, there are lots of ways that you can boost your physical yoga practice by trying something new. Martial arts are a wonderful complement to yoga. They use the breath to harness internal energy and direct it with focus and concentration. Plus your centre of gravity will be challenged in ways that will definitely help your balancing poses. Walking, especially on different terrain is a great way to strengthen the connection between moving your deep stabilizers and your diaphragm in a way that frees up more motion. Did you know that your walking muscles and your breathing muscles are all one piece? And that those muscles not only maintain your posture as a successful biped, but they also are the driving force behind any inversion or arm balance?
As you saw with the unique mannerisms of Gil Hedley, another trick is just never stop moving. Fidgeting helps you maintain a level of pliability in your body. If you are in one position for too long, even a yoga position, you can become stuck and solidify. So now that you are done reading this blog post, get up and move that fuzz around!