While most modern gyms and studios offer yoga and fitness classes side-by-side, the image of the flexible, barefoot hippie still stands as a stark contrast to the muscular gym goer sweating it out pumping iron in the weight room, or the brightly dressed Zumba dancer. The fact is, however, that people who are serious about fitness incorporate yoga into their regular fitness routines. Whether you’re an aspiring fitness competitor, athlete, or simply looking to achieve your best body, yoga is a key ingredient to reaching your goals.
The most obvious reason people can think of for incorporating yoga into their routines is to achieve flexibility. But why is this a big deal? If you already stretch all of your major muscle groups after a class or training session, why do you need to take extra time out of your week to stretch some more?
A fitness instructor will tell you that the stretches performed during the cool down return your muscles to their pre-exercise state. That is because your muscles have tightened after your cardio or strength session, you stretch to return your muscles to their original state. This does not contribute to increased muscle flexibility overall – especially since the average 60 minute fitness class only allows for each stretch to be held for 10-30 seconds. In order for you to truly increase your flexibility and encourage the look of long, lean muscles, you need to dedicate more time to stretching each muscle group. When this is done as part of a yoga practice, you are not only assured an adequate stretch, but you can also be confident that you are placing your body in correct alignment and are less likely to injure yourself in the process. If you’re looking for a yoga class that focuses mainly on flexibility and muscle relaxation, look for the words “Hatha” or ”Yin”.
With increased flexibility comes increased range of motion and overall muscular strength, but did you know that you can actually gain a significant amount of total body strength and explosive power with the practice of yoga? Classes named “Flow”, “Vinyasa”, and “Power”, are typically focused on building strength and cardiovascular endurance. You will definitely feel the burn! Strong yoga practices work your entire body, particularly your core, and teach you how to hold yourself in optimal alignment in a variety of positions. Since these strengthening practices always include poses targeted toward flexibility, they are the perfect complement to any fitness routine. For some of you, a strong yoga practice may be all you need for a tight, toned body. For those of you with more focused fitness goals, yoga is the perfect way to round out your fitness routine.
A word on meditation: its benefits are vast, and they include the stabilization of blood pressure, greater mental focus, and the increased ability to be less reactive to our emotions (emotional eating, anyone?). All yoga practices incorporate a little meditation, and it can only serve to enhance your overall well-being. You cannot have a strong body without a strong mind!
If you’re not one of the many fit people who practice yoga regularly, then it is definitely worth your while to try a class and experience for yourself how yoga can enhance your life and contribute to both mind and body fitness.