WTF is a “downward dog” anyways?
Is there a downward cat?
Do I have to shop at lululemon now?
When somebody mentions they practice yoga, these might be some of the questions that enter your mind. I know it’s what I thought about!
Although I was initially afraid of trying yoga for years, I now freaking love it and practice it whenever I can. It’s my favorite solution for improving mobility and flexibility, staying injury-free when strength training, and even quieting my overactive mind.
Regardless of how you choose to level up your life, I’m going to convince you in the next 10 minutes that yoga is a great activity to mix in between strength training or running sessions.
And I can be quite persuasive. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. See?
It’s also something you can get started with TODAY: I’m going to challenge you to complete a 4-move routine at the end of this article that you can complete anytime, anywhere.
Let’s do some yoga!
What IS Yoga exactly?
Yoga means lots of different things to different people… like Windfarm Yoga apparently, to the woman in the photo above. As one commenter on this humorous and controversial article pointed out:
“The only thing I know for sure about yoga is that whatever you’re doing when you practice it, you’ll be assured by someone that it isn’t “real yoga.”
I’m not interested in that particular aspect of the yoga debate: people need things to argue about and get offended over because Internet. What’s important to me is getting more people interested trying yoga out because it’s damn fun and can really improve your life.
After all, as this fantastic Vox article explains:
“Yoga seems to help alleviate lower back pain, improve strength and flexibility, and reduce inflammation in the body — which, in turn, can help stave off chronic disease and death.
Emerging research suggests yoga can increase body awareness, or attention to the sensations and things going on inside you. That’s no small matter: Researchers think heightened body awareness can improve how well people take care of themselves.”
Science is essentially telling us: Yoga can help you become more flexible like Black Widow, improve your strength like the Hulk, extend your life like the elves of Rivendell, and give you mental awareness like Yoda.
The jury is still out as to whether or not it grants us telekinetic powers.
When I approached yoga years ago as an attempt to improve my flexibility and to combat poor posture, I was initially worried about looking foolish or finding some aspect of the exercise that didn’t sit right with me.
Instead I found a complementary, enjoyable activity that helped improve my flexibility and mobility, alleviated my lower back pain, opened up my hips to combat a lifetime of sitting, and even helped me quiet my overactive mind! Plus, it was like a power-up for my strength workouts.
It’s now an activity I do with regularity throughout my week, incorporating yoga stretches during the day in between desk sessions, after working out, and attending the occasional class to level up.
Why should I care about Yoga?
If you read Nerd Fitness, you’re probably a skeptic. After all, one of the Rules of the Rebellion is to question everything!
So you might be thinking: “Steve, you’re not going to ask me to start speaking in mantras, chanting OMMMMMM, and work on improving my spiritual chi.”
As somebody who started yoga with the exact same reservations, I sit before you a changed man. For starters, if you decide the spiritual aspects of the practice aren’t for you, you’re not alone: research into yoga’s history can lead down an internet rabbit hole of controversy that is bottomless.
So we’re not going to jump in that fight. Instead, what you will find when it comes to yoga is study after study showing that this form of exercise is incredibly beneficial:
1) A body prepared to handle anything: at Nerd Fitness, we are huge fans of strength training, and yoga is its perfect compliment. it elongates your muscles, improves your flexibility, can release tension in your neck and shoulders, and helps you do things like touch your toes! It can help you build stronger muscles, improve balance and stability (especially for our older rebels), and make you more “antifragile” (my favorite term of 2014).
As this study points out, “yoga subjects exhibited increased deadlift strength, substantially increased lower back/hamstring flexibility, increased shoulder flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat compared with control group.”
2) Yoga is great for lower back pain: If you’re one of the 31+ million people like myself who struggle with lower back pain, yoga can help. Yoga really helps those of us stuck at a computer all day long as well.
