“Yoga means addition of energy, strength, and beauty to body, mind, and soul.” Amit Ray
I love the glint in my students’ eyes, their rosy cheeks, and their huge smile after a strong yoga class. Even though they feel all hot and sweaty, they will say: “Whoa, that was wonderful !” I am so proud of them when every single one of them managed to get into Half-Moon pose because they were well prepared.
Have you ever wondered why you might find balancing in yoga a challenge ? Tree Pose or Half Moon for example, to be able to get into those poses, you need to approach them with calm, poise, balance and strength. You need strength in your ankles, legs, glutes, back, core and key warm up exercises are essential to assist. A sense of proprioception, i.e. knowing where you are in space is also helpful.
How can yoga help ? Yoga is known for gaining flexibility. It often comes as a surprise to many who come to class to realise that actually yoga is much more. Yoga can also strengthen you. It depends on the type of yoga you choose to practice but if you choose a physical practice, you should fairly quickly benefit from a gain in proprioception, strength and flexibility.
Why should you include strength in your practice ? Strength and conditioning are essential for balance and enhance your movement quality. In class, we work on strengthening by consciously connecting and engaging our core, back, leg muscles and glutes rather than simply relying on our joints to stand in a yoga pose. I see this happening too often in yoga classes. When you learn to engage your muscles, your brain is alert and it creates stability throughout. Balancing becomes easier.
What is strength ? It is defined by the ability of muscles to overcome resistance. Strength can also be defined as the amount of force a muscle or a muscle group can exert. It can be divided into two parts dynamic strength and static strength . So you gain strength by engaging in a vinyasa flow as well as holding more static poses for a length of time. Ideally, you will combine both.
The word strength is an attested word from Old English: "strengþu", "strengð." It had a sense of bodily power, vigour and fortitude but also a sense moral endurance.
There are numerous benefits to incorporating strength in your practice.
1) Improving performance: In any given sport but also in real life scenarios such as being able to move with ease and keep the range of movements you currently have to be able to perform all the things you love as you get older. One of my older students, currently in his 70s, who started yoga with me a year ago has improved so much in flexibility, strength, and balance and loves it.
2) Preventing injury: By having a better range of movement, you have less risk of injuring your body in your sport or in real life. If you injure yourself, your recovery will be quicker. You will also have a better proprioception and have a lesser risk of losing your balance. Proprioception is awareness of movement and position of the body into space.
3) Adding quality years to your life: Movement and strength are essential especially with a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting hours at a desk, in the car or on a train, on the sofa, on a chair, reduces the range of movements in and around your hips, pelvis, lower back. Your hip flexors shorten, your lower back gets compressed, you get back pain and your upper back collapses. As your muscles weaken, your whole body gets out of alignment and your body starts to complain in the neck, shoulders, back etc. Your breathing and digestion get affected and you start to feel tired. It is a downward spiral. By adopting a regular yoga practice, you help to address all those issues.
4) Balance: What your body really needs is something like yoga or any other sport you enjoy that helps you counteract all those daily effects. First you need to elongate your tight muscles, mobilise your joints and open the whole of your front body and only then you should start strengthening your back muscles. By opening your front body, decompressing and lengthening your spine, you are allowing your body to get back to its natural alignment.
5) Better health: Everyone knows balanced exercise improves your overall health and wellbeing on a physical and mental, emotional level. In addition, building muscle is known to improve bone density, boost your metabolism, improve sleep, and increase brain health. Numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build new bone. To prevent or slow down osteoporosis, there are numerous articles into the benefits of strength training improving bone density with a safe regular yoga practice.
6) Improved posture: Better alignment and stronger muscles improve your posture and your overall body functions including your respiratory system and circulation. Both of which impact your daily energy levels and mood. In yoga, we consistently work on good posture and breathing for our wellbeing.
7) Happy mood: As you exercise, you tone up, you find strength you did not think you had. You build strength and resilience. You feel exhilarated as you push yourself out of your comfort zone and starts to do things you never thought were possible. As you challenge yourself and exert discipline to do your practice regularly, you start to see results. As you get stronger in body and mind, you have more energy and feel happier in yourself. You gain a stronger body, stronger mind, and new confidence: And with the release serotonin and endorphins you feel good !!
8) Team Spirit & Community: When you join a class, you are part of a group. You feel supported and motivated. You create bonds and encourage each other. You grow together and rejoice together. The teacher and your peers are there to support and encourage you. You get individual attention and yet we work as a team to achieve best results.
It is so beneficial for your mind and body to be stimulated and challenged. As well as strength, why not also consider varying the ways you move ? If you tend to always do the same things, you set patterns in the body which limit your movements. Did you know that by doing something different and new, you not only stimulate your body and muscles, but also your coordination, your brain and nervous system get a boost by creating new neural pathways ?
Why not try to mix speed, agility, endurance, mobility, core stability, and weight training in your practice ? Variety is the spice of life to keep your body and mind in tip top shape.
I like to vary my classes by choosing a different theme for each month. We explore and move in different ways. We warm up. We hold poses different length of time. Sometimes we move slowly, sometimes fast. And we take the time to relax, always.
When you change your body and your posture, you also change your mindset. As you become aligned and connected, you feel calmer, focussed, grounded yet light and energised. A better version of yourself which can fire on all cylinders whether it is walking, playing golf, sailing etc.
I offer various online zoom classes such as beginner’s yoga, non-beginners’ yoga, dynamic morning yoga, meditation, Somatics or relaxation. Classes Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Group sessions or private tuition available. To find out more, visit www.yogawithbelle.co.uk
To book, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your Zoom link 24hrs prior to class. Your 1st group class is free. You can sign up for the newsletter to be kept informed of our yoga classes and workshops and follow me on Instagram or Facebook for yoga tips, fun and wisdom.