Can you build strength through yoga?
Yoga concentrates on strengthening the whole body rather than isolating specific muscles, like you would do in a gym.
This allows the muscles in the body to work in tandem. We recruit other muscle groups to act as stabilisers as well as the muscles that are in action.
For example in Chaturanga Danasna (four limbed staff/plank pose) we feel it first in the upper body, then abs, back, inner thighs and even the muscles in the feet are working. We also feel this in arm balances and inversions where smaller muscles are working hard to keep us stable.
In this way yoga can be a great form of functional strength training. This means building strength in the whole body so that you can perform daily activities in the real world not just lifting a certain amount of weight. Think about all the muscles you use to get out of bed each morning.
By holding your positions longer, doing more repetitions, and learning new yoga poses, you can make your yoga practice more challenging which in time will lead to increased strength.
Increasing the length of time we hold poses is one of the most simple ways of building up strength quickly without equipment and allows us to see how we are progressing.
Try staying in poses for 10 breaths up to 2 minutes. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your breath or alignment for the sake of reaching that magic number though!
Dynamic styles of yoga such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga build strength through repeated Sun Salutations and Vinyasas. These are particularly good for building upper body and legs strength and also work on fitness.
As the body starts to get used to the practice you can increase the challenge – this could be by increasing the number of Vinyasas, adding in extra Core Planks, progressing to different kinds of arm balances or moving dynamically through asana
Challenging yourself (In and out of class)
When you’re looking to deepen your yoga practice (which will lead to increased strength) it’s important to challenge yourself. Reach a bit further in a forward bend pose. Hold those standing warrior poses a couple of breaths longer.
Like everything in life the more you practice the better you’ll become. Practicing on a regular basis will lead to a significant improvement in your strength and conditioning. A regular practice will reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better at things you have to do every day: walk, sit, twist, bend, lift groceries.
Here’s some poses you can try at home
If you’re looking to bring your practice to the next level join Rohan Hennessy this Sunday the 17th April 2016 for his ‘Deepening Your Practice’ Workshop. You will be encouraged to move beyond your comfort zone and test your boundaries. This will help increase your strength, stamina and flexibility while also developing greater awareness in your practice and getting comfortable with your rate of work.