Yoga is embraced by the West as a holistic form of exercise. Most people who experiment with the practice are initially enticed to try it because of its power to transform bodies as much as it can transform minds.
Here are a number of ways you can use yoga to improve your physical and mental fitness.
Cultivate body awareness
Body intel is about listening to the subtle signals of your body. It’s a skill that you can master over time with the help of yoga. If you’re more in tune with the small details, you can immediately address aches and pains, imbalances, and work on technique. For instance, one way it can help is by maximizing the efficiency of each workout through proper form and alignment.
Minimize risk of injury
Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons revealed that yoga is his secret to muscle relaxation, which directly affects his performance on the court. When muscles are compromised by persistent soreness, they tend to underperform and become vulnerable to injury. What’s important in yoga is alignment, which you can achieve with body awareness. Since all bodies are different, yoga is not just about executing the perfect pose — it’s also about aiming for optimal alignment.
Boost strength and stamina
Many ask whether yoga actually helps with building stamina. The answer is yes. Two studies by Complementary Therapies in Medicine demonstrated that vigorous yoga routines enhance cardiovascular endurance. Researchers have found that faster Sun Salutations and transitions count as intense interval training and are even similar to doing sprints. Sprinkle a few Sun Salutations in rapid succession during your practice for a heart-pumping exercise.
Aid in weight loss
That said, yoga can be a very effective workout for weight loss. The key is to look for fast-paced classes such as Vinyasa or hot yoga (also called Bikram yoga, though many teachers and practitioners in this style would like to disassociate it from the man who founded it, Bikram Choudhury). One of the things that Serena Williams likes about Bikram is the temperature of the room, which is great for sweating out toxins and loosening up your muscles. As a professional athlete, she has probably tried every type of workout in the book to achieve gains. So far, it has proven to be successful for the tennis veteran, as Williams currently holds 23 Grand Slam titles and is the highest paid female player in the sport. However, she always comes back to yoga, which speaks volumes of its effective nature in keeping the body light and agile.
Yoga is a balance between stability and flexibility. You don’t have to be bendy in order to practice. Yoga is how you train that skill. Many people, especially those who like to lift weights, tend to disregard this aspect. However, it’s important for achieving a greater range of motion in your workouts and daily life.
Develop breathing techniques
If you don’t know how to breathe properly during exercise, the supply of oxygen to your muscles will be very poor. Mindfulness, when it comes to breathing, is one of the main characteristics of yoga. In fact, YogaIowa previously touched on the topic of breath endurance; with deeper, more sustained breaths, your muscles will receive a steady supply of oxygen and function more effectively.
While yoga is great for fitness purposes, it’s also important to see its fitness benefits as one side of a multi-faceted coin that includes both physical and mental aspects. Hopefully, you’ll see it as more than just a workout routine — but if that’s what gets you to step on the mat, by all means, enjoy its health benefits.
Ally Crisha grew up playing different sports and has been a fitness enthusiast all her life. She loves surfing, HIIT and yoga, all of which she enjoys while traveling and working as a freelance writer and graphic designer. Her dream is to start her own chain of fitness centers.