Yoga has seen a massive resurgence in popularity over recent years. And with good reason, because practicing yoga has some truly great health benefits.
One of these is muscle tone – or, toning the body.
The uninitiated often think of yoga as simply a way of stretching the muscles. And while this is indeed a part of the art, this is only a small proportion of the physical fitness yoga promotes.
A study carried out in 2005 by the American Council on Exercise showed that following an eight week course of Hatha yoga, participants showed significant improvement in muscular strength and endurance. In particular, the muscle strength was noticed in the chest and abdominal regions. This is because the different poses carried out during a yoga session force the muscles of these areas in particular to stretch, flex, and contract.
Over time, practicing yoga firms and tones virtually every muscle of the body – and there will be a visual, as well as a physical change in the way you look and feel.
One thing that’s good about yoga is that regular practice will not see you ‘bulk up’ – something many women are worried about when they start a training regime. Most yoga poses do not add weight to the postures – they simply use your own body weight.
But because of this, yoga does have limitations when it comes to toning and strengthening muscles. If you are already (or once you become) well toned, the use of body weight alone might not be enough to reach further goals. In addition, most yoga workouts don’t raise the heart rate enough to significantly improve cardiovascular fitness levels.
However, what makes yoga fairly unique is the fact that it provides a combination of toning the body, stretching the muscles, putting stress on the bones thanks to weight bearing, so helping the bones store more calcium, and it’s well known to have a significant effect on lowering stress levels. This alone has a massive positive improvement on the health of those who practice the art.
Different types of yoga
We’ve already mentioned Hatha yoga. But there are many different types – and for the novice, these can seem a little confusing (not to mention overwhelming).
Here’s an easy list to the different types of yoga you might come across:
- Anusara – a more modern type of yoga that encourages participants to carry out their own forms of the accepted standard positions
- Ashtanga – has traditional, established sequences and poses that gradually become more difficult as you advance.
- Bikrak – yoga carried out in a ‘hot’ room.
- Hatha – if you see this advertised today, it tends to refer to a class that concentrates on basic yoga poses, breathing, etc.
- Jivamukti – very physical, includes much chanting and references to ancient scripture.
- Kripalu – a three part practice, combining poses with meditation.
- Kundalini – constantly moving, invigorating poses.
- Prenatal – especially for those in all stages of pregnancy.
- Restorative – concentrates less on the poses, and more on relaxation.
- Sivananda – unhurried practice, concentrates on the person as a whole – with 12 basic poses.
- Viniyoga – individualized practice where you develop poses and goals for your own abilities and needs.
- Vinyasa – also called ‘power yoga’. Energetic and fun.
- Yin – also called ‘taoist yoga’. Focuses on lengthening and strengthening the muscles.
So there you have it! There are many different forms of the art. But one thing that they all have in common is that yes, they certainly do tone the body, as well as having many other positive effects.
Yoga for pure physical benefits is best carried out in combination with other forms of exercise. Some weight bearing (such as body pump), and cardio vascular workouts really complement practicing yoga. But for increased flexibility, stamina, and mental wellbeing, you really can’t beat yoga – whichever form of the art you choose to undertake.