Yoga as Interval Training for the Body & Mind

Life requires interval training. Physically, interval training allows you to push yourself beyond your limits and increase endurance by combining blasts of energy with a recovery phase. Intensity is increased without burn out.  In yoga, we might practice interval training by releasing all the muscles in a child’s pose after a series of dynamic standing postures. Interval training works on the principle of adaptation – the body’s ability to adjust to increase or decrease in physical demands. Yoga is interval training for the body and mind. The adjustments we make are physical and mental. With repetition, an athlete can expend less energy doing the same movement. Likewise, poses become muscle memory the more we do them. But yoga also considers the fluctuations of the mind. For example, the more savasana (relaxation) we do, the more we live in a state of savasana.  Doesn’t this sound like a program for life?

Using the breath as the pacer, we challenge the body in postures, even to the point of creating stress.  When we are deep in the “blasting” phase of a difficult posture, our mind tends to react to the discomfort in habitual ways; negative self talk like “I can’t do this!” or anxious thoughts like “crap, I’m going to hurt myself!” or even feeling envious of someone else’s pose. The sanskrit term for these conditioned thoughts is samskaras. If we were to walk the exact same route through a muddy trail every day, eventually there would be a rut in the ground. Samskaras are impressions left in our subconscious mind when it continually takes the same path. What we don’t know (or more accurately aren’t aware of) can hurt…or help. When we perceive difficulty for ourselves or others, our unconscious thoughts tend to be vicious or virtuous. Put another way, like addictions, samskaras can be helpful or harmful. But typically they are not obvious in their outward appearance. They hide in repetitive thoughts and emotions.

In yoga, it is in our attempt to keep the breath steady and rhythmic that these patterns are uncovered. The power of the bursts and desire to push toward accomplishment, joy and success are entwined with periods of rest, low activity, and introspection. The breath is the built-in diagnostic tool; if the mind is aware of changes in the breath, we are present for the repetitive thought patterns during times of physical demand, and we can quiet them in the recovery phase. This interval training for the brain offers an opportunity to try a new route into the next  yoga pose and release any negative thought patterns. In between the blasts of energy and recovery phases, we see ourselves for who we are – never perfect, but always pushing beyond our limits without burning out.

“This being human is a guest house.  Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.  He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

– Rumi, The Guest House

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