3) Yoga can help meet weight loss goals when combined with a healthy diet. Look, we all know our diet is responsible for 80-90% of our success when it comes to weight loss. The other 10-20% of the equation is participating in physical activities that push your body outside of their comfort zone.
Yoga is a great way to burn a few extra calories and keep your brain focused on “I am doing healthy things and thus I should be eating healthy foods!” It can help improve our fight against cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity. It’s also a great rest day activity to keep you on track when you’re not doing your other workouts.
4) Speaking of which…yoga can be done every single day, and can be done anywhere. No gym required, no equipment required – no excuses! On top of that, because it’s a low-impact activity and doesn’t overly tax your muscles like a powerlifting session, you can do yoga every single day, anywhere you can find a soft place to sit down: your living room, a park, a beach, your bedroom, on the moon, etc.
5) Yoga can quiet an overactive mind: We Live in a world with a distraction around every corner; we read Facebook or our favorite blog while checking email and texts… while trying to work a day job. If you’re anything like me, your mind races a million miles an hour, and trying to develop a sense of control and calm over your mind is like herding cats. We’ve already explained the benefits of Meditation for Nerds; yoga can be tremendously helpful with becoming more aware of our bodies and help with reducing stress and anxiety.
Lastly, if yoga is good enough for badass Dhalsim from Street Fighter II, it’s good enough for me:
i’m scared to get started!
If you’re like me, one of the following sentences has run through your head when you think about yoga:
Okay, I’m ready to try yoga! But what studio should I go to? Google just told me there are 5 studios close by. And I can’t pronounce any of their names. Which one is best? Did Yoda do yoga?
Okay, I picked a studio! But how many people are in the class? What if I fall over when I try a move? Am I gonna be surrounded by pros? What do I wear? Who’s that guy next to me?
Okay, I’m in my class! But what if I can’t do this move? That dude put his leg behind his head! What if I fart during class? Do I get perma-banned?
These are all of the questions I asked myself between “Yeah, yoga!” and “holy crap I just did my first class.”
I mustered up 20 seconds of courage to attend an actual studio… which scared the farts out of me! I know that if a guy who runs a fitness site is scared to go to a yoga class in person, there have to be others here in the community who are too but still want to get started with yoga.
Although one can quickly search YouTube for free yoga videos, it’s tough to get ourselves to stay dedicated or feel connected to the teacher unless they’re speaking our language!
We set out to solve all of the problems I went through above, and ended up with Nerd Fitness Yoga! This is a course you can follow along with in the comfort of your own home, and it’s built specifically for members of the Rebellion: easy to follow instructions, an inviting attitude, and yes… some corny jokes from yours truly.
This course will work for men and women of all shapes, ages, and sizes, giving anybody the confidence to get started IMMEDIATELY. Follow it regularly and you can expect the benefits of the dozens of studies I linked above when it comes to yoga practice.
In addition to a HUGE pose library and step-by-step instructions, it also contains all of the following full length yoga sessions filmed in HD:
- Water sessions: Two beginner yoga videos (25 minutes each)
- Fire sessions: Two intermediate yoga videos (30 minutes each)
- Star sessions: Two advanced yoga videos (40 minutes each)
- Deep stretching routine (40 minutes)
- 6 supplemental mobility videos (that will help with lower back mobility, how to finally touch your toes, and so on)
All of these videos can be streamed or downloaded to any device as many times as you’d like so you can practice yoga wherever, whenever.
The higher priced version of the product will include a few extra bonuses like coaching calls, and even a Nerd Fitness Yoga Mats for anybody that wants to rep the Rebellion while working on their downward dog!
I’m proud as hell of this product. We don’t have many things for sale at Nerd Fitness, so you know that when we do put something out, it’s worth checking out.
We’re going to give you benchmarks to test your flexibility, along with tips, tricks and video demonstrations on how to improve flexibility in every way!
4 poses you can do right now
A big reason Nerd Fitness and the Rebellion are successful in getting people healthy is that we encourage people to take action immediately. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, RIGHT NOW!
