Ask a group of people why they do yoga, and you'll get a range of answers as diverse and unique as the individuals offering their opinions. We're all looking for something different from our practice. For some, yoga can be a calming influence on their life and a way to relax and decompress from life's tough challenges. But yoga can also be a strenuous exercise and a form of fitness that can strengthen various body parts. The arms, legs, and core can benefit from yoga because it can help increase strength, improve stamina, and gain muscle.
When we think of the many advantages that yoga offers, the first we typically consider is flexibility. Through this flexibility, the body adopts a broader range of movement and reach. What some of us forget is that you can often gain that flexibility through strength training. If your core is stronger and your arms and legs built up, you can achieve harder and more challenging poses and, better yet, hold them for longer than you would have than if you had not focused on strengthening the body.
There's a variety of poses that can help with strength training. One could argue that almost any yoga pose could work towards this goal by simply holding that position for an additional amount of time. But if you want to concentrate on specific parts of the body to increase your strength, the following are some of the best poses to consider:
I know we typically consider this pose a restful one or something we enter as a way to take a moment in between more demanding postures. But if you think about downward dog and the effort it requires to hold it; you may be swayed to reconsider this pose as one that can help you increase strength as well. It may not seem like a very intense posture, but hold it long enough, and you'll start to feel the difference.
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An excellent posture to move into from downward-facing dog is dolphin pose. Bring your forearms down from their extended position and push your knees to the floor if you want that extra support, but after you've made the transition, bring them back to down dog. For added resistance and more strength training in the arms, bring the forearms down while your legs remain in the downward dog's posture.
If you're holding a plank pose in the correct alignment and position, with your shoulders squarely above your wrists, you can easily use it to build the muscles in your arms. Just be sure that you are keeping your back straight, and you aren't allowing your hips or waist to slouch down or pop out of line. Once you're sure you have the pose set, hold it for 10-15 seconds at length.
While you're in plank pose, take your strength training even further by moving from plank into a low side plank. This position will work out your arms and your core by engaging both in equal measure - just make sure you practice the pose on the right and left sides concurrently.
Lean-to one side, keeping the palm of the hand on that side against the floor. Place your feet and legs together as you hold your balance through your core. You can extend your opposite hand up and out to maintain balance. Hold the pose then switch sides after 10-15 seconds.
This is a great option for building muscle in the abdominal and hip areas, but boat pose can also do wonders for your back. Anyone seated for long hours, be it at a desk or behind the wheel in traffic all day, would do well to give boat pose a try to alleviate stress and calm any aches and pains while improving strength.
You already know how much this pose can make you feel the burn, especially in the legs. Assume this position and hold it for as long as you are able. The longer you keep it, the more of a difference it can make around the thighs and even in your core.
Another posture that focuses most of the work on the back muscles, the locust pose, place emphasis on building the muscles in the shoulders, the neck, the backs of the legs, and your arms. You may even feel some soreness in the glutes after you're done.
Sometimes the best strength training poses are those that get the whole body working. Crow pose puts most of the strain on your upper arms, and when you're holding this pose correctly, your biceps and triceps can receive all the benefits. However, keeping your balance and remaining in the posture can increase the tension through much of the body, from your core to the shoulders.
These poses all rely on one's own body weight to create the tension necessary for strength training. So while you may know your own weight and strength, it's essential not to overdo it. If something feels too strenuous or, even worse, you feel pain or discomfort anywhere in the body while you are moving from one pose to the next, remember to stop.
Do not proceed if you are feeling any type of pain. The burn you would expect from a workout is fine, but if it feels like you are literally forcing yourself to continue despite what your body is telling you, always err on the side of caution and refrain from further postures. The same goes for when you are feeling tired or worn out. You can tuck into child's pose if you need to rest from these positions' rigorous demands.
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Yoga can be highly effective in building strength and gaining muscle. You just need to understand the best way to go about doing that in your yoga sessions. Some yoga types are better suited for that goal than others, so if you take a yoga strength class, be sure you know what it entails before you sign up. If you practice at home or with a private trainer, it's easier to develop a specific strength training regimen designed for reaching your objectives.