Let’s talk about yoga. Do you think it’s a calming and low impact form of exercise? While it can be. Yoga also offers challenges that are suitable for exercise newbies and professional athletes alike.
Although mastering the form and spending time showing off a perfect pose on an empty beach or atop a scenic mountain looks good, yoga is about building strength. No matter how much I can bench press, there will always be a need for yoga in my life. But for many years I viewed is as simply gentle stretching in peaceful surroundings. Pretty much something I would do on my rest day from what I considered to be ‘real exercise.’ I loved the calm, but at about the 30-minute mark I’d be desperate to leave any class because my mind would start to get busy thinking about all of the errands I needed to do. Watching the clock, I’d be thinking to myself, ‘When is this going to be over?’
I knew there were many disciplines of yoga, all with unique benefits and challenges. But I admit that I had no idea you could get so strong from practicing the postures.
As a group fitness instructor, I have always felt the need to be well rounded and certified in several areas of fitness. Becoming a dynamic instructor with skills that relate to people with all types of interests has always been my top priority. I wanted to add yoga to my skill set, so I looked for a style that would suit my personality. It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that I signed up for a ‘power yoga’ weekend. It may make you laugh that my ‘power’ trip made me realize I need yoga in my life to help me focus on myself and be present in the moment for more than 30 minutes at a time. It turns out that for me the physical strength benefits were outweighed by the mental strength I needed to develop. I came to the realization that yoga makes you strong in ways beyond the physical.
If you are like me and have a busy mind, always thinking about the next task, maybe you need yoga to help you develop mental strength, too. Do you want to get a strong and flexible body? Or, do you need to spend time following a set and flowing routine to help you develop some coordination? Whatever your needs or fitness goals, let me share with you my three favorite styles and show you how yoga can make you strong.
Hatha yoga is a style that truly encourages the mind-body connection. It is a very traditional practice focused on truly controlling the breath and calming the mind through meditation. I find this style of yoga practice great for slow, controlled and focused movements, and it is my favorite for a full mental workout. This style is great for anyone new to exercise, because a lot of emphasis is placed on being in perfect alignment.
There are many variations of this dynamic style, but traditional ashtanga yoga is based on a set of flowing movements. Each movement is directly connected to your breath: one movement on your inhale and the next movement on your exhale. If you like to follow a set routine without much variation, this style of yoga is for you. No matter which studio you go to, the flow will be the same, making it a perfect choice for people who travel and love keep some consistency in their routine.
Once you have the basic movements mastered, the breathing can truly become the focus of your practice. Ashtanga yoga is calming and stress-relieving, and I think that it provides practitioners with a true physical challenge that will strengthen your muscles and help you to stay focused.
Bikram yoga is a mind-body-physical challenge like no other. This style is based very closely on the traditional ashtanga flow yoga but with an added element of difficulty. The room is kept at a temperature of about 100-105 degrees. The heat makes you sweat profusely and creates an environment that is believed to help the body de-toxify, and it also improves your ability to stretch further with each pose.
Bikram yoga can help you to get strong toned sexy arms, flat lean abs and killer leg definition, because the flow of movements in the heat challenges your entire body. I love it because I can’t think about running errands or anything other than breathing and moving in an attempt to stay alive and survive! I believe I gain true mental strength and willpower from practicing this style, because just staying in the room is a challenge for me. Many studios use great music to help keep you motivated, but let me warn you that this practice is not for those people new to exercise.
There are dangers associated with working out in the heat, so use caution and be aware of the dangers before you take a class. A typical class lasts for about 75 minutes. My husband goes to our local studio every day armed with water and dietary supplements, and I try to brave the Bikram studio at least twice a week—even if I’m traveling.
I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t benefit from developing mental strength while also improving their physical strength. I hope I have sparked your curiosity enough for you to give yoga a try, so that you can discover for yourself that it is not just for relaxing on your off day from running or going to the gym. Yoga can give you a challenging workout that will build your strength in ways you never imagined.