Yoga and CrossFit: Fraternal Fitness Twins

rachael kalin

What images come to mind when you hear the word yoga? Is it someone folding themselves into a pretzel or standing on their head? Probably. That’s what I always thought. It’s a pretty common idea of yoga from our Western viewpoint. Want to hear the definition of yoga from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (basically the yoga handbook)? Sure you do.

Sutra 1.2: “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga. ¹

AKA: Yoga is the calming of the mental chatter.

You know the chatter I mean:

  • Am I going to be able to pay the rent on time?
  • What if this plan doesn’t work?
  • Am I hungry or am I just bored? Better check the fridge anyway.

This incessant chatter has turned us into highly functioning robots. Our bodies are here, but our minds are on autopilot. They’ve wandered off, mentally checking-off the ingredients in our cabinet for tonight’s taco dinner, instead of reading the words on this page! (Thanks a lot, brain).

I emphasize the word “calming” because this chatter never goes away. And, in the right Set & Setting, it’s really useful. The problem arises when we want to be here – in this moment – yet we don’t know how to turn the chatter down.

CrossFit is a multi-faceted sport (like, by definition). It’s constantly varying and requires not only strength but precision and a technical knowledge of many different movements. We all know this. But have you ever considered how important our mental attitude is in CrossFit?

Have you ever found yourself mid-workout, already thinking about the rest of your day? What about the days when you feel so focused, all that exists is the next burpee box jump? Which workout feels more fulfilling? What if we could find a way to mentally arrive at the start of each workout? Find a way to stay present in each movement we are performing. A way to quiet the fear that tells us we can’t possibly lift that over our heads.

Great news; we can!

CrossFit, meet yoga.

The more we practice yoga (not just the pretzel bending, leg splitting, standing on your head yoga) the easier it becomes for us to stay aware in the present moment; to stay “In the Zone”. We learn to notice when our mind starts to wander, and how to refocus it.

You may be asking, how can these two seemingly opposite modalities support each other? Thinking of CrossFit, images of blistered hands, dropping barbells and loud expletive filled music (thanks Liv) come to mind. Now contrast that to the slow moving, silence inducing, OM chanting experience of a yoga class. How can there possibly be a connection between the two? Well, there is.

These two activities are more suited than we give them credit for. CrossFit helps me find my voice. It gives me permission to yell and grunt and tap into my anger. It reminds me that I am strong, brave, and completely capable. Yoga helps me quiet the mental chatter that keeps me anywhere but here. It helps me refocus my mind mid-workout. It gives me the mental strength to keep going when I’m 3 minutes in to a 20-minute AMRAP. AND it gives me the flexibility to fold myself into a pretzel. But hey, that’s just a side bonus.

If we want to be the best athlete we can be, our mental attitude must play a role in it. We need the ability to refocus our awareness in a split second. Therefore, CrossFit needs yoga. And if we want to be strong, courageous athletes, yoga needs CrossFit too. They are the yin to the other’s yang.

Do you have the same mental struggles in overcoming fear in CrossFit? Have you had the experience of being in the zone one day, and zoned out the next? Do you have any interesting anecdotes, or questions around anything in this article? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

¹ Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications, 1990), 3.

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