Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hard Body, Yoga Mind

As an exercise fanatic, Shannon Leavitt has pushed herself to extreme tests of strength and endurance like long-distance cycling, triathlons and body-building. As a yoga instructor, she has incorporated strength training into her classes, calling the synthesis "YogaLift." With 20 years experience as a certified personal trainer, Leavitt knows the positive effects strength training has on bone density and metabolism.

At first, Leavitt worried that yogis wouldn't embrace weight lifting, but she feels her conscientious approach has convinced many of its merit. "Strength training is about noticing, honoring and becoming aware of your body," Leavitt says. But strength training alone can cause people to "get very tight and muscle bound." Leavitt believes that strength training is yogic, too: "Effort and letting go, this is the balance of yoga." Reaching out while grounding toward the earth, ascending and descending energy --these are common to both disciplines, she explains. "I can extend myself, but it's more effective because I'm grounded." This principle has practical application in our daily lives, where we can extend into the world, knowing we always have a safe place to come back to, Leavitt says.

Leavit begins and ends her classes with meditation, with roughly 40 minutes of hatha yoga and 10 minutes of strength training in between, focusing on correct posture. She believes in honoring the classic poses -- "our body weight is enough," she says -- and brings the weights our toward the end of class to work on muscles is the back, shoulder and arms that support good posture. Leavitt's theory is "Everyone needs to work on their posture. Most people have desk posture."

Leavitt now believes yoga is more about being than doing, but admits, "It took me a long time to notice that there was a spiritual component. I'm just beginning to understand how powerful that can be," she said. "We use the physical to teach us the emotional and spiritual. What do we need to be in touch with our spirit? we need balance. We need strength. We need tenacity. This is what's cool about yoga; it's conscious exercise."