Yoga's mental and emotional benefits appeal to those seeking a relaxing, refreshing workout. Along with relieving stress, regular yoga practice can help you tone your arms, back, legs and core. This ancient form of exercise and meditation involves a series of poses and postures that promote flexibility, alignment and deep breathing as well as total body strength.
Many yoga poses and movements require you to support your own body weight with your arms. The Downward Dog pose -- placing your arms on the floor several feet away from your legs to created a triangle with your body -- strengthens the shoulders, biceps and back. From Downward Dog, shift your body forward onto your hands to a plank position and move into a controlled pushup -- called a "Chaturanga" in yoga -- to further challenge your upper body. Other more advanced poses like inversions and side planks can tone your arms, back and shoulders.
The lunging, twisting and balancing involved in yoga strengthen your lower body while supporting the joint structures within your legs. Warrior poses, which resemble deep lunges, work to target the quadriceps and glutes. The Chair pose -- standing with your feet together and your knees bent as though you are about to sit in a chair -- strengthens your hamstrings as well as your calves and glutes.
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Your core, a group of muscles in the center of your body including your abs, glutes and lower back, works hard in yoga, keeping your body balanced and your posture strong. Plank poses on two hands strengthen the abdominals and glutes, while side planks performed on one hand help target the obliques. Tone your entire core with the challenging Boat pose: Balance on your bottom with your legs extended off the floor in front of you.
While yoga practitioners develop strong bodies with toned muscles due to the nature of the exercise, some yoga instructors discourage this focus on outward results. These traditionally minded teachers encourage students to focus on yoga as an internal, meditative practice. To get the most out of your yoga practice -- including the mental and physical benefits -- take class with an experienced and certified yoga instructor.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.