For the past five months I’ve been teaching a regular Sunday yoga class at San Francisco CrossFit. After years of teaching in traditional yoga studio settings, this has been an exciting new challenge and a welcome change. I began training at SFCF in June of 2012 just after taking my first classes at CrossFit H20 in Medford, MA — owned by my best friends, Jaffney Roode and Benjamin Frank. I was instantly hooked on the intensity, speed, and explosive energy of CrossFit workouts. I quickly discovered that my background as a yoga practitioner provided me with the general mobility, positional awareness, focus, breath, and presence needed to stay on track with such a training program. CrossFit and yoga go together like fresh donuts and really good coffee, literally. Coffee, donuts, yoga, and CrossFit have become a regular occurrence on Sundays at SFCF.
Here are 10 reasons why I believe yoga can help you grow as an athlete, reach your goals, and continue to excel beyond your wildest expectations.
Crossfit x Yoga – 10 Reasons Why You Should Practice Both
1) Yoga improves your range of motion and general mobility
Most of the classical poses in yoga support the same concepts of creating torque, finding a braced neutral spinal position, and always working from core to extremity.
Are your heels coming off the ground in your overhead squat? Is it impossible for you to do a handstand because your shoulders are so tight? How are your pistols? Can you get down there? Practicing basic yoga poses like downward facing dog, warrior two, and pigeon (just to name a few) help reinforce external rotation of the hip and shoulder necessary for many basic movements of CrossFit. Performing these yoga shapes consistently helps improve your overall mobility. Greg Glassman did say that all Crossfitters should be able to do the splits. This could be your future.
2) Yoga helps you focus
Have you ever had to complete 150 wall balls? That target is your “drishti” or point of focus where your gaze rests. In classical yoga there is a strong emphasis on creating a focal point that doesn’t move so you stay consistent while you’re moving. This technique of setting a steady focus helps tremendously with Olympic lifting, double unders, high box jumps, and toes to bar, just to name a few.
3) Yoga teaches you how to breathe more efficiently
CrossFit is primarily about moving fast with intensity, but in order to cultivate speed you must also cultivate rest.
After my first “Yoga for the Crossfit Athlete” class at San Francisco CrossFit, the Supple Leopard himself, Dr. Kelly Starrett asked me how it went. I replied, “It was awesome. The athletes move really well…but they breathe like shit.” Vinyasa Yoga is a practice of linking movement to breath, so you move through postural transitions using your inhale and exhale. This pattern of breath awareness seamlessly transfers to a long burpee workout where the timing of breath and rhythm is essential to staying on point. Yoga also helps you learn how to breathe deeply into your diaphragm, which directly translates into your ability to produce more power and sustain movements for longer durations.
4) Yoga develops your ability to balance
Balance is one of the Ten General Physical Skills highlighted in Greg Glassman’s definition of CrossFit. It’s necessary for most of the movements you see in a classic CrossFit workout. Practicing yoga poses such as Tree, Eagle, Dancer’s, or Half Moon help you achieve the stability needed to perform high rep pistols or do cartwheels on a balance beam at the Sac Town Throwdown (not that I’ve ever done that). If you’re lucky, this balance thing trickles into your real life outside the gym and suddenly you’ve landed your dream job, relationship, home, and you have time for your CrossFit and yoga addiction. Lucky you!
5) Yoga keeps you fit
Please ignore this one if you’re on the milk diet and trying to get “swole.” Yoga will lengthen your muscles and potentially help you grow an inch taller. Or, your posture will improve from practicing yoga and you’ll appear to be taller. Either way, yoga keeps you looking sexy. And we all know CrossFitters like to look good: topless, in Lululemon sports bras and Reebok bootie shorts, and especially naked.
6) Yoga gives you time to relax
Yoga can be hard, really hard if you’re not used to it. But unlike a Hero or Girls WOD, you probably won’t throw up at the end.
CrossFit is primarily about moving fast with intensity, but in order to cultivate speed you must also cultivate rest. Relaxation is important for your ability to integrate the information you receive mentally and physically during your workouts and throughout your day. Being able to relax deeply helps you come back with more power, focus, and determination, because you’ve had ample time to recover. On your next rest day, replace your giant ice cream sundae with a restorative yoga class and see how you feel. Or, who am I kidding…. just do both.
7) Yoga reinforces good positioning
My dear friends and coaches, Kelly Starrett, Carl Paoli, Diane Fu, Nate Helming, and the team at SFCF have created an entire epoch around the skill of establishing good positions across a variety of physical disciplines. Most of the classical poses in yoga support the same concepts of creating torque, finding a braced neutral spinal position, and always working from core to extremity. The goal of the ancient yogis was to move through postures in a way that could help you sit comfortably for long periods of time in a lotus position where the spine was held neutral. This is the same spinal position used when you’re running, doing a pull up, or performing your heavy deadlift and push press.
8) Yoga can be a legitimate workout
Anytime you bring people together with a common focus or goal, those people will feel connected to each other.
One of my favorite things about teaching yoga to CrossFitters is watching the big guys who can deadlift 500+ pounds show up to yoga; within five minutes they’re drowning in a pool of their own sweat. Yoga can be hard, really hard if you’re not used to it. But unlike a Hero or Girls WOD, you probably won’t throw up at the end. On the contrary, you’ll get a ten minute supervised nap with a lavender neck massage and a lullaby. You’ll most likely emerge from a vigorous yoga class feeling calm, present, and relaxed instead of feeling like you were just run over by a Mac truck.
9) Yoga builds community
CrossFit is all about community, and so is yoga. Anytime you bring people together with a common focus or goal, those people will feel connected to each other. The root of the word yoga in Sanskrit is “Yug,” which means to yoke, join together, or connect. The essence of yoga is the concept that if we connect deeper to ourselves, our bodies, our breath, and the present moment then we ultimately will connect more deeply to one another.
10) Yoga is fun!
In my yoga classes (and not just CrossFit yoga classes), I play Macklemore, Daft Punk, Pink Floyd, Bon Iver, and Nina Simone. I tell stories about how big Hanuman’s (yoga monkey gods) quads were and how much he needed to lift to get triceps big enough to fight evil yogi invaders. I bring donuts and we drink coffee, wine, mimosas, and accept the occasional sushi donation from our local Japanese restaurant. We laugh, playfully make fun of each other, breathe together, and say “Namaste Bitches.” I sing, sometimes we dance even though that’s so totally weird, and we enjoy our lives, because what the hell else are we supposed to do?
Seriously. Just do yoga already. It will improve your CrossFit training, make your outlook on life a bit more positive, and could potentially even transform you into a better person.