A Yoga Epiphany: How Exercise Can Make Me MORE Stressed and LESS Fit

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • It's November now - which means my 31 days of yoga October challenge is officially over. The last time I embarked upon (and accomplished) a yoga challenge was nearly two years ago. This experience, although similar in the concept of 31 classes throughout a 31 day month, was different in many ways.


    Most notable to me in terms of my overall fitness and physique, was the awareness that my body got noticeably trimmer and stronger. And this was despite the fact that, due to so much yoga, I was unable and unwilling to spend more time doing other exercise; meaning that my usual hard-core cardio and strength workouts, or any other cross-training like I usually do, went by the wayside. My self-designed yoga schedule had me rotating through power classes and vinyasa flows, alongside some days of just deep stretch or other restorative classes.

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    Ever notice how you can spot changes in yourself most readily when you go back to a routine, place or person you've not visited in a while? So it was with me. At the close of the month of October, I threw in a 60-minute cross-training cardio class at my gym, which I hadn't been to in at least a month. In this old stomping ground, with the familiar mirrors, lighting and room set-up (including the familiar attendees of the class), I noticed I looked different - I was different. The overall tone of my body was markedly improved and I was surprised how well I kept up with the class, having not been there in so long.


    I found this exciting: that doing less (cardio and endurance exercise) was actually helping me be more (of what I wanted to be: stronger and fitter, and of course, looking better in and out of my workout clothes).


    Around the same time, I was exploring some concepts in mental and relaxation exercises for optimizing performance - in work, in fitness, in relationships, in life - and re-happened upon a theory that reinforced what I have intuitively known, and that research supports. This theory is that intense or endurance exercise, when knocked out of balance, does not help us in our quest to relieve stress, build strength, or manage weight. No - in fact, without adequate periods of rest and relaxation (balance), this kind of exercise can actually become a stress in and of itself to your body, mind and spirit, creating a chronic stress-hormone response that produces exactly the opposite of what we exercise for. Your body, in a chronic stress state, will work to conserve your energy stores - making you crave fast sources of energy while decreasing metabolism, among other system conservation techniques.


    Huh? Exercising more can make you less likely to achieve your goals? Yes, that's exactly what I am suggesting.


    So after these 31 days of yoga, my reflection turns to the concept of mindfully balancing my system - my brain, my body and my soul. Yes, this includes high-intensity and sometimes endurance exercise. But not all the time, not every day, and not when my brain, body and soul are asking for something different.


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    But there's the rub: How do you know if you are unhealthfully using this as an excuse to "slack off" or if you really do need something more balanced? The trick is working on your inner wisdom and tuning in so well to this inner wisdom that you recognize when you need to push through or pull back. There is a time for all seasons and that's called: balance.


    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn’t mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers’ eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders’ insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.


Published On: November 03, 2013