One might not realise that yoga is an excellent way to build muscle strength, many consider yoga primarily as improving range of movement, flexibility and calming a busy mind.
All these are true however a regular yoga practice will considerably improve body strength and conditioning.
The yoga advantage is that the movements engage multiple muscles or muscle groups and are so-called compound movements. That means they never train isolated muscle groups but build strength in entire body areas.
Yoga builds strength in natural movement patterns.
Another advantage is that yoga always alternates movements – backward and forward, sideways or twists – so you train muscles on opposite sides of the body and don’t overtrain one area over another. At the same time, it increases your core strength as you need it for balance and stability during your practice. All that leads to a very balanced muscle development, which helps to prevent injuries.
This strength is referred to as functional stability and with normal range of movement at the joints this allows us to move without disfunction. An experienced yogi will move gracefully from pose to pose, with complete control and in sync with the breath.
Yoga develops both strength and mobility because it alternates muscle groups engaging and stretching during the whole practice. As such, it is a unique type of training, making you able to actively move your body parts through a wide range of motion. Essentially, it removes limitations caused by the tight connective tissue that holds you back, making you strong and flexible at the same time.
My first yoga class was something of a revelation, whilst I was reasonably strong through gym work and triathlon training and competing, I was amazed at how hard my body worked through the class. For an hour, I never moved away from the yoga mat, yet I felt I had seriously ‘worked out’ through the series of postures. The regular yogis, young and older, seemed to take it in their stride and moved effortlessly throughout.
This was mostly down to how tight my body was, I had developed strength through training, but my body was like a straight jacket that offered up resistance each time I moved into the postures.
I persevered with the yoga and very soon my range of movement improved which allowed me to develop the practice, some of the really challenging postures became accessible. Patience is the key with yoga, we need to accept that it will take time to regain normal ranges of movement and increase functional strength.
Yoga works at any age, I can do things at 60yrs that I couldn’t at 50 yrs of age and I expect I will do things at 70yrs that continue to evade me. By using the weight of the body to build strength there is no need for gym membership, simply roll a mat and start moving.