All forms of exercise are important for the body. The right amount of it keeps us in shape, improves longevity, and certainly keeps me sane if nobody else. Yoga is so much more than simple stretches, and it’s certainly not just for flexible people who can already wrap their legs around their heads.
Yoga is about creating balance, strength, flexibility and relaxation in the body through a series of postures, movements and breathing patterns. As something I have practiced for 13 years now, the benefits of yoga for physical fitness outlined below are some of the reasons I stuck with my yoga practice all these years.
Yoga Improves Flexibility and Core Strength
Yoga is beneficial for various reasons. It helps improve flexibility, works your core muscles, and it allows you to perform cardio-centric exercises in a way which is not as obviously taxing as other forms of cardio training.
In addition to yoga poses that work your core, such as Plank and Chaturanga, you can target the abdominal muscles to give you a more toned and trim tummy by engaging the core in standing balance poses.
If you want to improve your strength, there isn’t much that will develop upper body strength faster than a regular Ashtanga yoga practice, which consists of lots of planks, press ups (aka chaturanga dandasana) and arm balances.
For anyone thinking Ashtanga might not be for them because they can’t do press ups, you will be amazed at how accessible the classes are as a beginner, and with regular practice, you very quickly improve.
Yoga for Weight Loss
What about yoga and weight loss? Most types of yoga are not as effective as traditional forms of cardio (i.e. running, cycling etc) in terms of calorie-burning. But yoga can increase mindfulness as you become more acutely aware of your own body: people can become more aware of how much they are eating and make better food choices.
Yoga is well-known for its stress reducing advantages, and a relaxed body is a better body: when high levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol are present in the body, this contributes to weight gain—particularly encouraging fat to be stored in the abdominal area.
That's why the cardio benefits and relaxation from a regular yoga practice, in unison with a sensible diet, can effectively aid in weight loss.
Yoga Reduces the Risk of Injury
Yoga can be an ideal method of warming up/down when taking part in other sports and, more importantly, a great tool for recovery post-injury. If you decide to take up yoga as a tool for injury rehabilitation, then you should seek a Yoga Therapist and consult your doctor beforehand.
When practiced safely and/or with a credible teacher, the risk of injury in yoga is significantly less in comparison to other forms of exercise. In fact, yoga has proven to be beneficial in the healing process of injuries, such as repetitive strain and many others.
As injured muscles heal, they can become tight where scar tissue forms, reducing flexibility and restricting movement in the area. Yoga practice can promote flexibility because the stretching postures allow scar tissue to break down more gently without inhibiting movement as it heals.
Gentle movement also increases blood flow to the injured area, which carries nutrients and removes toxins to/from the injury site, therefore assisting the healing process more effectively. And if those last few sentences bored you to tears, all you need to know is that footballers such as David Beckham and Ryan Giggs have used yoga to help keep them fit enough to play top-level football past their 40s.
When looking to start a yoga practice post-injury, speak to your doctor or therapist to ensure it is suitable for you to start a practice. Then, consider whether you would like to join a general class or work one-to-one with a yoga therapist. And as with any yoga class, always, always inform your yoga teacher of your injury and restrictions before the class starts so you can practice safely.
Image credit: Daniel Morgan