Yoga is a very popular fitness activity and as it is a low impact exercise it is suitable for just about everybody. Here we take a look at some of the health benefits of doing yoga and then guide you through some simple yoga routines that will help to work your whole body and hopefully burn a little fat too. If you have any questions, ask below and our yoga expert (pictured on the left) will answer you. Our routine is based on Ashtanga yoga.
Advantages of Yoga as a Form of Exercise
Yoga is an excellent fitness activity. Although a majority of people only practice their yoga in organized classes, once you have learned the main postures and sequences you can train anywhere. It is ideal for anyone living in a small space or for those who travel a lot.
While yoga does not provide an excellent cardiovascular workout it does provide good strength, flexibility and balance training and also helps to improve circulation and respiratory health. For anyone who has not exercised in a very long time a yoga workout often feels very intensive.
One claim that many yoga instructors make is that it can help to improve your gastrointestinal functions, that is, it can make your bowels healthier, make you more regular and reduce incidence of IBS.
Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga can also teach you how to settle your mind and relax. A complete yoga system includes breathing exercises, mantras and meditation which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Also, many yoga classes are quite sociable and this alone can help to lift mood and fight depression. Many people become more isolated as they age and attending regular fitness classes like yoga provides invaluable contact with other people. Yoga has also been found to help those trying to quit smoking.
Not All Styles of Yoga are Equal
A 2004 study by Virginia Cowen and Troy Adams that was published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that although yoga was a great tool for improving health and fitness, not all styles are equal. They compared Ashtanga and Hatha yoga and measured changes in blood pressure, strength, stress, endurance and overall health perception.
In the study it was found that Ashtanga yoga helped to reduce blood pressure, reduce stress and improved upper body strength more than hatha yoga.
Some styles, such as Ashtanga, provide a much more intensive workout which can help to build strength, stamina and stability sooner, while styles such as Iyengar focus more on stability and flexibility.
However, the general finding is that the more intensive styles reap great rewards, both physically and mentally.
Benefits of 8 Weeks of Yoga
A study in 2001 looked at the health benefits of attending 2 yoga classes a week for 8 weeks. Each yoga class consisted of 10 minutes of pranayamas (breathing exercises), 15 minutes of warm up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas, and 10 minutes of supine relaxation – so 85 minutes (almost 1 1/2 hours) in total.
The result of the study showed that elbow strength increased by 31% and knee strength increase by 28%. All subjects improved their flexibility with shoulder and trunk flexibility improving the most. However, there were no significant cardiovascular benefits nor any changes in body composition or pulmonary function (lung capacity).
Hatha Yoga Does Not Meet Exercise Guidelines
A report published in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2007 concluded that Hatha yoga does not provide an adequate workout to meet recommendations for levels of physical activity for improving or maintaining health or cardiovascular fitness. However, performing the Sun Salutation repeatedly for more than 10 minutes a day does start to raise heart rate and can help people to meet the daily exercise recommendations. The study concluded that:
“Metabolic costs of yoga averaged across the entire session represent low levels of physical activity, similar to walking on a treadmill at 3.2 kph” (Hagins et al, 2007).
Can Yoga help you to Lose Weight?
This is a very common question and considering what we have reported above, the answer would at first seem to be that it is not a useful tool for weight loss. So, how many calories does yoga burn per hour? Yoga can burn around 250 Calories an hour, if you are working hard and pushing yourself.
In terms of the exercise alone, attending a yoga class once or twice a week will not help you to lose any significant amount of weight. Even if you do a very intensive yoga class, such as Ashtanga, which involves performing the Sun Salutation over and over in-between more static asanas (postures), you are only going to be burning a few hundred calories a couple of times a week. To make a real change in terms of body fat you need to be burning additional calories every single day. You also need to tackle your diet, which is essentially the root cause of weight gain.
However, when people start to make yoga a part of their daily routine, weight loss and improved fitness is possible. There are two reasons why this may occur:
- As you develop your interest and experience in yoga you start to do longer routines every day. This does burn additional calories and helps you to increase your daily calorie deficit.
