As a yoga instructor, I have heard every imaginable excuse for why someone chooses not to practice yoga. The most common (and probably my favorite) is, “I can’t touch my toes!” To this I say, “Then bend your knees!” We’ve got the top yoga moves for the inflexible, anyway. Another overused reason for sticking to a more familiar fitness routine is, “I don’t need to stretch. I want to workout.” A common misconception of yoga, or possibly a more traditional view of the practice, this reason becomes seen as valid. But, let’s not forget that yoga has evolved since its roots began to grow 10,000 plus years ago, just like all of our fitness routines. Western culture has infused asana practice with strength and power, and stayed true to a steady, clear mind.
Everyone can lunge. It’s one of the tried and true exercises of leg day. Try hanging out in Warrior I for a solid three minutes. Keep that back leg strong and straight. Push into the sole of your front foot like you’re pushing off for a sprint. Do all this while keeping those hips perfectly square to the front of the mat and your front knee bent to a perfect 90 degree angle. Now switch sides. This will show true strength and endurance.
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If you’ve never taken a Vinyasa Flow class, you might think yoga is only for stretching. A full Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) includes stepping back into a high plank, lowering slow and steady to just a few inches above the ground with the elbows hugged tight into the body, then pushing through into upward dog where your thighs are lifted and shoulders back, drawing your belly up into the spine before smoothly lifting your hips into downward dog. Power through this sequence 108 times as you use each repetition to touch all 108 nadis (energy channels) in the body. I do believe your triceps will be beautifully sculpted afterward.
I once taught a class specifically for a professional hockey team. Hockey players are some of the fastest, leanest, strongest athletes out there. They have also been known to play through broken ankles, legs and dislocated shoulders. Put 20 of them in a heated yoga studio and ask them to move effortlessly through malasana (low squat) to bakasana (crow pose), and you hear grunts and groans like never before. There are few poses that require more strength and grace than crow pose. You must tap into balance, shoulder strength, core and killer focus to master this. It is no easy feat. Pop yourself back into chatarunga from your triceps and you’ll never question whether yoga can be powerful again.
While we spend a lot of time honing in on our meditative skills, stretching abilities and alignment, there can be some major strengthening benefits from yoga. Choose classes titled Power and Peace, Vinyasa, Vigorous Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Bikram to find strengthening asana practices. Also, never be shy to request a powerful pose in any class. Instructors are happy to accommodate what their students are looking for.
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