Yoga is an ancient philosophy that originated in India. Now popular across the world especially for its calming and relaxing potential, yoga when done right can also help you reach your fitness goals. However, it’s a widespread notion that yoga is predominantly used as a tool to relax our mind and body. So, when we think about fitness goals like losing weight or toning our body, workouts like strength training and cardio might pop up in our minds. But, contrary to the popular notion, yoga can help you achieve your desired health goals.
So, without further ado, let’s delve into the many ways yoga can nudge you towards achieving those myriad fitness goals on your bucket list.
1. Increases Flexibility
You might be doing intense workouts in the gym and even losing weight in the process. However, when it comes to being limber and achieving flexibility, no exercise can match the prowess of yoga. In fact, working out in the gym can make your muscles sore and prone to injury. In hindsight, yoga is an evolved science having its roots in 5000-year-old ancient Indian literature. Yoga takes a much deeper look at the anatomy and physiology of the body than any other workout. The yoga asana exercises have been honed and passed on through several millennia by experts in the field. If we go by Western physiological aspects, flexibility simply means moving joints and muscles through a complete range of motion. Yoga asanas involve stretching and elongated movements which increase agility and flexibility. This helps better movement and you feel less tired or stiff. Moreover, people start noticing the flexibility benefits quite early on in their yoga practice. One study claimed that people noticed about 35% improvement in their flexibility levels after just eight weeks of yoga.
However, yoga goes far beyond making our bodies flexible and limber. It helps release stress and tension from our entire being therein nudging us towards meditation. Yoga considers ‘flexibility’ as an attitude, investing and transforming the body and the mind.
Besides offering flexibility, yoga also helps keep us strong. This brings forth the next way a yoga practice can help us achieve our fitness goals.
2. Builds Strength
Unlike strength training in the gym where you have to rely on lifting external weights, yoga helps build up strength by relying on your own body weight. Yoga tones up your muscles by not just lengthening them, but also making them strong. Yoga involves bodyweight conditioning where you have to hold poses (such as Plank poses) which if done right is as good as lifting weights in the gym. When you utilize your body weight in yoga it creates a resistance training effect which resembles equal effects you get when training with free weights.
There are different yoga styles that offer endurance and strength benefits, albeit in varying degrees. For instance, Ashtanga yoga and power yoga are physically demanding workouts that help improve muscle tone. However, even the lesser rigorous yoga styles such as Hatha or Iyengar can provide resilience and strength.
Yoga poses such as upward dog, plank pose, and downward dog help strengthen the upper body. Similarly, standing poses if held for longer breaths make your abs, hamstrings and quadriceps strong. Also, poses like the chair pose or the upward dog help build strength in the lower back muscles. In fact, almost all yoga poses work towards creating core strength in the muscles deep inside the abdomen.
3. Increase Lung Capacity
The dreaded Covid-19 virus played havoc and upended life across the globe. The virus is known to directly affect the lungs and damage them in no time. But, yoga is probably the only workout that involves certain breathing techniques or pranayam that helps increase the lung capacity and strengthen them. Also, yoga asanas involve rhythmic breathing that also helps improve lung health. Yoga helps improve the lungs’ vital capacity. For those unversed, it’s the maximum amount of air you can expel after inhaling maximum air.
In a study carried out over a period of 15 weeks, researchers observed how yoga poses and breathing exercises affected college students. After the 15-week period, it was found that the participants displayed an increase in their vital capacity.
Yoga knows the importance of breath in improving health. Its various pranayama exercises such as the famed Kapalbhati involve forceful exhalation or the more gentle Anulom Vilom pranayama help create a ripple effect that improves cardiovascular health and endurance, both important benchmarks for achieving your fitness goals.
However, although easy as these may sound, yoga and pranayama breathing exercises need to be learned only under the supervision of qualified yoga teachers such as those trained in yoga schools in goa and other reputed yoga shalas in India.
4. Offers Variety and Motivation
If we follow the same exercise routine every day, chances are we might get bored and quit or slacken on our fitness goals. Hence, it’s important to stay mentally strong and engaged by mixing things up in our daily workout routine. Yoga is one such exercise regime that can be curated to suit individual needs. So, if you are looking to do something challenging on a particular day, then include a few inversion poses. If you need to improve upon focus, then try some balancing yoga postures. Furthermore, if you looking to relax and calm your mind, do some restorative yoga or even meditation. Yoga through its varied styles and complementary practices of pranayama and meditation offers a plethora of tools to stay focused and engaged towards achieving your fitness goals.
Another benefit that one can eventually accrue through regular yoga practice is the empowering mindset it helps build. This change in attitude not only helps you sustain a yoga routine but also helps you enjoy your fitness journey.
As with any other workout, yoga benefits eventually depend on how long your yoga sessions are and how intense your yoga workout is. But, in the end, you need to select a yoga practice or any other exercise form that best suits your needs and goals. Yoga is a great option to achieve your fitness goals as it transcends not only your physical body but also profoundly affects your mind and soul.