Yoga is not just for skinny women in stretchy pants. Yoga is for everyone. Men, women, skinny, fat, bodybuilders, cyclists and total fitness newbies can all benefit from a little bit of time on the mat. Yoga can be of extra importance to those looking to gain and maintain muscle. Not only can it be a decent workout in its own right, but yoga can keep you healthy and your body balanced, making it possible for you to do more work in the gym.
There are plenty of reasons to take a heated power vinyasa class or look to Professor YouTube for videos that instruct you how to safely practice in your own home. There’s a style of yoga that’s right for everyone and, once you find it, you could experience less pain, greater stability, and, of course, a great stretch. Here are a few reasons to incorporate yoga into your routine.
Yoga Helps Reduce Low Back Pain
Twisting yourself into a human pretzel might not seem like a good way to alleviate and prevent lower back pain, but if this is your view of yoga and its benefits, you’re sorely (pun intended) mistaken. First things first: yoga is not about getting yourself into the most complicated, contorted, constricted position you possibly can. Quite the contrary. The practice of yoga is all about lengthening, stretching, stabilizing and connecting your body to your breath. Mindful breathing connects brain to body.
When you view yoga for what it is and not the “girls in yoga pants doing twisty inversions” trope, you can start to see how it can help alleviate lower back pain. The spine-lengthening stretches you get in poses like downward-facing dog, child’s pose or a simple forward fold can have some serious spinal benefits. One study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health studied 90 people who suffered from chronic low back pain. The study found that people who practiced Iyengar yoga, a form of hatha yoga, had significantly less disability pain and even depression. By the way, “hatha” generally means that the physical poses will be connected to breathing exercises. Don’t let the vocabulary put you off.
Another study, also funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, compared 228 adult participants with chronic low back pain who practiced yoga to those who did conventional stretching exercises or followed a self-care book. The results of the study showed that practicing yoga and stretching garnered better results in improving function and reducing symptoms of chronic low back pain than the self-care book. Yet another study found that 12 sessions of weekly yoga classes resulted in better function in adults with chronic or recurring low back pain than usual medical care.
If you’re experiencing back pain, definitely consult your doctor, but don’t rule out using yoga as a means to heal and reduce your symptoms. Just enter a practice with caution, always being sure to care for yourself while you’re doing poses. A small class with an instructor who circulates among the students to check for proper form is a good opportunity to learn what works for you.
Yoga Can Help with Stability
Yoga is a series of movements that almost always engage your core. Not only that, but with each pose, you’re supporting at least some amount of your own body weight. This engages all of the small muscles that support and stabilize your joints, including your vertebrae. According to BodyBuilding.com, the loss of joint alignment and supporting structure is common in bodybuilders and can lead to altered joint motion. Small intrinsic muscles around the joints hold our bodies in optimal alignment.
By practicing yoga, you’re strengthening all of these small muscles that you may not be engaging during a traditional workout. This is going to help your joints stay strong and aligned, which could reduce your risk of injury. These small muscles are often necessary to achieve the foundation of a pose, so it may take some practice before you can achieve the full expression of a yoga pose or “asana”.
Yoga Could Help You Recover Faster
Doing yoga on your days off between lifting might be the best use of your rest days. It’s called “active recovery” and it basically means getting in a light workout on your off days. According to Muscle & Fitness, yoga as a form of active recovery can repair muscle fibers more quickly than other common forms of active recovery. The blissful combination of stretching and relaxing your muscles encourages blood flow into broken down muscle tissues, delivering the nutrients needed for rebuilding bigger and better.
Yoga’s Going To Change Your Mental Game
Yoga is going to do as much for your mental state as it is for your physical form. Holding Warrior III for eight breaths sounds like no big deal, but when your muscles start to burn and those deep, yogic breaths start to become more shallow, your mental strength becomes more important.
Muscle & Fitness emphasizes the connection between body and mind as one of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga. Through meditation or holding an intense pose, like a headstand, for an extended period of time, Muscle & Fitness says, your focus and mental toughness are likely to improve. Improving your mental fortitude can have a ton of benefits for you outside of your yoga practice as well. If you can hold garudasana, eagle pose, for a fraction of a minute, you can lift a little more weight, run a little longer or swim a little faster. Your toughness on the mat is going to spill over into any other workout as well.
Yoga can bring about a slew of other positive mental benefits. According to Psychology Today, yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, sharpens attention and concentration and calms and centers the nervous system. It’s been shown to improve the mood, behavior and mindfulness of high school students and improve workplace wellbeing. The moral of the story is: yoga is going to make you feel good.
Incorporating a bit of yoga into your routine can do a world of good. Don’t be intimidated by what you might have heard or seen in pop culture references. Yoga is not only for the skinny, the flexible or the granola lovers. Yoga is for everyone, especially those who want to see benefits to their strength and stability, those who want to become more accomplished in the gym and those who could use a little bit of stress relief.