Yoga’s benefits are countless: the practice of yoga increases flexibility, corrects poor posture, lowers blood pressure, and sharpens the mind. Yoga builds stamina, cleanses the body, supports your immune system, aids in digestion, and builds lean muscles. Yes, yoga is a form of strength training. Instead of using dumbbells and leg extension machines, the yoga practitioner lifts his or her body weight.
In some ways, yoga is a better way to build strength than lifting weights. While weight lifting focuses on one or muscle group at a time, one yoga posture can target several large and small muscles. Practicing yoga carries less of an injury risk that lifting weights, and yoga also moves your body in multiple directions as opposed to the singular back-and-forth direction of a bicep curl or a leg press. If you are looking to build long, sleek muscles, yoga is a great alternative to boring gym reps. (If you are looking to build bulk, however, weight training with resistance tools needs to be incorporated into your weekly fitness routine.)
There are a number of different kinds of yoga, and some are more physical than others. Ashtanga Yoga and Power Yoga are more intense forms, challenging the practitioner to move through a series of postures without resting in between: the postures “flow” one quickly to the next. Those who are looking to get into a more physical type of yoga should search for Ashtanga Yoga or Power Yoga classes in their area.
Ashtanga Yoga (also called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) is a practice derived from a distinct and ancient system of hatha yoga developed by Vamana Rishi. There are six Ashtanga series, which a yoga student can work through at his or her own pace. The postures in each series are progressive, and the process requires intense physical labor. Ashtanga Yoga burns calories and is probably the most vigorous form of yoga.
Power yoga is similar to Ashtanga in that it requires the practitioner to perform a series of intense yoga strength poses one after the next; however, power yoga instructors do not stick to a prescribed sequence of postures like in Ashtanga. The selected postures and style vary according to the teacher.
Both Ashtanga and Power Yoga incorporate isometric movement that challenges every muscle in the body, which is great for burning calories and building muscle.
Upper Body Strength Poses
Here are some specific postures that help with upper body strength. For days when getting to the gym is unlikely, or if you are just looking to supplement yoga into your regular strength training routine, here are some yoga strength poses to incorporate.
Plank Pose: This basic yoga posture is a wonderful way to strengthen and tone arms. Keeping the spine parallel to the floor, make sure shoulders are directly on top of your wrists. Pull belly toward the spine extend your tailbone toward your heels, and extend your heel toward the wall behind you. Keep you neck long and your head parallel to the mat. Hold the position through ten deep breaths, relax, and repeat.
Side Plank: This pose is a little more challenging than the plank. While in plank position, lift your body over your right foot, stacking the right foot over the left. Stretch your arm toward the sky, and your left shoulders and hips should stack one on top of the other on the right side. Maintain strength in your arms, draw your belly in toward the spine, and extend tailbone to your heels. Hold for up to ten breaths, go back to plank position, and relax. Repeat on the other side.
Chaturanga: This posture also starts from the plank position. From plank, bend your arms at a 90 degrees angle while lowering your body towards the floor. Do not lower the body past 90 degrees. Extend your tailbone toward your heels, keep your chest forward, and pull your belly to your spine all while keep your arms tight next to your sides. Hold for a count of ten breaths, move back into plank position, and relax.
Lower Body Strength Postures
Here are some yoga postures that work those lower body muscles.
Chair pose: Just as it sounds, this pose looks like you’re sitting on an invisible chair. Begin by standing with your feet together, big toes touching. While you inhale, raise your arms above your head, keeping them perpendicular to the floor. As you exhale, bend your knees, and bring your thigh as parallel to the floor as you can. Form a right angle with your torso over your thighs, and shift your weight onto your heels. Feel the burn in your legs. Hold for ten breaths and then, as you inhale, straighten your legs slowly. Exhale while releasing your arms back to your sides. Repeat.
Warrior I: This dynamic yoga strength pose is great for stretching the front of the body and strengthening your thighs and back. Begin my standing with your feet wide apart. Point your right foot toward the front of the mat and then turn your left foot slightly inward. Keep you back flat, drawing your shoulder blades in toward your upper back rib. Place your weight on your left heel. As you exhale, bend your right knee ver your right ankle so that your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Slowly reach your arms above your head, lifting across your torso, chest, and all the way up through your fingertips. Gently tilt your head back and hold for ten breaths. Then, release by slowly straightening your legs and lowering your arms. Repeat on the other side.
Bridge: This pose starts as you are lying on your back. Bend your knees and place feet hips width apart. Place your arms to your sides with your palms facing down. Press feet into the floor, and inhale while lifting your hips upward, rolling your spine off of the floor. Press down into your arms and lift your chest. Hold this position for up to ten breaths, then slowly release, rolling the spine gently back onto the floor.
The Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
The beauty practicing yoga strength poses is that you work out your core muscles during every pose. We often think of our core as just our abdominal muscles and cross that area of our body off the list after we do a series of crunches. The abdomen is just one set of muscles: the core is made up of 29 pairs of muscles! The core provides the foundation for leg and arm movement, helps with balance, and most importantly, supports your spine. The core includes back muscles, your glutes, and your ab muscles. Strengthening this area is important, and yoga is one of the best ways to do it.
Nutritional Support for Yoga Strength Training
You will get the most out of your yoga strength poses if your connective tissues are strong and able to properly support your muscles. While strength training builds muscle, proper nutrition maintains connective tissues, which are made of flexible collagen structures. Continuous exercise can lead to collagen degradation in the body, which weakens connective tissue over time. Weakened tissues increase the risk of muscle, tendon, and ligament damage. Our collagen supplements provide the right kind of protein to maintain connective tissue and also to help reduce lean body mass loss in active athletes. Increasing muscular strength requires proper nutrition, plenty of hydration, resistance training (whether through yoga or resistance tools), and proper upkeep of connecting tissues through collagen supplements, available in our store.