A Well Rounded Fitness Program Will Benefit Your Yoga Practice


Many people who exercise regularly will add yoga to their exercise routine for the flexibility benefits. I add other exercise routines to benefit my yoga practice. It might sound backwards to you but Pilates’ core strengthening helps in every single yoga pose. Weight training helps with the strength needed to hold poses in yoga, and cardio exercises increase lung capacity and keep your heart strong. A well rounded fitness routine is a good idea to keep your body in balance, and to keep improving in your yoga practice.

During any yoga practice there is always something you should be doing with your core; pulling it in, activating it in poses to help with the balance, etc. Pilates is about strengthening the core, along with the rest of the body, and about adding some flexibility. Practicing Pilates exercises adds flexibility. It is similar to yoga in that you attach your breath to your movements. Since teaching yoga is my passion, I am biased in my belief that yoga has more of a flexibility benefit. Pilates, on the other hand, has more benefit of core strength because people will practice a few core strengthening poses in yoga, but will rarely practice a whole yoga session focused on the core.

Joseph Pilates studied various exercise practices including yoga. Pilates taught that functional exercise would improve posture and physical fitness. His exercises were intended to keep the mind, body and spirit in balance. With physically fit bodies we can live with ease and enjoy life. So as you can see, there are many similarities in a yoga and Pilates practice: Increased strength, flexibility, using breath connected exercises and the mind and body connection.

One benefits the other when you practice them regularly. I teach many yoga and Pilates mixed classes and I teach them separately. Both are beneficial; they are simply in larger doses when you do them separately.

Weight training brings a series of new benefits to your yoga practice. Strengthening the legs helps to hold poses a little longer. Standing poses require some strength in the legs and that strength will increase by practicing yoga alone, but if you can strengthen additionally to your yoga practice you are ahead of the game.

Upper body strength training helps with those plank (push up) poses, and any poses that strengthen the shoulders and upper back. If you are not strong enough to hold yourself up in a high pushup you can always use your knees for support, but if you can strengthen that upper body through weight training, your strength gains will be quicker.

When I teach power yoga I have a series of poses that takes you from an upper pushup position (plank pose) to a low push up position where you hold your body straight a few inches off the floor. Then you come into an upward dog pose and back to a low pushup. This is a fantastic move to strengthen the shoulders and the core, but you need a little bit of strength to do it. It requires both upper body strength and core strength. Of course any yoga pose can be adjusted and you can gain strength from practicing it on your knees, but again, if you gain some strength from other activities your overall gains will be quicker.

Cardiovascular work increases your lung capacity. If a sedentary person tried to full out sprint for a mile, the first problem would be they wouldn’t be able to breathe. Someone who regularly does some sort of cardio exercise will have more of a chance to run the mile. Increased lung capacity is another one of yoga’s benefits, but once again, if we practice cardio regularly the gains will be quicker.

So how often should we be doing each? Weight training should be 2-3 times per week for 30-45 minutes. You want to work on all of the muscle groups starting with the bigger muscles groups and working towards the smaller ones. Chest, back and legs should be first, and then do some shoulders, biceps and triceps. You can use any sort of strength apparatus, strength machines in a gym, free weights (dumbbells), or resistance bands work well. Consult someone certified in weight training or research which exercises to start with. Just, please, be safe about it.

Pilates can be practiced at home with many available DVDs or at a gym or Pilates studio. You can get great results from practicing 2-3 times per week for 30-60 minutes.

Cardiovascular exercises can be done outside, i.e. walking, jogging, or riding a bike. If the weather is bad these can be done inside on a treadmill, cross trainer or stationary bike. Dancing, ice skating, and playing football with the kids, are all good forms of cardiovascular exercise too. You want to focus on getting your heart rate up and being slightly out of breath; Slightly out of breath meaning that you can speak a sentence while you are doing the activity.

Interval training is another great way to build respiratory health and lung capacity. If you are walking you want to bring a way to keep track of time. You could walk slowly for a few minutes then walk briskly, then back to slow, etc. If you are at a higher fitness level you could walk and run in your intervals, jog and sprint, etc. You get the idea. You want to bring your heart rate up and then let it come down a little, then back up and continue that way. Cardiovascular exercise is recommended 30-60 minutes daily.

This sounds like a lot of exercise but an example of a weekly schedule could be:

2 days of weight training for 30 minutes.

2 days of Pilates practice for 30-60 minutes.

3-5 days of yoga for 45-60 minutes.

Add 30 minutes of cardiovascular to each day.

You don’t need to do everything at one time either, break it up if you only have 20-30 minutes at a time to exercise. Make a commitment to yourself for better balanced physical fitness.

You are looking at an hour a day to improve your physical fitness, increase respiratory health and lung capacity and increase your overall sense of feeling good ~ physically and mentally.

Have fun!

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