As I twisted my torso to reach one hand to the floor and exerted myself to keep the other raised in the air, fighting against the weight grip in the air, which pulled me down, I could not help but think that it was not so. anyone yoga class I had tried before.
I was about halfway through my demo session of Equinox’s new Yoga Strong program, and I was pushed to my limit. I’m not a consistent enough yogi to claim I have an active “practice” – I last attended a Sunrise Vinyasa class regularly in my early twenties over half a decade ago – but I’m not a beginner either. I take my mobility seriously for my other physical pursuits (mainly martial arts, strength training and running), so I try to mix yoga movements into my warm-up and cooling down. When I arrived at Equinox’s Columbus Circle location for a morning class, I was ready to run through a standard yoga session postures and sequences. It’s usually not too much of a challenge for me. Yoga Strongs added wrinkle, a ten-pound sandbag used to provide resistance in various ways, brought a whole new strength-abrasive element into the equation.
Using sandbags in yoga is not entirely without precedent. The tool is part of the Iyengar yoga tradition, often used as a prop to help deepen a stretch or to allow a yogi to put pressure on a pose, and ground the yogi to the floor. This is a technique that is present in the Yoga Strong course, where I was given the task of placing the bag on my feet or back at different points – but the tool is more often used as an opportunity to provide resistance to the typically unloaded Vinyasa flows. , such as. the challenging triangle position I described earlier.
“We wanted to add weight to a yoga class for two reasons: one, to add intensity and enhance the strengthening benefits of traditional yoga postures, and two, to add a grounding element when placed on the body in restorative positions (equivalent to a gravity blanket). .), “says Michael Gervais, a director at Equinox, who was one of the creators of the program. “We explored many ways we could add load, apart from just bringing dumbbells into the yoga studio – for example, we experimented with weighted bricks, portable weights, ribbons.”
The team finally settled on sandbags after noticing the weights typically used to secure backgrounds and lighting equipment on photo shoots. A yoga equipment manufacturer added a nail and handle to make the tool easier to lift, and after a few repetitions, the final shape was ready for flows. When I grabbed the burger-style bag that can be folded at the seam to bring the handles together in the palm of your hand, I realized that the most appropriate analog to more traditional strength training equipment was a kettlebell. When I first had that comparison in mind, I was able to relate the movements I performed in class to the exercises I do in my typical workout that focus on building strength and muscle.
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The structure of the class itself is based on the Ashtanga Yoga series, according to Gervais, which follows a fixed pattern of repetitive movements. Yoga Strong instructors are given some leeway to innovate within the format, especially given the use of the sandbag. My instructor, Margaret, was both accommodating and reassuring, offering scaling options for class members struggling with the poses, and more challenging variations for those strong enough to handle the extra weight of the bag.
I appreciated this focus – I love stepping out of my typical exercise boxes when I have the chance. Although Yoga Strong is not aimed at any type of person (Gervais says the real goal demo is “those who want their yoga to be their workout”), I could imagine stereotypical yoga-averse men trying the class and loving the challenge.
Margaret led us through the familiar Vinyasa movements, but the addition of rowing movements to train the back muscles, some pressure over the head for the shoulders and even a forward bend with the bag balanced on the loins to challenge the hips and lower back. a whole new form of training. Typically, you would not expect pulling movements to be prominent in a yoga flow. This hybrid approach complimented the typical burn I feel in my muscles when I was challenged to keep a pose past my comfort threshold – but over the course of the hour, I pumped through repetitions of rows at the same time. Ten pounds does not sound like much weight, but as I struggled to hold my strict position, every extra ounce felt enlarged.
After moving through the flow, my class ended with a challenging series of balance movements that were made even more difficult with the addition of the sandbag placed in strategic locations. From wood pose to outcome to a final round of warrior three teams, I shook, but I was determined to use my strength to fight the weight and keep my stance.
We finished the series, had a moment to work our way through our own problem points with poses and stretches, and finally we settled down on our mats in shavasana, the relaxed supine position that closes most yoga sessions. Now the sandbag was especially welcome as a grounding tool on top of me at my waist (I even added an extra bag to my chest) and I could feel my body sinking to the floor. When the class ended, I felt relaxed as I often practice post-yoga – but also as if I had pushed my muscles to the threshold of my strength.
Yoga Strong is available at all Equinox locations. Check here for local schedules.
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