I used to do the gym thing. In high school, college, before I got into yoga and even for some time after I got into yoga, I went several times a week, did the elliptical machine, played around with a few free weights and those abductor/adductor machines, even for a short period of time did some running and (if I really wanted to kick the self-torture into high gear) stair-climbing.
Once I drank the yoga kool-aid, though, I felt the need to go to the gym less and less. I was building more strength with chaturanga than I ever had with my measly five-pound weights. I felt healthier than I ever had before. And I enjoyed yoga way more than the machines at the gym. I finally canceled my gym membership, and didn’t look back.
Fast-forward to a few months ago, when CrossFit started popping up everywhere. (I mean in my consciousness. It’s been around since 1995, and has seen incredible growth in the past five years or so.) Basically, CrossFit is a short and intense workout that seeks to build cardio respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, power, flexibility, speed, agility, coordination, balance, and accuracy. It’s not at all like the kind of thing I used to do at the gym, in other words. My good friend Liz, who is an Ironman (’nuff said) does CrossFit, and we’ve had a couple of great conversations about the similarities between (believe it or not) Ashtanga and CrossFit. The systems are very different, of course, but a certain mental fortitude is required to undertake either one. As Liz wrote, “I think a lot of the benefit of Crossfit is doing the WOD [Workout of the Day] that you are inclined to hate, and not skipping those days (remind me of this the next time I see an erg workout for the day, mmkay?) It’s the discipline of teaching your body to adapt, over and over, to things outside its comfort zone.” Also, both take a holistic approach. Mind and body. Strength and flexibility. Balance creates health. And then I read this post by Jason, an Ashtanga instructor, about his time spent doing CrossFit. One part that stood out for me:
My good friend David Kennedy laughed when I told him that I really liked the flush of health and vitality that accompanied back-squatting. “You think the only way to wake up kundalini is to wear a turban and do funny breathing?” he asked.
It’s like, duh. Of course a universal and pervasive energy isn’t beholden to specific culturally derived techniques.
So combine this with the fact that Liz takes my Ashtanga class every time she’s in town, and I knew I just had to try this thing. I signed up for a Foundations course (because if I just dropped into a regular class and they told me to do 10 clean-and-jerks and 10 power snatches, I’d probably just burst out laughing) at CrossFit Minneapolis.
Two weeks into the Foundations course, which meets three times a week, and this is what I’ve learned.
Jason was right, that Ashtanga is helpful in some ways for this type of workout, and utterly unhelpful in others. My flexibility makes squats a heck of a lot easier, and I don’t have a problem keeping my shoulders from rounding. Drishti helps too: looking slightly up keeps your chest in the right position so you can keep the weight of the barbell over your mid-foot. Also, I’m strong-ish already from yoga (but can see that I have a ton of room for gaining strength). I can do a couple legitimate pull-ups (literally a couple. Two. More than that and I have to use one of those resistance bands, which are awesome), and sit-ups are a walk in the park (compared to, say, back squats. Not compared to an actual walk in the park. Which would have been impossible anyway, after a few of these workouts that rendered me unable to, ahem, walk).
Where I’m lacking, though, is the speed and power end of things. The long, slow and controlled movements that form the core of the Ashtanga practice ain’t gonna cut it in the CrossFit world. And I think both types of movement (slow and controlled vs. fast and powerful) have their place in real life/off the mat/out of the gym: in a stressful situation, I want to be able to slow down and observe my reaction, notice what’s happening before I indulge my knee-jerk response of anger, or frustration or whatever it is. However, in a dangerous situation, it’s good to be able to run. Or to lift something heavy (if prime time television is to be believed, this comes up more often than you’d think).
I have one more week in CrossFit Beginnerland, and then I jump in with the big dogs, where people are lifting over a hundred pounds and will most likely laugh at my cute little yoga muscles.
At least I’ll know what a Power Snatch is.