Applying Yoga Principles to Kettlebell Exercises
Who would have thought of kettlebell exercises as things that would help your yoga poses! Or that yoga principles can be applied to using kettlebells.
That's actually the name of a book by a guy named Pavel Tsatsouline.
Kettlebells are cannonballs with handles that you can use for swinging, pressing or pulling actions.
They come in various weights and using them you can improve cardiovascular fitness, coordination, muscular integration and strength.
And that's the point of this article, to help you do kettlebell exercises (including the clean and press) with awareness.
Doing exercises with weight, kettlebells for instance, is one way of practicing interacting with things outside of yourself. Doing yoga with a partner (and you can take this in two different ways) is yet another way. The ultimate form of physcical yoga, and here I fall dramatically short, is in learning to relate with all things outside of ourselves, conscious or otherwise.
The Turkish Get Up is a little bit like doing Tai Ji with weights. This movement can be done slowly, and with awareness. It can be done with or without weight, and actually, in the beginning, without weight is better.
In addition its an easy exercise to break down into component parts which are then exercises in their own right. You can practice these exercises to help you with the parts of the get up that give you difficulty.
Not only does it (the Turkish Get Up) improve shoulder stability, it also uses the abs (and trains them) and is an excellent coordination and body awareness exercise.
And don't worry if you haven't got a kettlebell. You can start of by doing this kettlebell exercise without any weight.
Then you can try it with a dumbell or even a barbell.
Kettlebells are fun though and if you do wanna buy yourself some, check out dragon door kettlebells. If you live in a country that dragon door or its affilates don't ship to, then do a search containing your country name and kettlebells. You may find a local who's gone and manufactured their own or has imported a batch.
If you want a coach then again check out the dragondoor site for RKC instructors. I'd recomend these because from all appearances body awareness is part and parcel of what they teach (and safety.) It's like they are teaching you yoga, but using kettlebells and weights.
The Turkish Get Up.
The kettlebell swing looks pretty easy on the outside, but then it can be a little bit challenging if you have difficutly relaxing and lack balance.
As a yoga teacher I spend a lot of time teaching the basics of balance awareness (and body awareness also) and so a lot of the prep work for the kettlebell swing includes body awareness and control exercises to give you the basic tools you need to work towards doing the swing with awareness and control.
Notice I didn't say properly.
My version of the swing is slightly different than others, however, if you learn to feel your body and control it, you can define the swing that's right for you, and then you will be doing it correctly.
At the center of any technique, is awareness and control, and that's what i hope to help you learn as you work towards the kettlebell swing.
If you are interested in using kettlebell exercises to help your yoga poses, particularly hand stand then two exercises that may help are the kettlebell clearn and press and the kettlebell press.
The first exercise, the clean and press has elements of the swing, but it takes this exercise up a notch. If you've ever watched rhythmic gymnastics, those girls are one with whatever equipment. I always like seeing the girls who catch the ball without looking. They know where it's going to end up. (And they feel their throw so that they know if the ball is going to be where they expect it to be or not.) This same kind of awareness is needed for the kettlebell clean and press, especially if you dont' want to end up with a bruised forearm.
While the kettlebell clean and press is an exercise in momentum control, there is a moment at the top where the arm is straight and it's this position which may help in strengthening the shoulders for handstand, especially if you do a lot of reps.
However, a similar position is used in the get up, and so if you are using the kettlebell as a way to prepare for handstand, then that exercise might be the better of the two.
If you are working towards handstand press up then an exercise that may help is the kettlebell press. The nice thing about this exercise is that you can practice being aware of your arm, shoulder and ribcage as you do it. These are the same things that you can focus your awareness on while learning handstand press ups.
So how do you actually apply yoga principles to these kettlebell exercises?
Well it helps if you know what those principles are.
The first one is create a stable foundation. That means stabilizing the part of the body closest to the floor. But in the case of a standing pose or standing exercise, it isnt' just the feet that forms the foundation, the foundation runs all the way up the legs to the hip joints. The legs are our foundation while standing.
But when using the arms, the foundation is the ribcage (and then the shoulder blades) for the scapulae and shoulder muscles.
While using a kettlebell it means gripping the kettlebell firmly enough so that you don't lose control.
It also means making sure that the area around you is clear of obsacles (and people) so that if you lose control of the kettlebell you can ditch is safely. That means without injuring yourself or anyone (or any animal) around you.
The second one is connect and feel. That means feeling your body and what you are attached to.
Connection also means adjusting your body so that you can feel all of the parts.
If you've ever been stuck driving behind a bus, you know that in order to see ahead so that you can get around the bus, you have to drift to one side or the other so that you can see around the bus.
Likewise with your body, their may be a small (or large) adjustment you can make between one part and another so that you can feel your body, and feel whether it is in a good position to do what you are asking it to do.
Center and Balance is the third principle. To balance you have to keep your center of gravity over your foundation. And in an exercise like the swing, you center (and that of the kettlebell) is shifting. So it helps if you can feel where your center is.
But in addition, if you "tie" the parts of your body together you effectively unify the different centers of all of these parts so that they act as one. A single center is easier to control and balance than a multitude of them.
The fourth principle is space. Create it. Create space so that you have room to use your senses (get out from behind that bus.) Also create space so that your muscles, your bones and your body as a whole has room to act.
It's pretty hard to dance on a crowded dance floor. So look for the spaces to dance in (or create space.)
The fifth principle is express yourself. Know what you are doing and do it.
Whether it's a kettlebell exercise or a yoga pose (or something else completely) if you know what you are trying to do then you can get on with doing it.
But more than that, if you consider the legs to be the foundation, then the expression is the part of the body that isn't the foundation, the torso, neck and arms. Meanwhile the pelvis is the center that ties these elements together.
I'll go over how to actually apply these principles according to each exercise.