We know teeny tiny steps can eventually result in big changes, which is why I’m sharing 4 yoga poses you can start with right now. All photos below come from Nerd Fitness Yoga, with our Yoga partner (and NF Rebel for 4 years) Kate Marolt!
Try to hold each of the following positions for 30 seconds. Yes, even if you’ve never done Yoga before and have no intentions on doing it again… I’m challenging you to give this a shot right now!
Make sure you are breathing in a relaxed, slow, deep manner throughout – not anxiously holding your breath in the movements. Inhale through your nose as you move into a pose, breath in and out slowly as you hold the pose, and then breath out as you move out of the pose.
CHAIR POSE (30 seconds)
Chair pose is the basis for many of the more advanced moves we explore in our Fire and Star series. It primarily stretches the chest and shoulders, while helping strengthen your core and legs.
Start by standing with your arms out in front of you. Slowly bend your knees, moving them gradually more forward, in front of your toes. At the same time, drop your hips and butt back as you try to achieve a 90 degree angle with your thighs and calves.
As you sit down, your arms will come straight above your heads (next to your ears) pointing up with palms facing in.
To scale this down, you’ll find it a little easier to keep your arms out in front of you – or coming towards your chest forming a “ball of energy.” Drop your hips only as low as you can comfortably maintain for a stable hold.
FORWARD FOLD (30 seconds)
This pose primarily focuses on stretching the lower back, hips, hamstrings, and calves.
Start by standing and gently bend forward as you lengthen your torso and spine. As you fold toward the ground, keep your knees straight (but not locked out). Grab the back of your calves or, if you can, rest your fingertips on the ground next to your feet.
As you breathe in, you can lift slightly and extend your torso and spine forward. As you exhale, you can fold forward again into the stretch.
To scale this down, you may use blocks to help you touch as you fold or only fold to the Halfway Lift variation. Keep your knees straight and your spine long, and fold as far as you can comfortably go.
LUNGE (30 seconds each leg)
The Lunge is a major building block for poses of all difficulty levels. This pose will primarily stretch and strengthen the groin, hamstrings, hips, and knees.
In most cases, you get into lunges by starting in a forward fold and slowly stepping one of your legs back behind you. If you need to, you can scoot your foot back several times until you are able to have about a 90-degree angle on your forward knee.
Bend your torso over your front knee and lengthen your spine forward. Your weight should be pressing down through your heels and your back leg should be active with your knee straight throughout.
To scale down, you can use blocks on each side to balance yourself without having to reach all the way down to the floor. At anytime, you can also drop the back knee down to the ground coming into Low Lunge instead.
DOWNWARD DOG (30 seconds)
This pose primarily focuses on stretching the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
The first few times you get into Downward Dog, you’ll want to start on your hands and knees (what we call Table Top), but with your arms a little bit forward of your head. Pushing into your hands and toes, slowly lift your knees off the ground.
If you can, slowly straighten your knees (don’t lock them) as you gently stretch your heels down to the ground. Once comfortable, you can work your shoulders back towards your tailbone.
To scale this down, you can lift your heels further off the ground and/or bend your knees for easy modification. You can also use blocks to elevate your arms as another alternative.
If this baby can do Yoga, so can you!
I don’t care if you’re at home, in a cubicle or office, I want you to use 3 minutes of courage to hold the poses above!
Even if you’re not interested in checking out NF Yoga and never attend a yoga class, try to repeat these movements throughout the day to help combat a day at the desk! I personally get up every 15-20 minutes and go through a few movements (Downward Dog is my favorite) to stay limber.
I’d love to hear from you: did you REALLY complete the 4-movement yoga routine above? And where did you do it? An office? In your cubicle?
Remember, who cares if your coworkers think you’re weird – getting judged for doing something healthy is a badge of honor you should be proud of!
…and Downward Dog!
PS: Here’s that link again to Nerd Fitness Yoga!