- Yoga can become a greater lifestyle choice. To get good at yoga you need to work hard to develop your body and mindset. Most importantly, you need to adjust your diet to allow yourself to improve.
This may seem a little backward, but it really is the case. For example, if you look at an athletes fridge you will notice that it is not full of food. Athletes have a reputation for performing hours of intensive training and requiring many calories every day. However, this does not mean that they fill their homes with food – they are too busy training for that. They eat only as much as they need, when they need it. Only healthy food is consumed and only at the set meal times. The rest of the day they are dedicated to their training. The key is, to become a better athlete you need to control your diet. The same is true for yoga.
Once you become more immersed in your training you may start to take more control of your diet and lifestyle choices too. This simply means that you start to eat less. Not because you are “on a diet” but simply because you make the decision to adjust your eating habits to allow yourself to develop your yoga skills further. Many people say that they do not have time to exercise – but they still have time to prepare food and then sit in front of the television to eat it!
Becoming more active has many more advantages than just burning calories. As you become fitter and stronger you improve the health of your whole body, its internal organs and your mind too. Fitter people tend to have improved mental health with less incidence of depression and improved self-esteem.
Yoga is a great way to be fit and healthy. Whether your goals are simply to lose some of your excess belly fat or just to lose weight in general, yoga can help you achieve these goals. But it is not a magic bullet. Attending a single class each week and then doing nothing else to improve yourself will hardly make a dent. It is the whole lifestyle choice that is important. If you wish to take full advantage of yoga it should be a part of your daily routine.
The photo shows Marcia Wade, MotleyHealth’s resident yoga expert.
Yoga Warm Up Exercises
Before performing the yoga asanas / postures it is recommended that you warm up the muscles and loosen the joints and ligaments with some gentle exercises first. This helps with performing the yoga asanas and also reduces the chances for injuries such as pulled muscles. A warm up will improve the effectiveness of yoga postures and should be done before every session.
We recommend that you perform either the following exercises, or the Sun Salutation as part of the yoga warm up routine.
- Lie on your back with your feet close together, knees straight, arms alongside your body with palms facing downwards. Take a few moments to calm your mind and relax.
- Exhale deeply.
- As you start to breathe in, slowly raise your arms up over your head and onto the floor behind you. At the same time, extend the heels by curling the toes up towards you.
- Pause for one second.
- As you start to breathe out again, slowly lower your arms down again and relax your feet.
- Pause for one second.
- Repeat until you have done this ten times.
- Lie flat with your knees straight.
- Bend your right knee and draw it up towards your chest.
- Clasp your hands round the top of your shin, just below the bent knee. If the knee is tender, you can clasp underneath the knee.
- Take a deep breath in. On the out breath, hug your knee firmly into your chest and hold for about five seconds.
- Ease the pressure, breathe in and repeat the knee hug on the out breath as before, then repeat a third time.
- Release the knee, straighten the leg and repeat the whole sequence with your other knee.
- Lie flat with your legs straight, as in the single knee hug.
- Then bend both knees, crossing your ankles and drawing your knees up towards your chest.
- Clasp your hands round the tops of your shins or underneath your knees.
- While breathing out, hug both knees firmly into your chest. Hold for about three seconds.
- Ease the pressure, breathe in deeply and repeat the hug while breathing out.
- Ease the pressure and repeat one more time, this time rocking gently from side to side, breathing normally for about 20 seconds.
- Please note that during both these exercises, the back of your head should remain on the mat. These exercises are used as gentle warm up exercise for the joints and muscles, working mainly on the lower back.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, with knees and feet close together.
- Take your arms out to your sides at shoulder level, the palms facing downwards.
- Breath in deeply
- While breathing out, slowly roll the knees over to the right, keeping them close together.
- Turn the head to the left to look along your left arm.
- Hold this position for 30-45 seconds, keeping your shoulders as flat as possible and while breathing slowly and deeply through the nose.
- To return to the start position, look upwards first, then lift the knees back up to upright position.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Sit with your legs out in front of you, with your knees straight but feet relaxed.
- Place your hands on your knees, breathe in and straighten up the back.
