As a cycling instructor, I come across a lot of people who are seriously invested in their physical well-being, folks I like to call “cardio junkies.” Cardio junkies, also known as “gym rats,” are easy to spot. They have their gym routine down — which machines they like, which Spotify playlists pump them up, the best smoothie to order after a particularly intense workout and so on. And yet, despite their commitment to physical fitness, many cardio junkies are reluctant to give yoga a bonafide try.
It is puzzling — these folks have access to yoga classes and understand the benefits of exercise, and yet they remain skeptical of yoga. When I encourage my cycling students to attend one of my yoga classes, I hear things like, “I dunno, I just don’t sweat enough in yoga” or “I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” This disconnect between the extreme fitness world and the yoga world provides an opportunity for the yoga community to step up and find ways to better serve this customer segment.
At 15, I began taking indoor cycling classes at a YMCA in small-town Iowa. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school and my family had just relocated to a town where I knew nobody. The year before, I had undergone major surgery for scoliosis, and in the process of recovery, had become more and more obsessed with my physique. So here I was in a new town with no friends, plenty of free time, an unhealthy obsession with my weight and a YMCA membership.
Enter spin classes and a decade-long addiction to workouts that left me drenched in sweat. If a workout didn’t get my heart rate up to 150 BPMs or higher, I wasn’t interested. And while I got trim and had more energy, I also suffered from anxiety, had no muscle tone anywhere but my legs and couldn’t shed the “baby fat” layer of my tummy. I later found out, through a 2017 article by Dr. Robin Berzin on WellAndGood.com, that what I had experienced was pretty typical. “Despite being so active, these women [cardio junkies] commonly describe being tired and anxious, having trouble sleeping, and finding it difficult to shed ‘the last 10 pounds.’”
Fast-forward to 2014 where I was once again living in a new town with time on my hands to spare. One afternoon, while exploring my new neighborhood, I happened upon a hot yoga studio with an attractive introductory offer and signed up on a whim. After all, I had done a Jane Fonda yoga video or two in my day and liked to stretch, so why not?
This whim turned out to be an eye-opening, game-changing experience. My first 60-minute hot vinyasa class gave me the same “high” I got from running or cycling, without music blasting or an instructor shouting at me to “push through.” My heart rate rose, despite the minimal movement in my feet, and my muscles, every muscle in my body, ached for days. I realized that the assumptions I had made about yoga were unfounded and saw a glimpse of all the possibilities yoga offered. I was hooked.
Even more significant than the fitness gains were the mental and emotional benefits I experienced from yoga. I felt more grounded, my breath control was so much better and I could feel emotional and mental tensions releasing. Life-changing stuff.
When I discussed my newfound passion with cycling peers, they were politely complimentary, but there was a lot of passive head nodding, glazed-over eyes and conversations that didn’t go anywhere. How do I convince them to give yoga a try? Is it even worth the hassle? What would I have needed to hear 10 years ago when I only wanted high-intensity, crazy workouts that burned at least 400 calories?
I settled on a three-word “marketing strategy”: Speak. Their. Lingo. In discussing my love of yoga with cardio junkies, I cite five fitness-centered facts about what yoga and yoga alone has done for me:
- I can do a push up. A proper push up. I can even do the kind with narrow elbows.
- My arms have never been in better shape. I literally cannot get definition like this when I only lift weights.
- I finally know how to actually “use my core”. I find myself flexing my ab muscles when I go to pick up something heavy or when I’m in a hovering position on the bike.
- My breath endurance has never been better. I used to breathe many, short and shallow breaths while doing cardio. Not anymore. I can keep it under control far better.
- Mind over matter while doing sprints? Actually a real thing, not just a phrase. I don’t concentrate on the clock anymore; goals stay clear during a workout despite the difficult moments.
There are undoubtedly yoga professionals who would argue that speaking only of the fitness benefits of yoga is a sort of blasphemy, and maybe it is. But the yoga world could benefit from reaching out to the gym rats and cardio junkies of the world. Add classes geared towards athletes, or recruit in shared spaces. Aside from gaining new clientele and increasing studio revenues, these new practitioners will learn to integrate yoga into their workout regimen, leading to injury prevention and better sleep and breath control, just to name a few benefits.
And as for the mental and emotional benefits? Those will come on their own, as they have for all of us. A whole new segment of the fitness community will learn to see yoga as more than stretching and meditating.
My hope as a yoga instructor is to continue to find ways to connect with the various backgrounds of potential students and cultivate a practice and atmosphere that will get them hooked, as I was four years ago. And to start, I’m looking at my immediate community: the gym rats.
Cara Clonch Viner is an Iowa City-based actor and fitness lover/teacher/blogger through her business Pedals and Poses. She is a certified yoga teacher, WERQ (dance fitness) and cycling instructor. When Cara is not in the studio or on stage, she loves spending time with her husband and daughter, being a “foodie” and working on house projects. More information can be found at www.PedalsAndPoses.com.