Yoga has never been so popular and enthusiasts will be keen to tell you it’s quite the miracle worker – from improved sleep and a better sex life, to toned arms and leaner legs, it works from the inside out, from top to bottom for improved well-being and all-round fitness.
So if you think this age-old practice is all about meditation and inner-peace think again! Yoga can offer much, much more for cardio health, for how we look and for easing our strains and stresses.
But just how can we tick off those health-quest goals with yoga?
YOGA FOR WEIGHT LOSS AND TONING
Researchers have found that yoga can help you lose weight as it’ll get you moving – and moving means burning calories. It’ll also offer improved mindfulness and mental control, resulting in you being less likely to binge.
Yoga expert Cheryl MacDonald, founder of Yoga Bellies (yogabellies.co.uk) says: “Whilst all yoga movements strengthen every muscle in the body, the more dynamic forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga yoga, also increases the internal heat in the body. With this particular yoga style, you’ll be toning and burning calories faster.”
Cheryl says to have a go at Malasana: “Basically these are yoga squats. When practising the squats focus on relaxing and letting your breath drop deeply into your belly. Stand facing the back of a chair with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed outward. Squat toward the floor as though you were going to sit down in a chair. Contract the abdominal muscles, lift the chest, and draw the shoulders back and down. Most of your weight should be directed toward your heels. Practise against a wall for support.”
“Also have a go at Paripura Navasana. This should get you well on the way to a six-pack! Sit on a mat with both legs in front of you. Place your hands behind your hips and keep your back long as you lean back slightly and lift your legs off the floor, holding your belly in and up the entire time. Reach both arms out to the sides of your thighs. Lower your legs about 45 degrees, until your body resembles a wide ‘V’. Hold this position for 10 long, deep breaths.”
FOR STRESS RELIEF
Your phone won’t stop ringing, you’ve got heaps of work to do before the morning and your partner has just asked what’s for dinner – it’s no wonder you’re stressed!
Cheryl says that the breathing aspect of yoga can really help with the everyday stress and anxiety we all experience: “Learning to breathe properly, known in yoga as Pranyama, can really help us to switch off. Taking time to focus on each breath and not worrying about anything else can allow oxytocin to be released.” Oxytocin is known sometimes as the ‘cuddle hormone’ as it’s the lovely warm, fuzzy hormone we get from hugs.
“Make sure you also stay for the super-relaxation bit at the end of class, known as Savasana”, advises Cheryl. “Think of it as your reward for all the hard effort you put in earlier, don’t run to the exit because you’ve got stuff to do – value this time as it’ll improve mood and will help to alleviate the stress and strain of modern living.”
Whilst we might feel too nervous to head for a hardcore spinning class, yoga can be a gentler route to increasing activity levels. Cheryl says: “For all ages, it can be a great way to balance hormones.”
Recently an Indian study found that yoga can help relieve women of hot flushes during menopause, as well as lessening anxiety, depression and mood fluctuations at that difficult time.
Cheryl says whatever your age yoga can help your body to look and feel better than ever: “It is a fantastic way to relax, tone the body and enable women to stay in shape. It builds body strength and stretches and tones muscle too.
Yoga asanas increase flexibility, strengthen and stretch the limbs and build upper body strength. Crucially they’ll also work those all-important core muscles that women need to focus on, especially if they’ve been through pregnancy and childbirth.”
Find a good teacher and they will teach at many levels in one class and offer adaptions for newbies. Cheryl’s advice is: “The most important thing is to focus on what’s happening on your mat, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. You will get just as much from a forward bend where you can only make your hands reach your knees as someone who can grab both big toes! All bodies and people are different – the great thing about yoga is that it’s not competitive.”