The Gym is Dead. Long Live Yoga
There are many reasons to choose yoga over the vastly overrated gym
This week has been a big week of growth for me, because after delaying it for far longer than I should have, I finally joined a gym.
Well, not so much a gym. I joined a yoga studio that has a gym next door that’s run by the same company, a Hong Kong based company called Pure Fitness.
I’ve always had trouble working out in the gym for several reasons, the biggest and most immediate challenge is that I have no idea what I’m doing.
I move from one piece of equipment to another, utilising the equipment in the way that makes the most sense to me, before giving up and moving to the next contraption.
The trouble with this is that if I’m not using the equipment exactly as it was intended and in the exact configuration my body needs, I’m doing absolutely nothing to advance my fitness.
In fact, if I’m not careful, I could injure myself.
The obvious remedy for this problem is to hire a personal trainer. I actually hired a personal trainer for a trial once, a trial that ended with me overworking my body to the point that I had to run to a trash can and vomit halfway through the session.
I don’t think all personal trainers are this bad at gauging the strength of their clients to the point that they make them sick, but this one potentially needed to go back to school.
I remember my vision narrowing to almost nothing before running blindly to the trash can and nearly missing.
Since then, gyms have given me a bad vibe. I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s too loud in there, and I have an aversion to personal trainers.
My Initial Solution
For a while, I satiated by body’s need to work out with Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure.
Ring Fit Adventure is a workout game for Nintendo Switch that allows you to play a game while working out with a custom-designed pilates ring (magic ring).
After inserting a Switch controller into the ring (called a Ring Con by Nintendo), the ring can provide resistance during dozens of different workouts that target all quadrants of your body.
Believe me, after the 30th rep squeezing that ring between your thighs, you can really feel the burn.
This gamified exercise worked really well for a while, and made me feel as though I was being proactive with my health.
I’m confident that I experienced some positive results during the time that I committed to the experience.
After a few months, the trouble became maintaining my motivation to keep playing the game.
My problem with the game was a problem that many of us face at the gym; the problem of forcing yourself to go back day after day.
Without accountability, how can you force yourself to keep doing something that sucks?
In the beginning, focusing on improving your health can be enough.
For me, the initial motivation comes from reading horror stories of health problems experienced by those who let decades slip by without any form of intentional exercise.
The thought of living with the consequences is enough to force me into the gym for at least a couple of months.. but it doesn’t last forever.
The situation became too bleak, and for the last six months I completely gave up and allowed my body to fall into disrepair.
That is, until I discovered a great method of staying in shape that humans have known about for centuries. I finally went to a yoga class.
There are lots of reasons why yoga is so much better than the gym, so here are just the ones I’ve discovered since joining.
The Pain/Gain Trade-off
I’m someone with weak knees, shoulders, and a very fragile neck. I am this way because of the torment I put my body through during the years I performed for Disney and DreamWorks at theme parks and aboard cruise ships.
I was putting my body through hell, and at the time I did very little to counteract the stress I was putting on myself.
I was able to withstand this stress all the way through my twenties, but now that I’m in my thirties I’m paying for it. I’m confident that if I do nothing, my forties will be spent writhing in pain.
Regular working out only adds to the pain in my knees. Even a spin or an aerobics class can end with me holding icepacks between my knees, praying for the pain to stop.
It felt as though I was swapping my joint health for muscle development, and it’s not a trade I could keep making.
Yoga isn’t putting any strain on my joints at all, in fact I feel as though they’re being helped. Each session, my muscles feel as though they’re being worked out, but my knees aren’t paying for it.
Each yoga pose puts my body into a stress position that tenses and works on a particular muscle, but that muscle isn’t being worked at the expense of my knees. Because of this, I can slowly heal my injuries while also improving my muscle definition.
Efficiency of Exercise
Another reason is that yoga just feels more efficient, and when there’s a teacher in the room, it’s difficult to do incorrectly.
Lifting weights works on certain muscles, which feels horrible, but the payoff is stronger biceps.
Of course, if you’re doing it wrong, you may injure yourself.
Doing a yoga pose works on muscles all over the body, and improves blood flow, digestion, and posture at the same time.
What’s more, if you’re doing it wrong, the gravest consequence is that you you’ll only miss out on some of the benefits (that is, until you start doing advanced yoga with full inversions, but I’m no where near that point).
If fact, some of my friends who have hurt themselves at the gym are slowly fixing those injuries with yoga.
Doing yoga incorrectly is especially difficult because the teacher is always walking around the room, and will gently guiding your shoulders, hands, or hips with his/her fingers. If you’re doing it wrong, the teacher is always able to set you right.
I’m an English speaker taking part in entirely Mandarin classes in China, and I’m able to understand exactly what to do.
I casually follow the moves of the participants around me, and the teacher physically corrects me when I’m wrong.
Luckily, a lot of the moves are the same from class to class, so once I’ve done a move a few times, I know how it’s done.
I merely need to see the others slowly setting up the move with their bodies and I can assume where we’re all going.
It’s slow and peaceful, yet hard as hell. I sweat bullets every session, and sometimes need to dry off my mat halfway through the class so that I don’t slip on pools of my own sweat.
It’s a full workout and it feels like one; but it’s somehow enjoyable despite how much I usually hate working out.
Usually, (except after hot yoga), I shower off and feel jealous of other students who are getting ready to start their classes. I feel tired and beaten, but I still wish I could join them.
Yoga is King (or Queen)
Ultimately, yoga feels as though it must be the most efficient way to stay in shape, and since it’s been around since the 5th century BC, it’s certainly not a fad.
It’s a workout you can easily do from home, although home has too many distractions for me.
I know that if I try to do it at home, I either won’t do it, or I’ll just resort to a lamer version.
I’ve already tried to use those workout apps, but without a teacher present, I’m so lazy with my poses.
If I commit to a class, I’m consciously committing to improving my health during one hour each day.
During this hour, I’m surrounded by likeminded people who are also there to achieve the same goal. Our phones are in our locker, we’re not distracted, and the smell of essential oil hangs in the air.
We all try our best, subconsciously trying to impress the teacher, and we wholly commit to each pose.
Once the class is over, we shower and head home with an unrivalled feeling of accomplishment.
When comparing that to the nightmare of standing in a gym surrounded by loud, selfie-taking roid-monsters and dangerous, scary equipment; the choice is clear.