The seemingly gentle nature of a standard yoga practice may not seem like it does much, but yoga can help increase your strength, balance and flexibility. When coupled with cardiovascular activity and a healthy diet, yoga can also help you burn calories and fat, lose weight and build lean muscle, which can help give your body an overall toned appearance.
Lean muscle is muscle that isn't covered with a layer of fat, that results from strengthening exercises like weightlifting, says MayoClinic.com. When you lift weights or use a resistance machine, you usually target one muscle group at a time, but practicing yoga can provide a full-body workout that targets most, if not every, muscle group. Most yoga poses require you to work against your body weight, which creates resistance and forces your muscles to work harder to support you and keep you balanced. You can divide yoga into seated or supine poses/balances and standing poses/balances, and each type targets different muscle groups.
Seated and Standing Poses
Seated or supine poses, like Bridge pose, Wheel pose, Upward Dog pose and even gentle twists, work your biceps, triceps, shoulders and chest. Standing or upright poses, like Downward Dog pose and Warrior Two pose engage both legs while Warrior Three pose and Tree pose require you to balance on one leg. During a standard yoga class, your instructor will call for a variety of seated and standing poses, which provides that full-body workout you won’t get by lifting weights.
Not every style of yoga is created equally, says “Yoga Journal.” Gentle yoga, like Vinyasa, won’t result in the same benefits as practicing a more vigorous style of yoga, like power yoga, which includes an aerobic portion that other styles don’t include. The most common style you’ll find is Hatha yoga, which combines elements of several styles. This style of yoga may be best for beginners, since you’ll learn a variety of poses as well as ways to intensify them. Your instructor will also likely ask you to hold poses, like Plank pose or Downward Dog pose, for several seconds, which will cause your muscles to engage. The more often your muscles engage, the better.
Keep In Mind
You should talk to your doctor before starting any type of exercise, even a yoga class. If you are nursing an injury, let your instructor know, so she can help you modify a pose to prevent further strain. You get to go at your own pace, can rest when you need to and can stop if something starts to hurt. Yoga can support your overall fitness goals, but only if you stick with it, since you won’t see results right away.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.