Our stressful routines in this fast-paced world require activities that promote physical, psychological, and spiritual wellness. Whether you set prayer timings to meditate or join a yoga class, it’s essential to invest in meditative exercises to remain healthy.
Yoga is an excellent way to relax the mind and achieve wellness. What most people miss is the fact that Yoga also builds our physical strength. Modern Yoga draws inspiration from multiple athletic disciplines, including martial arts, callisthenics, and dance, techniques that are famous for building strength through dynamic movements.
Let’s learn how Yoga can help us build strength:
How Does Yoga Build Strength?
Yoga practice enables strength building and scientific proofs back this fact. One reason is the repetitiveness. Have you ever thought about why do the muscles ache after performing repetitive actions? Some beginners give up due to this initial muscle fatigue.
However, others know the science behind it and continue practicing the same steps. With time, the muscles become strong, and we gain the strength to perform the same task without any hassle.
Besides this, every yoga asana (pose) comes with some modifications. They enable us to learn difficult moves gradually as we progress. Once our muscles are strong enough for the modified stance, we move to the next stage.
For example, beginners start with Marijariasana (cat-cow or tabletop pose) and its balancing variation on one hand and knee to improve core strength and balance, instead of the standard full plank. Once the muscles build in strength, yogis move to plank variations like the forearm plank, side plank, extended side plank, etc.
Tips for Strength Building
Do not think about building just strength and losing flexibility as you progress in yoga lessons. If you want to build enough strength without compromising on any other thing, read the below points:
1. Always Start with Warm-Up
If you are practicing yoga to increase strength, be sure to warm up your body before you begin. However, this does not mean wasting your energy. If you over-exhaust your body, you won’t be able to do the main task. Just do a little warm-up. You need to see when your heart rate gets elevated.
Additionally, you should start sweating lightly; if you are sweating, you have warmed up! Once your heartbeat is up and your body is sweating, you are ready to switch to your main exercise. You can warm up the body with the following techniques:
- Pelvic tilts
- Leg stretching
- Eagle arms
- Cat-cow pose
2. Do the Skill-Based Movements First
Since we have maximum energy after warm-ups, this is the time to do skill-based steps. Typically, in routine yoga practices, we leave these skill-based energy-busting movements for the beginning.
Experts suggest doing these movements right after warming up. However, there are a few exceptions to this approach. These are:
- Do them after the heavy skill work if you are working on difficult postures by using drills.
- Do them later if you want to increase flexibility.
What do we mean by skill-based movements? These are postures that require the right posture and form. Although all yoga poses should be done with the correct form, some moves are harder to master than others.
The Revolved Triangle, Boat Pose, and Four-limbed staff pose are some examples. Some poses that are seemingly simple can also require skill; the Child’s pose, the Downward facing dog, and the Cobra pose are some examples. You can increase your skill and by practicing these moves regularly.
3. Add Strength Work
Once you are done with the skill-based movements, add a few strength-based steps to your list. For this, select the steps that require less time. In this way, you will be able to repeat the steps several times. Repetition will strengthen your major muscle groups.
Some examples of yoga poses that help build the strength of your muscles are the Garland pose, lunges, planks, and warrior pose. These moves stretch the muscles, causing them to tone down and toughen up.
Do not forget to take a good rest after each flow. Consider Child’s Pose for taking rest. Now, gradually increase the difficulty depending on your level.
4. Continue the Regular Movements
Now, after completing the strength movements, you can easily switch to your routine practice. For instance, you can continue with dynamic movements, breathwork, slow endurance postures, and so on.
The seated forward bend, the happy baby pose, and the cat-cow pose are some excellent examples of poses that allow you to breathe after the skill and strength exercises. It’s important to add a breathing or stretch pose after every major pose.
5. End-Up with Ease
Since you have done all the strength-focused movements, your body must be under stress. Now, it’s time to show some love to your body. Release the extra pressure and ease up the burden with some relaxing movements.
For instance, practice stretches and breathing exercises. The Lion pose, Deer Seal, and conqueror breath are examples of breathing exercises that will cool your body down. These easy movements help in avoiding injury and giving the body a break.
Famous Yoga Poses for Strength Building
You must have a clear understanding of developing strength through Yoga. Let me now share some famous yoga poses for strength building. They are:
1. Downward Dog Position
Come to a Tabletop pose and balance on all fours, with wrists in line with the shoulders and knees in line with the hips. Spread your fingers and start lifting your knees off the mat, raising the buttocks towards the ceiling. Push back, moving the shoulders and torso towards the thighs and forming an inverted ‘V’ shape. Keep the head in line with the spine, between the arms. Slowly work on straightening your knees and gaze at your navel/lower belly without straining the neck. If you are finding it difficult to place the heels down, you can keep your knees slightly bent. Hold this posture for 5 to 7 breaths and then relax in the Child’s pose.
2. Plank Position
From downward dog, shift your weight forward and bring your shoulders just above your wrist, taking the position of doing pushups. Keep the hips aligned with the spine or lift them gently to relax in-between, but don’t drop them as this will build pressure on the lower back. Stay in this pushup position for as long as comfortable and try to maintain alignment from the crown of the head to the hips, and press into the balls of your feet. Additionally, keep the legs straight and chin gently tucked.
3. Dolphin Pose
Take a downward-facing dog position but bend the elbows and lower the forearms in a way that they touch the mat and remain parallel to each other. Keep the elbows shoulder-width apart and palms flat on the mat. If you are facing difficulty, bend the knees initially or balance on your toes as you walk your feet closer to the torso. Try to stack the shoulders over the elbows. Press into your elbows and the forearms to prevent the elbows from splaying out to the sides. To deepen the pose, try and press the heels down into the mat.
4. Dolphin Style Push-Ups
Here, you will take the same position as of dolphin pose. Now lift your forearms up (slightly), and then place them on the mat again, keeping the elbows shoulder-width apart and forming a V-shape by interlacing your fingers. Now, move forward to a pushup position without lifting the forearms off the mat and then pull back to the Dolphin pose. Keep flowing and moving in and out of these two poses. Be sure that the forearm is constantly kept on the mat. Try doing it 8-10 times before lifting the elbows. In the end, you can return to the downward-dog position.
5. Awkward Chair – Utkatasana Variation
The awkward chair pose is just like doing regular squats. Take a squat position by bending the knees and keep the thighs parallel to the floor. Inhale and raise both hands overhead, keeping the upper arm aligned with the ears. Stay in this pose for 5 to 7 breaths and work towards deepening the pose with each new breath as you try and sit lower, bringing the knees in line with the hips.
6. Tree Pose
Stand straight with your feet together and your arms on the side. Now slowly shift the weight to the left leg, balance and lift your right leg, bend your right knee, and place the right foot on the left inner thigh. Look straight and find your balance on the left leg. Now bring your hands towards the heart centre and press the palms together in Namaste mudra. If comfortable, raise the hands overhead, keeping the upper arms aligned with the ears. Here the challenge is to take at least 10 breaths in the same position. Once you are done, you can place the right foot down and repeat the same pose by balancing on the right leg and placing the left foot on the right inner-thigh.
Wrapping It Up
In short, we can easily gain strength through Yoga. However, we need to practice appropriate steps and take relevant positions for increasing strength. Remember to start with a warm-up, continue with a skill movement and then add a strength workout.
After this, continue the routine workout but be sure to relax the body in the end. Some ideal strength-increasing poses include downward dog pose, tree pose, dolphin pose, dolphin pushups, etc. Try a few of them and notice a positive change in your muscle strength.
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