Here’s a good question I received…
I have read may times that people who practice Ashtanga regularly avoid running, weightlifting, biking etc. Can you talk a little bit about this? I assume its because the affect on flexibility. Can a daily Ashtanga practice really be enough with respect to physical activity?

The answer is yes. A daily Ashtanga practice is enough physical activity to keep you healthy. Next time you practice, notice how your heart rate increases when doing a difficult asana. If you cultivate proper breathing, your lung capacity will increase too. Daily practice cultivates a healthy and strong cardiovascular system and will give your body increased mobility and strength.

So, the good news is you don’t have to run, weight lift, bike, etc. to maintain good physical health. Now, if you actually want or like doing some other activity, ashtanga yoga will help keep that activity from wrecking your body.

We have a student who is a marathon runner. He’s been running marathons for years and has no intention of quitting. That said, he’s been practicing ashtanga yoga for three years and it’s made a huge difference. His body is more mobile and limber than it’s ever been and the practice helps mitigate the negative effects of running on his back and joints.

We’re diverging from your question a little, but the subject of “cross training” with ashtanga yoga is worth addressing. It’s possible to do other sports or activities and ashtanga yoga as long as you balance your expectations.

I forget who said it but the saying is “we can only serve one master.” Something has to take priority. In the case of our marathon runner, he uses the yoga to balance and enhance his running. Tennis star Novak Djokovic started doing yoga to help his with his flexibility and asthma. Clearly, his priority is playing tennis.

Problems arise when students believe they can jog, for example, and get deep into the ashtanga practice. More than once, we’ve had to tell students that they might not be able to do some difficult asanas if they keep jogging. We’ve also suggested that they stop jogging for a month and experiment with how they feel. Students can’t be attached to progress and doing more asanas when ashtanga isn’t the priority.

Rachelle and I used to be avid skiers. We both grew up in families that took ski holidays and we spent weekends while growing up skiing outside our native Montreal and Toronto. Even once we began doing ashtanga yoga, we took some ski trips. We chose to give up skiing because it was making us too stiff and sore to do more advanced asanas. We wanted to give priority to our ashtanga practice.

We still love to take long walks and we love to swim during the warmer months, but we do these things for amusement rather than for physical health.

Thanks for your question. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about a common concern amongst yoga students.