For someone who has been working out in gyms for almost 18 years now, the sudden imposition of a lock-down and house arrest came as a bit of a shock. At first, I rejoiced! I didn't have to go to the gym because the gym was closed by law. I needn't feel guilty about it. It wasn't my mistake that Covid19 was spreading and so gyms had to remain closed for everyone's safety. I was just happy to have a guilt-free time of missing the gym.
Because trust me, for the past 18 years, every time I had missed the gym to go on a vacation or an official trip, or maybe I was ill or had to take time for celebrating some festival with family; I always felt guilty. And my guilt was rewarded with a giant load of regret whenever I finally returned to the gym. Reduced performance, terrible muscle soreness, and diminished stamina always awaited me. Not to mention the added pounds which I had to shed once again!
So, I enjoyed my fair share of a gym free week, stuck at home like a couch potato, literally binging on food and streamable content. After about a week, I started getting restless. Something was definitely off with me and even though I was missing the gym, not of my own accord, it was still bothering me. The guilt had returned and with a vengeance!
The Struggle In The Dark
I decided to start working out at home in order to retain some semblance of my pre-pandemic body and strength. I also didn't want to slide back into the routine of daily bouts of cold and phantom pains bothering me every day, which always happened to me whenever I went for a long spell without working out. Thus began my sham of a functional training routine at home!
I did squats, lunges, burpees, jumping jacks, and skips every day. When I was a regular at the gym, much of my focus used to be on weight training. As a result, body-weight training was just not cutting it for me. I even tried following some online workout routines of celebrity trainers. I walked on the spot, moved my legs and arms, did crunches, and bent out of shape in every which way, and I sweated like a pig. I still couldn't recreate the same level of impact which I used to achieve in the gym.
That is until I discovered the magic of sun-salutation or 'Surya Namaskar'!
The Obvious Eureka
Maybe I should not award it the status of discovery because the sun salutation is, in fact, an age-old, yogic exercise that is practiced by millions of people across the world. And it had been recommended to me by my parents, colleagues, friends, and pretty much everyone I had cribbed to about my weight. But I had maintained a strong stance of finding yoga boring for the longest time. Hence, I never really tried it seriously. I always reasoned with myself that what I do in the gym is so much more powerful that doing yoga at home.
Now with the gym out of the occasion and my efforts at maintaining a healthy body floundering with abysmal home workouts, I finally gave the sun-salutation a try. It was indeed a eureka moment for me when I completed my first 'circuit' of the sun-salutation as the crushing realization hit me that I am not cut out for this.
Here are some of the things that I realized when I did sun-salutation for the very first time:
- Every single joint cricked when I moved along the different poses!
- I thought I was very flexible until I tried to bend one knee and extend the other leg completely behind me! (Spoiler - couldn't really stretch it the entire way)
- Never realized there's a whole new level of toe-touch (its called touching the ground with your palms, not finger tips, and touching your forehead to your knees)!
- I have zero upper body strength as I tried to dip my chest and chin to the ground, my knees came crashing down to support my weight!
- Getting down is tough, but getting up is tougher!
- Your back can hurt while stretching backward and forward. There is just no way around it!
- It is possible to get breathless and sweaty after one rep of the sun-salutation!
I was just about ready to give up after the soul crushing and body busting rep of this exercise, which everyone raves about! It had taken me around 2 minutes to complete the circuit and I just didn't want to feel so bad during my workout hour, as I already felt like crap when I was not working out.
Fortunately, I was working out with a partner that day who was equally new to the sun-salutation torture. And as I stood panting, making up my mind to do some other exercise, I saw my partner begin the next circuit. I am not proud of it, but I am weirdly competitive when it comes to working out. And when I see someone else, at the same physical level as myself, doing better than me, I get pumped to try harder.
So my motivations were wrong but I managed to do 5 complete circuits of the sun-salutation of day 1!
Different Stages of Sun Salutation
The Ultimate Gains That Followed
The very next day I felt sore muscles in places where I didn't even think muscles could exist. This made me realize how much my body was missing a good workout because I had learned to live with pain that came with a good gym workout. If there was no pain the next day, no sore muscles, no signs of a recovery then it meant that I had just not done enough in the gym.
While I hated the soreness, I became determined to make the sun-salutation part of my regular workout regimen and progress on its reps and improve my form. Admittedly, the first week was tough. It took me the whole week to be able to do 10 circuits in a single day without giving up. It took me 3 more weeks to be able to push that number up to 20 circuits.
After 6 weeks, I was able to finally extend my leg back completely and avoid my knee from bending outward (something I had learned while training for weighted squats). By the end of 2 months, I was able to finally dip my chest and chin to the ground without my knees instinctively coming down to the ground for support. I had also managed to complete 50 circuits in a single day by the end of 2 months!
By this point, I was confident that I was getting good at the sun-salutation. So I set myself a new goal of completing 108 circuits in a single session (which I haven't been able to achieve yet!). What kept me going and positive about this super-exercise was that it turned out to be an incredible full-body workout.
I was able to work on my abs, back, biceps and triceps, quads, glutes, calves, and even my pectorals! I didn't need a weighing scale to tell me that things were working out, but the fact that I was 6 kilos (around 13 pounds) lighter by the end of 2 months was in itself evidence of its effectiveness.
I dropped half a bra size and managed to fit into those jeans that I had stopped wearing during the pandemic because obviously, they wouldn't budge past my thighs and usually leave me in tears. But weight and inch loss aside, what really made me a fan of this workout was how my body regained its strength and my skin started to glow again.
I agree that all of these benefits can be achieved through a multitude of exercises and I had experienced similar gains when I was a gym regular. In fact, if I had been able to maintain an aggressive functional training routine, I would have achieved all these gains easily. But the fact of the matter is that those were not my options! I was forced to do something out of the box that broke my body in new ways and then rebuilt it in a grand manner.
I am currently able to do 80 circuits in a single session and am hopeful of reaching the 108 mark in another two weeks. If nothing else, I am proud of my progress and the happy discovery of a full-body workout that doesn't need expensive gym memberships, constant coaching, or multiple pieces of equipment.
It's a sublime workout for anyone looking to get fitter and feel better. I salute to the sun-salutation for putting me back on the fitness track and I hope it will do the same for those who will try it with an open mind and an iron will!