The Yogic Discipline Of America's Latest Fitness Phenomenon
A Talk With Teacher And Trainer Elizabeth Wipff
When Elizabeth Wipff isn’t coaching at CrossFit Virtuosity in Williamsburg, she’s on tour teaching YogaTuneUp and mobility to Crossfitters. With a long and immersive history in yoga and anatomy behind her, she stands as a multi-disciplinarian, sharing her sharp expertise in movement with a strong fitness community that nurses her volatile spirit.
Kay Mansfield sat down with her to find out more about what this hot new trend is all about.
Kay Mansfield: Explain Crossfit to me
Elizabeth Wipff: It’s meant to keep you both powerful, and healthy. Our body was meant to articulate in all of its ranges. You get more fit by being in that constant state of non-adaptation. I believe that people are meant to move in all intensities.
Okay, let’s talk about intensity. What is intense to you is not intense to me. It’s all relative. Everybody in our gym works together, after an initial introductory class. By and large, the average person is going to work out with the higher-level more experienced athlete. My job as a coach is to make sure everybody gets what they need. I’m going to scale your workout so it is intense for you and so you’re maintaining your mechanics. I want to see you do them consistently, and then we layer on the intensity. We call that MCI. Mechanics, consistency, intensity.
KM: So, that’s almost like sthira-sukha.
EW: Oh my god, yes! Absolutely. They’re not different. The variable is always that what’s difficult for someone in one combination, may not be difficult in another person. We’re constantly adopting, and adapting different practices to keep people safe and get people fitter. If we’re talking about fitness, for a yogi, it’s more an intellectual component. For a Crossfitter, we want you to strive a little bit. You need that anchor. You need that tapas.
We all suffer, it can be a little intense. But if we overestimate someone’s ability, and they put too much weight on the bar, I’m not going to stand back. I know what things are supposed to look like, where the edge is. Sometimes I’ll be an asshole, because you’re not showing up. Because I want the commitment, the physical discipline. It’s a much better fit for me as a teacher I think, because that’s how I taught people in yoga.
KM: Is it a lifestyle discipline, like yoga?
EW: The community sort of comes organically, again, through suffering together. My job is to foster an environment that is safe. To do that, I have continued my education in all areas, so that I understand biomechanics, so that I understand programming, so that I understand human nature. These things all sharpen my teaching skills and that is my responsibility.
When I teach Yoga TuneUp workshops in the CrossFit gyms, I talk about breath. CrossFitters – humans - are bad breathers. I take for granted that I know how to breathe. CrossFitters spend a lot of time in an up-regulated state, so by teaching them how to breathe in a down-regulated way, they breathe better, they recover faster, they get back in the gym sooner. That’s why they want to do it. With the breath goes a mindfulness piece, and an introspective piece, which we need.
KM: Is there a cool down aspect to CrossFit?
EW: It depends on the workout. People are welcome to stay after and do foam-rolling or stretching. One of the things I would like to do more is this breathing, this down-regulating. It’s not physically set up for that. There is loud music and a cold dirty floor, so it’s not conducive to relaxation, but it’s not something I haven’t done. Sometimes we’ll do gentle stretching at the end, and some breathing. I’ll tell people to lengthen the exhalation to turn the nervous system down and get back to a baseline. The nervous system has been very taxed, it helps todown-regulate it.
KM: Do you ever try breathing exercises in a CrossFit session?
EW: No, no way. Yogi breathing is yogi breathing. Lifting breathing is lifting breathing. Running breathing is running breathing. You hold your breath when you lift, because you need to get really tight.
KM: I guess you don’t call that a pranayama exercise.
EW: We use a couple of Sanskrit phrases in the group. I sprinkle them in, I know that I want them to know I have that background. We use sankalpa. In Yoga TuneUp that’s a big buy in for me. In Crossfit the mental game is huge. Allowing yourself to be a student of your body, and using that as a mantra, is huge. And then we say ardha-savasana, just because.