- While breathing out, lean forward, slowly sliding your hands down your legs until they have reached a comfortable limit. This can be anywhere between your knees and heels.
- Grip the legs, ankles or heels. Try to flatten your back a little by bending a little more from the hips. Stretch out through the top of the head to lengthen the neck. Hold this position for about 20 – 30 seconds.
- Breathe in and slowly straighten up, sliding your hands back up your legs, then finishing in the start position.
After you started your yoga session with these postures you can perform a variety of other asanas.
Yoga Workout To Boost Your Fitness and Core Strength
If you do bodyweight exercises at home, or in the gym, then you may find that in between exercises during recovery you are at a loss for something to do.
You may also find that when you are in a rush you skip stretching. Well, one solution to both of these problems is to perform yoga postures in between exercises.
By holding a yoga posture you perform a dynamic stretch and also rest some muscles while you lower your heart rate. Also, these yoga postures target some muscles missed in the main circuit training workout.
These yoga poses can be done my men and women as part of a circuit training workout. If you are planning an intense workout to burn more fat and get you fitter then these can be treated as a breather between each exercise.
Also known as the Downward-Facing Dog is a popular Hatha Yoga posture. This is a good posture to hold after performing both push ups and back extensions.
From this posture you can also move easily into the cobra, which is also good to hold after push ups and back extensions. Learn how to do the downward dog pose.
This posture helps to strengthen the spine and abdomen, open the chest, shoulders and lungs. It also helps to firm the buttocks, stimulates abdominal organs.
The traditional yoga text considers this posture to increase body heat, destroy diseases, and awaken kundalini!
Learn how to do the cobra pose.
The Warrior 2 Yoga Pose
This pose is great after squats and lunges as it stretches the legs well. Also if you have been performing some push ups it helps to open up the rib cage more.
It also improves balance and stability.
Learn how to perform the warrior 2 pose.
Chair Yoga Pose
This pose can be done immediately after a set of squats to stretch the glutes and thighs as well as the arms and shoulders.
It is also a great core stabilizer and can help to tone your abdominals.
Do not be fooled into thinking that this is an easy exercise to do, very quickly you will feel the burn in your thighs as you hold this position.
Intense Spread Leg Stretch
This replaces the traditional western forward bend. It is a more intensive stretch as you can use your elbows behind your legs to force the stretch further.
It looks simple but is demanding to hold for a long time. Helps stretch the thighs and glutes well. Learn how to perform the intense spread leg stretch.
This is a great posture for finishing off as it stretches the back well in a way that is rarely done in sports and fitness.
You can learn how to perform supine twists in our yoga warm up, above, which teaches a simple yoga routine that can be used to loosen up the muscles before a yoga session.
All images and postures are provided by Marcia.
Although yoga is not an optimum form of exercise for fitness, strength or weight loss, it is an excellent tool. It can help people to stay motivated to exercise, it helps to control mood and reduce anxiety. It helps improve stability, flexibility and core strength. If in addition to yoga you get some cardio a few times a week then you will see your health and fitness improve, and if you do a daily Sun Salutation workout it can also help you to get fit.
“Yoga as a complementary treatment for smoking cessation: rationale, study design and participant characteristics of the Quitting-in-Balance study.” By Beth C Bock, Kathleen M Morrow , Bruce M Becker , David M Williams , Geoffrey Tremont , Ronnesia B Gaskins4 , Ernestine Jennings, Joseph Fava and Bess H Marcus. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010, 10:14doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-14. Published: 29 April 2010
“Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study” by Virginia S. Cowen, Troy B. Adams. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies Volume 9, Issue 3 , Pages 211-219, July 2005.
“Effects of Hatha Yoga Practice on the Health-Related Aspects of Physical Fitness” by Mark D. Tran MS, Robert G. Holly PhD, Jake Lashbrook BS, Ezra A. Amsterdam MD. Preventive Cardiology Volume 4, Issue 4, pages 165–170, Fall 2001.
“Does practicing hatha yoga satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness?” by Marshall Hagins, Wendy Moore and Andrew Rundle. MC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2007, 7:40 doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-40