The perception of yoga classes has long been that they are full of older women, unfit newbies or people recovering from injuries. Yes of course these people are present in classes because yoga is for everyone but there is an increasing number of people that understand the benefits yoga can have in complementing your fitness program. 

Take a look round your local yoga class and you will see a diverse demographic from the runner training for a marathon, the weightlifter who wants to improve their end of range mobility and the young who want to work the smaller, often overlooked, muscles which may get missed in their regular dumbbell workouts.

When I first started practising yoga at the tender age of 21, I was the youngest by far in the class and people are surprised when I say have practised from such a young age. I have always had a movement background and when I returned home after completing my BA Honours in Dance, I needed something that was going to keep my body moving.

There are many known benefits to yoga – improved sleep, flexibility, balance and stress management. It is true that yoga does do all of this but it can do so much more if interpreted through a 21st century lens. As our lifestyles and bodies adapt, our practises should adapt too and practising a movement class that was introduced 5000 years ago just doesn’t match our sedentary lifestyle of sitting at desks, in cars or lounging on sofas at the end of a long day. Our movement practice has to adapt and evolve as our lifestyles change and new scientific research is available. Trying to contort our bodies into shapes that Instagram says is right doesn’t benefit us now or in the long run.

Yoga can be a strong practice if you want it to be, it is like anything – the more you put in, the more you’ll get back. There are more advanced classes than your standard beginner classes but it is not just the advanced asanas that can work your muscles if executed correctly. Listed below are some ways that yoga can be made into a strong, powerful practice.

1. Chaturanga, purvottanasana and vasisthasana are excellent examples of yoga poses that use body weight. These moves are modified for the novice but if you have a background in fitness or work out regularly, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be incorporating these asanas into your practice. In the majority of asanas, beginners hold the positions for 15-30 seconds but the longer you have been practising, the longer you can stay in an asana, deepening the pose and building strength and stamina. Again, for the more athletic person, the time spent in each asana can be increased thus increasing the fitness benefits. A great challenge for fitness fanatics are inversions – headstand, handstand and forearm stand. These not only challenge the fear of going upside down, they take a lot of balance and strength to execute safely. Usually reserved for more advanced yogis, people with a strong physique could manage these, elevating the gains in class.

2. Isolation of smaller muscle groups

Yoga doesn’t just target the big muscle groups that would be worked on in a traditional strength program of weightlifting. In some asanas these larger muscles are triggered but a modern approach to yoga focusses on isolating smaller, lesser targeted muscles and working on these individually so that they are strengthened and worked without the more dominant muscles taking over and doing all of the work. These smaller muscles being strengthened will contribute to a more effective workout in your regular domain.

3. Flows

Vinyasa is a popular style of yoga that combines yoga asanas into a sequence of moves performed one after the other. This style of yoga makes you get a sweat on but it relies on you being competent in executing the asanas accurately as there is little time for breaking them down. In addition to this, you move through asanas quickly to maintain the idea of a flow. At Strength, Power, Yoga we use flows of asanas that have been practised in the class so you have the benefit of a flow practice but you have already spent time breaking down the individual asanas so that you are executing them accurately and safely. We also hold the asanas in the prep work so that you can deepen within the posture. A perfect combination.

4. Asanas for targeted areas

Each yoga class usually has a focus. This can be building up to a specific, challenging asana or targeting an area of the body like legs, core or arms. With a body area focus, the muscles can be isolated and strengthened individually through a series of mobility drills before practising asanas using those specific muscles. Finally this can all be put together in a flow using the practised moves. Who said you needed to lift weights on arm day?

There are so many different types of yoga out there (just Google it and you will see) Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hatha, Bikram, etc. On top of the style of yoga, every teacher will have their own beliefs and values that they bring to a class – traditionalist, fitness yoga, mobility based, etc. I suggest if you have tried a class and thought yoga wasn’t for you, try a different teacher. There really is a yoga class out there for everyone, you just have to find your tribe. My tribe – well come and see but you can probably tell that I like to make people feel strong in asanas, using muscles to full capacity and bringing a sense of power to movement in the body and thoughts in the mind encompassing the true spirit of yoga – to unite the mind, body and spirit.

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