Yoga originated as a form of meditation utilized in Buddhism and Hinduism as a method of integrating physical and mental beings within an individual. Today, yoga has branched out into multiple bastardized forms of the original practice. While women are typically targeted by the commercial yoga industry, men are also exposed to, and sometimes fall victim to, the increasingly ridiculous proposed benefits of yoga.
Today we’re going to explore the argument for yoga and focus on some of its health benefits. Check out our companion article by Chris Illuminati entitled The Argument Against Yoga, which will present the other side of things.
Yoga Will Yield Training Results If…
Let’s start the argument for yoga by saying that it is often pitched as a cure-all fitness method that will improve flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, result in weight loss, and “tone” your muscles. Frankly, if we hear one more person say they want to be toned we're going to be sick all over their fanny pack. There are two types of tone: myogenic (your resting level of muscle tension) and neurogenic (expressed during movement and controlled by the nervous system). This may shock you, but both forms of tone are increased through high-load, low-repetition resistance training. To get the coveted “toned” look, you need to do two things: Get stronger and lose body fat.
The argument for yoga often states that you’ll get in shape, however, adding yoga to your lifestyle will result in fat/weight loss if and only if you are entirely inactive before starting yoga and you also make dietary changes. Weight loss is all about ramping up your metabolism, which, in most cases, is best accomplished through matching your carbohydrate intake to your level of medium-high intensity activity, high-intensity interval training and increasing your muscular strength/mass through resistance training.
Improvements in muscular strength and size follow the overload principle. You need to constantly overload your neuromuscular system in order for improvements to be made. Yoga can result in improvements in muscular size, strength and endurance, but only to a point, and probably only for inactive people. After that, you’ll need to gain weight to continue providing an overloading stimulus to your body.
Yoga Improves Flexibility
Before we're tarred and feathered by women in leotards and men that own all of Yanni’s CDs, hear us out. We love yoga, but it’s a tool to be used for very specific purposes. Yoga can be used to improve dynamic flexibility. While more flexibility isn’t always a good thing, many people will benefit from stretching the muscles on the front side of their body. Many yoga postures are conducive to this. While considering this argument for yoga, it’s important to remember to contract the antagonist (muscle opposite to that stretching) to ensure that you’re training your body to maintain stability and control in these new positions.
Also, contracting the antagonist (e.g., squeezing your butt while you stretch your hip flexors) will elicit a neural reflex that will result in the relaxation of the muscle you’re stretching, giving you a little more bang for your stretching buck. This will also activate muscles that are typically too long or weak. A well-designed yoga routine provides a great dynamic stretch and muscular activation series to use before other forms of training or just to mix into your day to get you out of a chair for a few minutes.
Yoga Provides Relaxation and Wholeness
More than the dynamic flexibility benefits, we think yoga is best suited for eliciting relaxation and a sense of wholeness. As much as it pains the “Y” chromosome in us to even walk down this road, we shouldn’t be so quick to forget what yoga was originally used for. There’s something very calming about shutting off the lights and music, taking your shoes off and moving through a set routine of positions while concentrating on your breathing. You’ll likely find it hard to do this at first as your mind will be racing about all the other things going on in your life. After some practice, you’ll learn to shut those things out, focus on your body and breathing, and leave your yoga session feeling warmed up, yet very relaxed and focused. This state of being is actually very conducive to getting work done.
So, should you do yoga? It’s really up to you. Just be aware of what you’re real goals are. We’ve never seen a dramatic body transformation result from a strict yoga routine. We’ve never seen a record weightlifter or distance runner attribute their unparalleled strength and endurance to a weekly dose of yoga. We have, however, had many training clients praise various yoga positions incorporated into their warm-ups for leaving them feeling better. As always, match your training to your goals, and you’ll get the results you want.
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