I must be honest that over the years I have not devoted much of my workout time to yoga. I like to train hard, sweat, get my heart rate up and feel some soreness the next day. After taking some good yoga classes, I realized that you can feel all of those things after a good yoga workout. No wonder 15 million Americans are doing yoga regularly!
I first began adding yoga to my workout routine to increase my flexibility. Yoga is great for that of course, but there really are many more benefits such as lowering blood pressure, relieving chronic pain, reducing symptoms of depression and relieving stress.
These benefits are related to the breathing techniques practiced in each class. By focusing on your breath and the specific muscles you are engaging, you begin to create that mind/body connection that is always associated with yoga.
Again I have to admit with my Type A personality, holding a yoga pose for 2 minutes and trying to focus on my breath instead of my to do list was and honestly still is a struggle for me. However, as I begin to see the benefits of this mind/body connection this “focus” is becoming easier.
One of the more fascinating reasons to really focus in on that mind/body connection is when it comes to stress. We all know that stress affects our health and immune system, and the body releases cortisol in the body when we are under great stress. This unused cortisol floating around the body causes us to hang on to belly fat. By relaxing and practicing the deep breathing of yoga the parasympathetic system becomes engaged and actually reduces the amount of cortisol in your body.
Understanding how yoga eases stress and anxiety may not seem too hard to believe, but what about weight loss? I often questioned the claims that yoga will help you lose weight. While I still believe that cardiovascular workouts and strength training are the ways to make great gains when it comes to weight loss, we can not totally discount yoga.
Among the many types of yoga there are some that build strength and raise the heart rate. Power yoga is a good example. When you enter the more challenging poses and quickly move from pose to pose, it can become a good workout for your muscles and your heart and yes even make you sweat.
There are also claims that yoga engages some of the lesser used muscle fibers from typical strength training workouts. This gives a more well rounded strength base and may even trigger hypertrophy in those smaller muscles.
Also, I truly believe that yoga does make you more aware of your body , how it feels, and your individual physical challenges and strengths. Becoming aware of your body makes you more likely to make better choices and take care of it in other areas such as nutrition and other forms of exercise.
If you are now convinced that yoga may be worth a try, you will be glad to know that you don’t need a lot of equipment. The only essential item I always bring is my own yoga mat. In order to plant your feet in place, a mat is really essential.
If you are less flexible you may need a strap (a towel will do) or a block for some of the poses. Some of the more relaxation focused yoga classes sometimes uses blankets for comfort in certain poses. Most gyms provide all these items, so you can come with mo equipment at first to see how you like it.
So if you are more of a hardcore exerciser like myself, don’t be disillusioned about yoga. There are some real benefits for everyone! It is a great way to be well rounded in your fit lifestyle!