Before I begin, a little disclaimer. I think anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I don’t think of yoga as a “fitness pursuit” in the way that step aerobics, body pump or kickboxing is. There are so many more layers to it which over time begin to peel off slowly like onion skin. I practice yoga for these other benefits, the ability to breath fully and properly, to strengthen and calm my mind, to help my body work with chronic pain. The list goes on.
That all being said, yoga is a pretty good form of all round exercise and many people who come to yoga classes do come, initially at least, to stretch and strengthen their bodies. Admittedly you do have to be doing some pretty powerful yoga such as Astanga or Bikram to be getting a really good cardio workout, but when it comes to strength and length, yoga has it all.
I cycle a lot. Miles and miles each week, so on the whole I get most of my cardio workouts done just getting from A to B! But I don’t always get in as much strength training as I would like. To counteract this, I sometimes add a few “booty camp” type moves into my yoga practice, just to mix things up a bit, to vary my practice and to focus on particular muscle groups. Yoga is all about the connection between body, breath and spirit and as long as any strength exercises we slip into our yoga are practiced with this same sense of mindfulness I don’t think we’re deviating from the essence of our yoga.
So I thought I’d share a few of these “add ons” with you today.
For Arms/Upper Body Box Press Ups (can be added in during any cat/cow sequence): In tabletop position bend at the elbows lowering the chest down. Elbows come out to the side (unlike chaturanga variations), trying to keep the spine straight and not bringing the chest any lower than about 5cm from the ground. Exhale as you lower, inhale as you lift. Repeat 5-10 times Opposite arms and legs (also tones legs and abdominals): Again from tabletop position, inhale stretching the right arm out in front of you and the left leg out behind you trying to make a straight line. Exhale back to all fours. Repeat to the other side and then repeat the whole sequence 3 times to each side.
(All can be added during supine postures such as twists and leg raises) Eagle leg crunch: Lying on the floor, knees bent, feet hip width apart, cross the right thigh over the left, hooking the right foot behind the calf if you can. Lift the arms off the floor, palms down fingers pointing towards the legs. As you exhale draw the legs in towards the abdomen, lift the shoulders and stretch the arms away. Inhale slowly back down. Repeat 5 times on this side and then change the cross of the legs and repeat 5 more times. Side lifts: Lying on the floor with the knees bent, feet on the floor hip width apart, allow the legs to fall to the right so you are in a lying twist. Arms in the same position as before exhale draw the navel in towards the spine and lift the head and shoulders off the floor (keep the chin slightly tucked in), inhale release. Repeat 5 times to one side and then change the direction of the twist and repeat 5 more times.
The trick with these abdominal exercises is to work with the long slow rhythm of the breath rather than the quick repeitions of crunches that are often taught in gyms. They can also be practiced with the arms crossed across the chest if you prefer. I shy away from placing the hands at the back of the head for ab curls because it tempts us to pull on the neck.
For the legs:
Well really I think the legs are pretty much catered for once you’ve done all those Warriors, Triangles, Cresent Moons, squats and standing balances. But if you still want something more try some side leg lifts.
Lie on the side making sure the hips are stacked on top of each other. Stretch the lower arm along the floor and rest the side of the head here. The top arm can come onto the floor in front of you for balance (or to work on abdominal strength rest the top arm on the top thigh, but make sure you can do this without toppling forwards). As you inhale raise the top leg. This one isn’t about height, it’s about alignment and length. Feel you are stretching the foot away and only lift the leg a few centimetres up, keeping those hips level. As you exhale lower. Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
Remember, if anything doesn’t feel right for your body, don’t do it.
I sometimes wonder if posting a video would be easier!