When you think of strength training, most people immediately think of lifting weights in the gym. But over the years, yoga has helped me gain some incredible core and overall body strength that I would not ordinarily find by lifting weights.
Yoga uses both isometric and eccentric contractions to strengthen a muscle as it stretches, creating functional strength. This type of functional strength assists us in everyday activities like bending over, lifting, walking, sitting down and standing up. Yoga uses your own body as the weight and can target smaller muscles that are often missed in traditional weight lifting.
Here are a few of my favourite strength building yoga poses:
Not only the most famous yoga pose, downward facing dog (when practice correctly) is one of the most strengthening poses you can do. It helps to lengthen and mobilise the entire superficial back line while decompressing spine and it gently strengthens your wrists by using some of your bodyweight. At the same time, it stretches your ankles by flexing them in at about 45 degrees while you press down through your heels. When you don’t have time to get to a class, downward dog is your go-to pose. Hold for 5 breaths, release into child pose and repeat 5 times.
One of my favourite yoga poses is the crescent lunge. This yoga pose strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles and stretches the psoas and hips. It also expands your chest, lungs and shoulders and develops stamina and endurance in your thighs. This pose practiced over time also helps to improve your balance and concentration. It’s an awesome pose for anyone who sits more than two hours in a day.
Another favourite of mine is the side plank. This yoga pose strengthens the obliques, while the abdominals work to stabilise the entire body. At first it can be a real challenge to hold this pose for more than a few breaths, so you can modify the pose by leaving your knee on the ground. Once you build enough strength in side plank, you can attempt to raise the top leg to increase the difficulty of the pose.
Warrior three helps to build strength and length in your torso and spine while also strengthening the legs. It’s one of my favourite poses to tone and strengthen your abdominal muscles that don’t involve doing crunches. I also really love practicing warrior 3 to help improve my concentration and focus on and off the mat.
Learning to stand on your hands takes courage, strength and dedication. Let’s face it, it’s totally against the laws of gravity. I am still yet to master a handstand that is longer than a few seconds, but practicing the art of a handstand will still help to build your upper body strength. To build up strength, start by holding a handstand against a wall for three sets of 5-10 seconds. Work up to holding them for a minute or two at a time. Practice your handstands often and watch your upper body strength soar.
You have plenty of time to get to all these poses, so please don’t hurry towards the goal of “mastering” any pose. The magic happens in your practice, it doesn’t happen when you finally master the pose. Keeping your eyes on your own mat during practice will help you zone in on your progress and not compare yourself to others in the room. I’ve been practicing for over 15 years and I am still on my journey to mastering poses. Why not take your yoga practice outside this week or if you find yourself in a bit of an energy slump, try theseyoga poses to lift your mood.
What’s your favourite strengthening yoga pose?