My Experience With Ashtanga Yoga And Powerlifting
May 3rd 2019
Come find out whether or not ashtanga yoga and powerlifting workouts can mix. When my friend first introduced me to ashtanga yoga, I initially had the impression that yoga would be very good for my body. It would help me stay flexible and work on my mobility. I was already somewhat flexible prior to strength training. I figured that if my muscles, tendons and ligaments have the ability to be lengthened, I could also strengthen them as well. So, here is my journey along with some training strategies and questions to ask yourself if you want to be doing ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga Yoga and powerlifting
To be a master of all is a master of none. You can mix ashtanga yoga and powerlifting together for a couple of months. However, unless you are an elite training programmer or train under top professionals, it will be difficult to combine the two for an extended period of time.
So, it was about 3-4 years into strength training when I first discovered ashtanga yoga. I was already training in a powerlifting style, doing squats, bench press, deadlifts and overhead press in every single program I ran. However, when my friend approached me with this invitation, I felt no hesitation into trying it. I read about the holistic and spiritual benefits of yoga and felt that it could complement the aggressive and physical nature of strength training. It was the yin-yang balance I wanted to search for.
So, my friend invited me to attend one or two classes, which I enjoyed. But he mentioned that he went to private practice at the crack of dawn. This type of practice was called mysore. My friend and his teacher explained some history of mysore, which I do not recall at this time.
But during these sessions, a teacher will usually watch over his/her students while they practice. The teacher will assist and guide the students into my challenging poses and continue advancing the ashtanga yoga sequence.
My experience with ashtanga yoga
So, for a few months, I did just that. I advanced through a lot of the primary sequence until I stopped going. In the beginning, it was fairly easy for me since I had flexible hips and hamstrings. My back was a bit stiff but it gets more relaxed as I continue to do more sun salutations.
When I started doing movements that involved shoulder rotations, I faced a major wall of defeat. For almost every single shoulder movement, I had to do a modified version because my shoulder mobility was terrible from all the bench pressing and overhead pressing. This was a humbling experience because it did show me what normal and very healthy shoulder movement looked like.
In addition to having poor shoulder range of motions, I also faced another challenge. There were a lot of advanced back bends that I was not able to do. My back was probably tight from all the sitting I do, squats and heavy deadlifts. Because I do not normally stretch my back every day, except when I am at practice, my back was a bit stiff when I continued to bend it more than normal.
What I really enjoyed
You need to have a teacher you respect
Without my friend’s mentor, I would have never made the advancements in the yoga sequence as gracefully as I did. It was the teacher to student experience that was really an important factor in this style of learning. Not to mention my friend’s mentor was a complete beast as well when practicing ashtanga as well.
Nowadays, there are plenty of online tutorials that can teach you how to do yoga from your living room. You do not need to even pay for a class anymore. However, if you are serious about improving your yoga sequence and get better at a faster pace, having a teacher is one of the best options.
You may then have to run into a whole realm of problems such as how to pick a good yoga instructor, etc. Personally, I did not find many group yoga instructors that really gave me the 1-on-1 time I needed. Because I knew what that experience was, I would probably not go to a group yoga session unless I am supporting the instructor, company or it is for fun.
Some misconceptions I had when I was starting ashtanga yoga
Limiting my progress in strength training
When I first started ashtanga yoga, I felt that it would maybe harm my progress with strength training. When I learned a few new poses, it felt that I was exerting myself more than usual.
Over the next few weeks, I did feel a little tired because I had to wake up early to practice (my fault for not sleeping earlier). If anything, it was my lack of preparation for this lifestyle.
But even after a few months, I do remember feeling that ashtanga yoga limited me in any way. Apart from losing some sleep, which was probably the biggest reason why I started to plateau, it felt absolutely refreshing after every single ashtanga yoga session.
So, if you do want to continue to practice ashtanga yoga with powerlifting, you do want to be mindful of your time. As a college student, I had a bit more time to experiment with these different routines. So, it was a bit more manageable.
I thought I could progress with ashtanga yoga better
Over the next few months of practice, I thought I could progress fairly quickly in yoga. As it turned out, you cannot just force yourself into certain poses. With that said, I was never able to fully get the proper position in many sequences that involved major back bends and shoulder rotations. I thought that if I continued to be consistent with practice, I would improve. I did improve but not as quickly as I thought.
It also did not help that I was still doing heavy bench presses and overhead presses as well without any stretches. I did feel soreness in my entire body whenever I hit certain poses that stretch the major muscles groups I targetted in the gym.
With all of that said, can you make progress in both ashtanga yoga and powerlifting? Well, here are a few questions you will need to ask yourself when deciding this yourself:
First, what are your goals?
Why are you powerlifting? Why are you doing ashtanga yoga? If you were experimenting, you could get away with a few months of combining ashtanga yoga and powerlifting. After that, you may run into some difficulty balancing the two, based on my personal experience.
If you need to work on your flexibility, there are other forms of yoga you can try. Ashtanga yoga would be more hardcore, depending on how much of a challenge you want.
Master of all is a master of none
If you want to improve on both, it can be done with the right program. However, you may want to talk to a specialist who has experience combining both powerlifting and ashtanga yoga. Have you ever seen a master of two dsiciplines? Me neither.
Rarely, you would see a master that would be the best in more than one thing. There is a simple reason for that - his attention has diverged into other avenues. He cannot maintain his focus if he has more than one. As a result, there should be only one goal you should put 100% of your focus into. Otherwise, you will end up mediocre in everything.
For me, powerlifting did not help me work on my shoulder and back flexibility which stagnated my progression. I ended up staying near the end of the primary series since my teacher said that it would be better to stop here after watching me go through the sequence.
Alternatively, ashtanga yoga did not help me in powerlifting directly but I did gain additional benefits other than physical strength. But regardless, based solely on goals of powerlifting and strength training, there were no physical benefits other than feeling more loose and mobilized before every lift. In some experienced lifters’ eyes, this can be seen as a detriment since you are not training your form to be locked on. It has more variables now and you may make some technique errors due to excess mobility.
Let us wrap this up
Ashtanga yoga is a fantastic practice. Powerlifting is a great tool to strength train with. When you mix them together though? It really depends on what your goals are and how serious do you want to take up either sports.