I never began practicing yoga with the purpose of gaining physical benefits. For me, yoga is all about spirituality and an intuitive way of thinking and living. But a few months ago, when my mom remarked about how muscular my arms have gotten, I started paying more attention to my body and noticing that I am transforming, not just mentally from yoga, but physically too.
The physical postures or asanas in yoga require you to use your core (helping to develop seriously toned abs over time) and strengthen arms in order to lift your body. Since I’ve started practicing yoga almost every day in the last few months, I have noticed greater mental clarity, inner peace, and a more open heart. But also that yes, I am stronger than I probably ever have been.
While consistent aerobic exercise is important, a lot of individuals miss a huge part of healthy physical activity if they are just doing cardio without strength training. Strength training is essential for maintaining bone health and achieving that defined toned look. Commonly, it refers to building up muscle by lifting weights. But personally, lifting dumbbells and using those intimidating weight machines is not something I am going to be comfortable even trying out. I prefer the slower movement and inner harmony yoga provides, and the perfect combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is just an awesome plus!
Strength training in yoga might take more coordination and balance than traditional weight lifting, since you are putting your body in various poses and lifting your own body weight. Yoga relies on eccentric contraction, where muscles are stretched as they are contracted so you are able to develop a sleek, toned look rather than concentric muscle contraction in weight training. In concentric contraction muscles get smaller as they contract, so the muscles fibers heal closer together, creating a compacted bulge. Unlike traditional weight training where you usually use one muscle at a time in one plane of movement, yoga’s various poses keep you moving and stretching your body in different directions, which helps to reduce injury and condition your body as a whole. And lastly, yoga improves muscle endurance because you are holding poses for a given period of time.
So what can you do to build muscle and get ripped biceps from yoga? Honestly, a daily practice of yoga helps (even twice with a sun and moon salutation to balance your energies), but as a beginning guide for stronger, more muscular arms, incorporate the poses below into your practice.
Start on your hands and knees with toes curled. Push back and raise hips up and straighten your legs. Let the head hang, engage your quadriceps, rotate your thighs inward, and keep your tailbone high.
Come forward from Chaturanga, lifting your torso and rolling over your toes, but making sure that your thighs do not touch the floor. Make sure your shoulders are directly above your wrists and not rising up to your ears.
Lie on your back with knees bent. Stretch arms over your head and bend your elbows. Bring palms of hands underneath shoulders. Inhale and press into palms as you lift your body up. Straighten arms and make sure legs and elbows are parallel. Reach your chest for the wall behind you.
Also see: Yoga for Strong Core
Photo: Jessica Renae