Yoga for Fitness

 What yoga style is right for your fitness goal?

Yoga can be a great way to improve your overall fitness and health. But where do you start? Dr. Robin Armstrong, Vancouver Chiropractor and Yoga Instructor, highlights 4 styles of yoga : Hatha, Power Flow, Yin, and Restorative, with an example pose of each style.

Goal: Increased Fitness, Solution: Yoga

 You’ve finished with the leftover turkey, started saying no to seconds at the dinner table, and dusted off your running shoes.  It’s that time of year again – time to get back to your fitness routine.   The New Year is an excellent time to evaluate your routine and set your

 fitness goals for the upcoming year. 

 Variety in your activities ensures that you will keep your interest high and your fitness even higher.  Whether you are cross training to support your sport, or have specific goals such as increasing your strength, mobility, or balance, it is important to choose activities that specifically support your goals.

 Yoga is increasingly becoming a popular mind-body fitness trend.  Owning incense and flexible hamstrings are not a prerequisite however.   From elite athletes to those seeking to age gracefully, yoga can be an excellent addition to your fitness routine and can help you work towards attaining specific fitness goals.

 The popularity of yoga has resulted in many different styles of yoga that provide a variety of benefits.  Most styles of yoga will include elements that increase strength, improve balance, decrease tension and stress, and increase breath awareness.  Certain styles tend to highlight one or more of these areas more brightly.

 Your Goal: Improve Cardiovascular Fitness              

Your Yoga:  Power Flow

 Power Yoga, also known as Flow Yoga, or Vinyasa Yoga, is known for its continuous flowing style linking one movement to the next.  This continuous flow allows your heart rate to stay elevated as you move from one pose to the next.  Your heart rate may not get as high as on your favorite trail run, but imagine the concept of circuit training, moving from one exercise to the next, so that your heart rate stays continuously elevated.

 The Sun Salutation

 In the sun salutation series, you move from standing, to a forward fold, step to a push up, lower to the floor, back bend from the floor, then into downward dog pose (making a ‘v’ shape with your body).

Stand with feet together, big toes touching but heels slightly apart so that the sides of the feet are parallel. On an inhale breath seep your arms out and up creating the shape of a sun rise, looking up at the palms.  On an exhale breath, dive forward, hinging at the hips, allowing your hands to move to wards the floor, coming into a forward bend.  Inhale, bringing the hands to the shins as you look up, lengthening the spine.  Exhale and place the palms firmly onto the floor, stepping back to a high push up with arms straight.  Lower slowly down to the floor, keeping the body in one firm piece –no sagging or popping up in the hips.  Inhaling, press into the palms so that the chest comes up off the floor but the hips stay on the floor, lifting your upper body into a back bend.  Exhale, curl the toes under and push the hips up and back so that you are making a ‘V’ with your body and the weight is equally distributed between your hands and feet.  Let your head be in line with the spine. 

 Breath here in Downward Facing Dog pose for five breaths.

 Next we will reverse all the motions.  Step your feet to meet your hands on an exhale.  Inhale the hands to the shins again, looking up.  Exhale fold forward once again.  Inhale raise the arms up above the head, returning to standing, and then exhale the hands to the sides. 

 Repeat 3-5 times.

 Your Goal: Improve Balance and Coordination         

 Traditionally yoga is more than just the physical poses but also encompasses breathing and meditation exercises, as well as a belief system and ‘code of conduct’.  Hatha is the traditional word to describe the physical component of yoga.  In Western society Hatha has come to represent a specific style of yoga that takes a little more time moving from pose to pose. The standing poses challenge your balance and proprioception – the sense of where your body is in space. 

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning examined the effect of a regular yoga program in young adults.   Specifically they followed participants over 8 weeks, looking at upper and lower body strength, co ordination, and balance.  The researchers found substantial increases in balance – up to a 228% increase - and increased co-ordination, particularly in the lower limb musculature of the knee extensors. 

            Eagle in a Tree

 Start standing with both feet firmly rooted on the mat.  Pick up your right leg and cross your thigh over your left so that you are standing on your left foot only.  Bring your palms together at your chest and slowly begin to sit lower and lower into Eagle Pose.  Breathe here for 5 breaths.

Without touching your foot down, uncross your top leg and bring the sole of your right foot to the inside of your left shin.  Imagine your right hip opening so that the knee can point out to the side.  Press your foot into your leg, and feel your leg pressing back into your foot for Tree pose.  Breathe here for 5 breaths then slowly lower your foot to the mat.  Switch sides.

Your Goal: Increase Flexibility                                   Your Yoga: Yin

 Yin Yoga is one of the newer yoga styles on the yoga scene.  The name comes from the concept of Yin and Yang, opposites.  The Taoist interpretation of the body is that there are Yin and Yang tissues of the body. Muscles are Yang, connective tissues and joints are Yin.  The theory is that Yin and Yang tissues do not respond to training in the same way, and to get improved results all tissues need to be targeted in specific ways. 

Yin Yoga attempts to target the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Yin postures are held three to five minutes at a time.   In a Power Yoga or Hatha class you may practice as many as 20 or 30 different poses.  In a Yin Yoga class you may only practice 10 different poses.  The emphasis is on a deeper ‘opening’ or increase range of motion in the joints.  Yin Yoga is also a great complement to a more ‘yang’ practice of Power Yoga.

            Butterfly Pose

When practicing Yin Yoga on your own, it is helpful to get a timer so that you don’t constantly disturb yourself by looking at a clock.  Set the timer for at least 2 minutes up to 5 minutes. 

Sitting on the floor, bring the heels of your feet together.  Move the heels at least one foot away from your groin, making a diamond shape with your legs.  Softly fold forward, draping your body over your legs. Breathe here, allowing your breath to soften you in the pose.  If you are feeling discomfort in your knees, adjust the position of your feet either closer or further away.  You may also support your head or under your knees with cushions.  Hold for 2-5 minutes.


Your Goal: Decrease and Manage Stress                   

Your Yoga: Restorative

 It is now commonly accepted that stress can be extremely damaging to our bodies.  In Restorative Yoga, props are used to support the body.  The poses create specific physiological responses, which can reduce the effects of stress-related disease.  Things like blankets, pillows, chairs, and the wall are used to allow you to fully rest in poses, while at the same time increasing range of motion and flexibility.  

A recent study examining the use of Iyengar Yoga (a style that utilizes a number of props) to control depression found that participants had significant reductions in depression, anger, and anxiety.

             Supported Backbend           

For this pose you will either need a sausage shaped pillow, known as a bolster, or a thick blanket that you can roll up to approximately 2-3  feet long and ½ to 1 foot wide.  Set up the pillow or blanket so that when you lie back on it, your head is supported and it is just above your waist.  Lie back, allowing your feet to flop open, legs apart.  Take your arms away from your sides with palms facing up.  Breathe naturally, closing your eyes.  Similar to the Yin poses, you may find it useful to use a timer so that you can relax into the pose, holding for 2-5minutes.

            Yoga can be a great tool to bring variety to your workouts, achieve your fitness goals, and increase your overall health.  When you choose activities that specifically target your goals, you will be much more effective at achieving the outcome you desire.