I recently had a chat with Rachel Brathen about the benefits of Yoga and combining Yoga with Strength Training / Bodybuilding. Does it make sense for gym rats to do Yoga and what are the advantages? We also talked about Nutrition, Lifestyle and Happiness. I hope you enjoy the Interview.
Tobi: Hi Rachel, firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions on Yoga and Bodybuilding/Strength Training. What are the benefits of combining these two sports and what is the best way to go about it. I guess this isn’t your typical every day interview, but the readers of my Fitness Blog are very curious about your thoughts on this topic.
You are not just a regular Yoga instructor, over the last few years you have become a “Yoga Superstar”. You have more than half a million Instagram followers and over half a million Facebook Fans. What would you say is your secret, and what separates you from other “Yoga girls”? Has it something to do with the fact you’re living on Aruba, a paradise island, surrounded by hippie vibes?
Rachel: I honestly don’t know! I think it’s a combination of my healthy lifestyle, fun travels, yoga inspiration and beautiful scenery. I’m lucky to live in a beautiful place so taking great pictures is easy.
Tobi: The readers of my blog are not typical yoga lovers. Most of them are into Strength Training and Bodybuilding. Have you ever trained with weights? What are your experiences? Do you take part in any other sport alongside Yoga?
Rachel: No, I haven’t! I had a brief period when i went to a gym in my teens, but i don’t have great memories…Running on a treadmill staring into the mirror is not really my thing. I love being outside! And I love yoga because all the equipment you need is right in front of you – you only need your own body. You don’t even really need a yogamat. Maybe I need to try weight training with a pro, I might like it, who knows..:-) I only do yoga, and I walk my dogs. That’s all!
Tobi: You should definately try. It’s not just about sculpting a better body, it’s also about achieving a better mind-body connection, getting to know your limits and pushing past them. The heavy weights we are using in weight training put a lot of stress on the body. It’s not common to see a jacked guy doing yoga. Do you think Yoga can help Bodybuilding enthusiasts to relax and recover faster?
Rachel: It’s getting more common! When you train with heavy weights you break down the muscle fibers, and they repair creating “bulk”, or a big muscle (the gym type body). Yoga is different as, instead of breaking the muscle fibers down it elongates them, so you get long, lean muscles.Yoga doesn’t give you a bulky body, but it does make you very strong in a healthy way. Lots of strong, fit gym guys come to my classes, and even though they are very very strong some things in yoga can be extremely challenging. It’s important to have a good balance between strength and flexibility to avoid injury, and yoga can definitely help with that.
Tobi: I experienced that myself. I’ve tried Yoga for a while in order to become more flexible and increase my range of motion in complex lifting exercises. Many athletes have trouble with deep squatting and deadlifting because their lower back is rounding far too early when moving into the Squat position. Can you recommend any classic Yoga positions to stretch the lower back and hamstrings?
Rachel: Of course! ‘Malasana’, the yogic squat, is great to practice if you feel ok in the hips and knees. In the beginning you might want to start out with a block underneath your sit bones for support. Great poses include ‘pigeon pose’ for the hips and ‘reclined head-to-knee pose’ for the hamstrings – lying down will stabilize the lower back so you don’t strain the lumbar area while working the hamstrings.
Tobi: Sounds great. How often do you recommend Yoga sessions if someone is already in the Gym 4 times a week?
Rachel: As much as possible. If you can include some yoga exercises directly after your gym sessions to target the areas you’ve worked hard,
that would be great. But a solid all-round yoga session 2 times a week would be great.
Tobi: OK, so do you recommend doing the Yoga sessions on Gym days or off days?
Rachel: Both. Gentle stretches after the gym sessions, and more all round ‘vinyasa’ sessions in between. For very tight muscles, give ‘Yin Yoga’ a try. Slow and deep.
Tobi: Thank you, and what Yoga positions would you recommend for someone who has no previous Yoga experience and wants to improve their upper body flexibility?
Rachel: I would recommend taking classes with a qualified teacher, to make sure you learn properly right away. ‘Gomukasana arms’ is great for the shoulders and chest, but if you’re brand new to yoga it really is best to take a proper class in the beginning. You want to make sure you have proper alignment in everything you do!
