Fear and dumbbells at The Branches

Branches Co-directors Leslie and Leena break down why a strength training practice can be so complementary to yoga and share some options of how you might get started with us!

Eyes wide, an unsuspecting new student walks into a class at the Branches, and to their horror, sees a line up of dumbbells and kettlebells in the middle of the room.

‘I thought this was supposed to be a yoga class?’ they think, alarmed at the prospect of lifting something too heavy and hurting themselves, or of being in over their head at a class that’s too hard.

TL;DR: Start lifting weights. It’s good for you. We can help.

We know that a lot of people are drawn to try yoga because they heard it’s a good way to add a movement practice to their lives. Yoga encompasses a lot more than asana (the poses), but nonetheless, we appreciate that folks want to get moving in a way that feels approachable.

So why the weights?

If your primary interest in yoga is to improve the way your body works on the level of muscles and bones (flexibility, strength, mobility, balance, bone density) – adding a strength practice is going to benefit you big time.

The cells of your musculoskeletal system speak in the language of load. Those cells are just waiting to be given a challenge so that they can respond, and grow in their capacity to bear weight. This will make your body more robust. Everyone was born to be strong.

Don’t be scared. You’re already strong!

Some of the fear about weights is actually about familiarity. Think about the lifting you might already be doing in your life without realizing it: 

  • picking up kids, grandbabies, and pets
  • hauling groceries
  • pushing your couch to the side to vacuum
  • going up and down stairs
  • lowering your slow cooker down from the top shelf
  • hoisting a bag of flour up from the bottom one

Our daily lives are already full of managing load. It just doesn’t look like a kettlebell.

Actually, strength training serves asana.

In an active yoga practice, you do move your body around. In a lot of cases, your own body weight is something you are already or can easily become conditioned to manage. So if you’ve chosen yoga as your movement practice, we don’t want you to be surprised if your bones don’t end up all that dense from doing standing poses and going for walks. Adding strength training can fill the gap of providing your body with the input it needs for longevity, especially bone density.

In other instances, certain asana require a lot of strength to move your body weight around, meaning that you can barely do one repetition, which is not enough to actually get stronger (chatturanga is a common one – the lowering down from plank to the floor). Adding strength training with weights would actually be a wise regression, building towards more challenging asana with techniques that use less than your body weight.

Hard truth: you won’t get stronger doing what you can already do.

Even for folks who are purposely coming to class with weights, we often see them choosing the lightest weights possible. But if your chosen load weighs the same as your purse or laptop bag, you won’t be getting any stronger. It needs to feel challenging. If you can bang out 12 or 15 good reps, you’re maintaining your existing capacity, not expanding it.

Squatting with 5 or 10 lbs is easier than carrying your groceries up your front steps. The idea is to train heavier so that daily life feels light!

Why we personally love strength training – anecdotal benefits.

Many of us at the Branches maintain dedicated strength routines. We love practicing yoga, and we also want to have dense bones, strong bodies, and be able to help our friends move, pick up big kids, and maintain our independence well into our golden years. These things are not at odds. In fact, they complement each other.

Pairing strength and yoga has offered Leena greater resilience and comfort in response to chronic pain. She has noticed that when she is deconditioned (that is, when she’s not lifting), she is much more likely to struggle with pain. This makes restorative yoga and meditation much harder.

Leslie finds that her flexibility and enjoyment of basic poses increases with her strength. When she’s lifting regularly, her body is much more willing to give her a greater range of motion, which she can apply to yoga asana. Freed up in this way, she can pay attention to the subtler sensations of practice rather than struggling with the shapes.

Ready to pick up something heavy with us?

One important FYI is that some of our classes are not intended to only be yoga classes. We made our tagline “Yoga & Movement. Rooted in Community,” on purpose! If you want to explore, you might try the following classes that incorporate body weight strength, free weights, and resistance bands:

  • Strength Essentials on Mondays at 10:00am and Mondays at 5:45 pm – all about starting to build strength, focusing on the fundamentals, very friendly to beginners
  • Strength & Flow on Wednesdays at 5:30pm and Saturdays at 10:00am – a mixed experience of strength and asana, much more adventurous

Going beyond the musculoskeletal system.

If your reason for exploring yoga doesn’t include a huge focus on your body mechanics, rest assured we are committed to self-inquiry, presence, gentleness of the breath, generosity of the spirit, and classic yoga poses and transitions.

Who knows, maybe kettlebells can lead to spiritual growth. We invite you to come find out.

With enthusiasm and confidence that you can do it,
Leslie & Leena


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