One of my yoga teachers says frequently that weightlifting and yoga are wholly incompatible. He believes that weightlifting works against everything we are trying to accomplish in yoga. I think he is right that excessive weightlifting/body-building can tighten up your body so much that it’ll take years just to get your arms straight in Down-Dog. But is it true that any and all weightlifting is incompatible with yoga?
Personally, I’ve chosen to give up all weightlifting. Arm-balances, Chaturangas, and Handstands are more than enough for me. Some people, however, insist that weightlifting is a great complement to their asana practice. Here’s a list of pros and cons about weightlifting that come to mind. In the end, I think whether or not to lift weights is a personal decision for each yogi/yogini to make on his or her own.
* Excessive muscle development can tighten up the shoulders, hamstrings, and other areas of the body that need to be open for yoga.
* Weightlifting tends to strengthen certain muscles in certain ways (i.e. bulk), but ignores other muscles, such as those “subtle” muscles that are needed for balance.
* The bulk that weightlifting tends to promote is not conducive to twisting asanas, and can restrict a person’s overall range of motion.
* Done in moderation, weightlifting might actually help someone to develop the muscles/strength to be able to do, say, Bakasana or Chaturanga properly. Of course, you can develop the strength to do these poses properly just by doing yoga, but it might come a little quicker with the assistance of weightlifting.
* Variety. Some people get bored with doing yoga 5 or 6 times a week. Some light weightlifting might be a good “off day” activity. (Personally, I think rock climbing or swimming are more compatible with yoga and might make for better “off day” activities, but to each his own.)
As I’ve mentioned in previous postings, I’m no doctor, anatomist, certified gym instructor, licensed personal trainer, or anything like that; so I don’t really know what I’m talking about here in terms of the science of weightlifting. I do know, however, that people who have lifted weights for many years tend to struggle in yoga class in ways that others don’t. Also, in my observation, “serious” yoga practitioners tend not to lift weights at all, finding that lifting their own bodies provides enough (and the right kind of) strength training for their purposes. Of course, not everyone who does yoga is trying to master all six Ashtanga series, so depending on what your personal needs/interests are with respect to yoga, weightlifting may or may not be something for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified yoga instructor, and the ideas and opinions expressed here are not intended to be formal instruction on yoga poses. If you plan to start up a yoga practice, or if you have one and plan to do any of the yoga poses described in this blog, please seek out an experienced, living, breathing yoga teacher to guide you with hands-on instruction.