Tobi: I agree, a proper class is probably the best approach. I realise I’m talking a lot about flexibility and stretching here, but Yoga is not just about the body, it’s also about the mind, right? What other health benefits does Yoga offer?
Rachel: Yes. Coordinating the body with the breath is the most important part, it really helps to calm the mind. Yoga brings focus because the movement is so linked to staying present and breathing deeply. It’s a great way to calm a stressed mind.
Tobi: Focus? You starting to sound like The Rock :). But seriously, controlling your breathing is also very important in weight training in order to keep a tight middle section during heavy lifts. Let’s talk about food now, I’m a personal trainer and so I know the importance of proper nutrition and diet in staying healthy. But I like the kind of lifestyle you are promoting, it’s about living healthily without being totally obsessed by clean eating. Am I also right in saying you actually enjoy a glass of wine or a beer once in a while too? What are your favorite foods and what are your general thoughts about food and diet?
Rachel: Absolutely! I love a good glass of wine :). I believe in being healthy and taking care of your body, but I also believe in living life fully and enjoying everything life has to offer. Obsessive eating is not good for anyone, and if there is guilt involved in your healthy habits I think it could probably be good to take a step back and relax a little. It’s all about balance, and if you’re obsessing over every single meal you’re creating tension from within. You can drink wine and stay, overall, very healthy. Have dessert. Focus on being happy! Happy people make good choices for the body. Guilt makes no one happy. Also, I think it’s good to figure out why you are eating the way you do. Are you eating super healthy to be slim and to fit into a mold society has created for, what you’re “supposed” to look like? Or are you eating to feel good for you? There is a big difference between the two, and it’s important to love yourself for who you are and make your decisions about your health from that perspective.
Tobi: True, the stress brought to your body by obsessing over your diet can often outweigh the health benefits. I imagine you have friends who are working out in the gym, mainly for appearance and aesthetic purposes. What are your thoughts on this? Can you understand why we are working our asses off to develop stronger, better bodies?
Rachel: I wrote a little bit about that in the question above. I understand the feeling of wanting to have the “perfect body” (whatever that means), but to what cost? Are you beating yourself up and repeating negative thoughts and judgements to yourself about what you look like? Or are you happy with who you are, no matter what, and just wanting to be healthy to feel good? I think people do it the wrong way around – people don’t love themselves enough so they think “if i lose 20 pounds I’ll be prettier and then I’ll be happy with who I am”. This is not true, and it never really works on a deep level. If you’re not truly happy with who you are now, changing what you look like in the mirror isn’t going to change that in a fundamental way. You’ll always find something to change, something that isn’t good enough… Even if you lose those 20 pounds. I say, do it the other way around! Love yourself first, and see what happens. If you really, truly accept and love who you are, it’s easy to make good choices for the body. You won’t binge drink or eat fast food all day long if you love who you are, because you’ll want to take care of yourself. So maybe then, you’ll lose some weight if that’s what’s healthy for your body! But it shouldn’t be a struggle. We all need to relax a little bit when it comes to our body image.
Tobi: So you honestly think there is more in life than being really, really ridiculously good looking? Just kidding :), thanks for that, it’s great to get an insight into your views on the matter. Another topic now, do you take any supplements like essential greens, superfood powders, vitamins or minerals?
Rachel: I usually always put green powders, macs, hemp protein etc in my morning smoothies. I just got an advanced kinesiology consultation and they recommended I take some herbs and supplements to keep my ph level good when I’m travelling, so i started doing that today actually! We’ll see if it helps, it really is a lot harder to stay healthy if you’re always on an airplane.
Tobi: You are coming to Berlin for a Yoga Workshop, right? Tell us a little bit about your workshops. What can we expect?
Rachel: I’m on a plane to Berlin right now! I’m very excited, the Berlin yogis seem to be super excited :-). Expect lots of movement, talk about alignment, time upside down and plenty of laughter. If you’re not smiling you’re doing it wrong!
Tobi: I’m sure you’ll like Berlin, it’s a crazy city. Thanks for your time. Train hard, have fun AND of course….Namaste :-).
Rachel: Thank you!!
Website of Rachel Brathen: http://www.rachelbrathen.com/
The Interview in german: Interview in Deutsch