Overview: What is yoga and what can it do for you?
When you decide to hit the gym and train for muscle growth, yoga is probably the last thing on your mind. It shouldn’t be, though. For complete and harmonious development of both your muscle mass and your entire body, you need three essential and complementary types of training – strength, endurance, and flexibility. Advanced yoga can stand in for all three, but even when practiced as a beginner, this form of exercise can greatly enhance your flexibility and ultimately allow you to get better results from the time you spend at the gym including your ability to burn body fat. For example, according to an in-depth article by dna lean (Yoga & Meditation For Weight Loss 3 Facts You Really Need To Know), yoga deep breathing can actually increase oxidative capacity.
So what is yoga and what does it have to do with all the spiritual stuff? Yoga was originally an ancient practice developed in India, around 3000 BC, in order to help those on the path of enlightenment to achieve a balance between the body, the heart, and the soul. As such, it was initially a multidimensional form of training with a meditative core, but when Yoga gurus brought it to the West, these components were lost in favor of health benefits and the potential to cure certain ailments.
When you practice yoga today, you get to choose your own focus. While some classes recommend a return to the spiritual roots of yoga, others are developed solely on specific exercises and their benefits for the body. Regardless of which of these aspects of yoga you find interesting, several health benefits remain undeniable. Below, I’ve included three of the most impressive.
3 Fantastic Benefits of Yoga
Unlike most fads we see come and go today, yoga has been around for more than 5000 years. This body and mind workout brings together poses that stretch and strengthen your body, deep breathing, as well as various relaxation techniques.
As you cycle through various yoga poses, you activate your core, arms (by using your own body weight), all muscles of the legs, the glutes, and the back. Although it can (easily) make you sweat, especially if you opt for something like “power yoga”, the practice itself is not a form of aerobic exercise. Instead, it generally focuses on flexibility and strength and displays many of the benefits of most other forms of exercise. But let’s get more specific.
1. Yoga improves flexibility and strength
There is considerable research that attests the fact that yoga greatly improves flexibility and balance. In fact, with as little as 15 to 30 minutes of yoga per day, you can boost your overall performance at the gym. For instance, a study conducted in 2016 on 26 male college athletes discovered that a biweekly yoga routine significantly enhanced the flexibility and balance of participants, as compared to a control group. In a different study, two groups of elderly people were assigned a yoga and a calisthenics routine, respectively, demonstrating that the former was nearly four times more effective at improving flexibility than the latter.
Furthermore, some yoga poses are particularly useful in building strength and muscle mass. Published in 2011, one study showed that 79 adults adhering to 24 cycles of a series of poses (referred to as sun salutations) six days a week for 24 weeks led to a considerable increase in endurance, upper body strength, and even weight loss. A different study confirmed these findings in 2015, for more than double the number of participants.
2. Yoga alleviates stress
When it comes to muscle growth and overall fitness, stress can have a definitive negative impact on your body. While stressed, you’re more likely to eat erratically and less likely to rigorously adhere to your exercising routine. A survey conducted in the United States, for instance, showed that high stress adults were four times more likely to skip the gym than low stress adults. They were also more likely to engage in sedentary activities to help manage stress and to skip meals or overeat. In turn, this can inhibit muscle growth and even lead to muscle loss. And this is not even taking into consideration the negative impact of cortisol on testosterone and muscle growth.
Yoga, on the other hand, has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the production of cortisol and help achieve relaxation. To give just one example, a study published in 2007 found that for its 131 participants, practicing yoga for just ten weeks significantly reduced anxiety and stress improved their quality of life, and enhanced mental health.
3. Yoga reduces inflammation
Although a normal process of the body’s immune system, inflammation can become chronic and thus lead to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Inflammation is particularly a cause for concern for athletes and bodybuilders because their bodies are constantly placed under physical stress and can suffer severely from long-term inflammation.
In 2015, one study of 218 participants separated the latter into two groups that did and did not practice yoga, respectively. Both groups were subjected first to moderate, then to strenuous exercise in order to cause stress. When the study was concluded, the findings reported lower levels of inflammatory markers in people who practiced yoga.
How to Get Started with Yoga
It is generally considered better to set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day for a yoga routine, rather than attend weekly or biweekly classes, but it’s ultimately up to you and your schedule how often you practice your favorite poses. Beginning with the first four weeks, you’ll experience the benefits regardless.
It’s also a good idea to research different types of yoga if you want to get started by attending classes. For instance, you’ll find that hatha yoga classes are fairly slow-paced and ideal for beginners, whereas power yoga is much faster, of higher intensity, and designed for building muscle. On the other hand, if you’re also interested in the spiritual core of yoga, a Kundalini class will give you the opportunity to experience some of the meditation and chanting techniques associated with the practice.
To be able to attend these classes regularly, you have to be comfortable with the atmosphere of the class, the level of difficulty, and the type of exercise. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll likely also be able to practice more at home, especially since the Internet is a limitless source of useful routines.
- On yoga and flexibility in male college athletes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728955/
- On the sun salutation yoga routine and strength building: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289222/
- On the association between yoga practice and lower levels of cortisol in the body: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784068/
- Yoga, relaxation, and stress reduction:
- The negative impact of chronic inflammation on the body: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19149749
- Stress and its effects on the body: