By Maeve McCaffrey, Certified YogaWorks Teacher
With a background in both yoga and fitness, I see similarities between yoga asanas (poses) and fitness exercises — think chair pose and squats, crescent post and lunges — which is probably why I see students start practicing yoga for the fitness benefits.
I teach primarily vinyasa flow, a pretty vigorous practice, so physically it feels a lot like a workout, and many students have likened it to how they feel after a really great run. If you’re thinking about integrating yoga to become more fit, I would give you the “Hell Yeah” speech!
I witness students get stronger, change the shape of their body, and realize better body awareness, proprioception, and balance — all goals and benefits of fitness. Flow through a few sun salutations and notice your heart rate. Pick any warrior pose and hold for 10 breaths. Your entire kinetic chain will be firing, muscles alive, and fatigue starting to set in. So, will you get more physically fit with a regular yoga practice? If you want to, yes! Here are just a few specifics to convince you:
1) Joint stability and mobility – Unlike the vague catch-all of “stretching,” yoga postures require muscular engagement resulting in stability around the joints. When the joints are stable, the brain tells the body it’s okay to go open up, thereby experiencing an increased range of motion that allows one to create more power, safely. This is one of the reasons many athletes integrate yoga into their training program.
2) Alignment/posture – Piggybacking on the first benefit, asanas are built around a foundation of ideal alignment (easier to attain with stable, mobile joints). You are layering poses onto a foundation of neutral, which means better posture.
3) Breathe your way to better abs, posture, and heart health - The focus on mindful breathing during yoga has a multitude of benefits, including cardiovascular health. Additionally, by accessing the muscles that are meant to function for breathing, we allow other muscles not meant to support this function let go. Why is that important? Well, how about core strength (that’s right, abs!), and better posture! If you try to address posture without addressing breathing habits, my bet is going against you. Sorry.
4) Muscular strength and endurance – In my mind, there is nothing superfluous in yoga. Every pose is awake, alive, and engaged, accessing your entire kinetic chain. There is no simple pose. There’s always something new to access, so you are always getting stronger.
And let’s not leave off the physical benefits that come as a result of the mental highs:
1) Get lean and build muscle – That’s right, mindfulness/breathing/meditation have all been proven to reduce stress, thereby the stress hormone cortisol, which can impact fat loss, our immune system, and our ability to heal and repair (build muscle), etc.
2) Better performance and focus – Whether you are an athlete or a fitness enthusiast, the ability to breathe through and conquer a tough pose translates into a higher fitness IQ. Another reason athletes integrate yoga into their training program.
3) Stay healthy and reach your goals – The connectedness that results from a mind/body practice gives you more sensory feedback: to rest when you need a break, to know that too much sugar impairs not enhances, and what it feels like when your body is fueled properly. All of which allow you to be the best human machine you can be.
What makes YogaWorks a great place to start is the quality of our instructors and variety of classes. There is a style to suit everyone and the benefits cross over! Take classes with me in studio or online on myyogaworks.com.
Get a free month of MyYogaWorks with unlimited access to 750+ online yoga classes when you enter the promo code SWEAT at sign up anytime before November 30, 2015.
Maeve McCaffrey is a Certified YogaWorks Teacher. She has over 20 years of professional instruction, and over 500 hours of yoga training and integrative fitness education with ACSM, NASM, MAT, YogaWorks, and more.
Maeve didn't set out to have a career in fitness and yoga, she wanted to be a vet. Well first a nun, then a vet. She grew up in Vermont and her mother, a bit of a hippie, practiced and taught yoga and she would practice with her as a child, but that's not what set Maeve on this path. She was always an athlete, so fitness came very naturally. She joined a gym at 16, started teaching at 20, and it was through sports and fitness that she came full circle to yoga to keep her body healthy. She came for the body and stayed for the mind. Maeve loves yoga and fitness. The privilege to pass that on to students is like nothing else. She still gets excited for class, and YogaWorks allows her to take more yoga and fitness to the masses.