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).
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