Yoga: Maximize Your Training with Mind-Body Connection


The captivating thing about Yoga is that you don't need to be born in India or be a Yogi, nor do you need to be certified.  You just unroll your mat, follow the directions to achieve the posture or asana, breathe while your body strengthens and let your mind calm down.

Benefits of Yoga Practice

Postural Restoration

The human body is naturally asymmetrical, just think that on one side you have the liver which weighs about 1500 grams; while on the left side you have the heart (on average 280 grams) and it has to make room in your rib cage. 

We also know that the muscles on our dominant side can be stronger.  By nature, people use their dominant hand more often. It is therefore normal for there to be small differences in strength between the muscles of the left hand and those of the right hand. But factors such as overuse can turn these small differences into major imbalances and the same with the other muscles. 

This is perhaps the first reason why Yoga can find a place in your life and that is because it helps you to find your centre of gravity again.  When you step well, stand well, are aware of a good posture, both for standing and moving; breathe properly, you do your body the great favour of avoiding imbalances, weakness, chronic pains that, if left untreated, end in injuries.

However, there are other causes for postural imbalance as Aleena Kanner, a postural restorer, explains in an interview with Dr Joseph Mercola. 

"Glasses, LASIK surgery, dental implants and root canals can affect sensory experience and therefore proper gait and posture, which in turn can lead to pain syndromes.

Dental interventions can affect the bite, which has an impact on cranial and cervical posture. If teeth are removed and not replaced with an implant, the brain may not be able to determine where the centre of gravity is, resulting in overcompensation to one side or the other.

LASIK eye surgery can trigger unexpected problems. One of the main problems is that if you set the wrong prescription, it can lead to dysfunction. With glasses, on the other hand, you are not bound to a single prescription. You can change it and get new glasses if it turns out that your symmetry was wrong". (My transcription)

Ms. Kanner is a specialist in postural correction and there are centres in several countries that focus on this treatment.  However, in this regard, Yoga offers you the possibility that through the postures that you yourself learn to perform, you synchronise yourself with your breathing, your body automatically seeks to align itself with your centre of gravity, something that is very personal because your body structure is unique and because the possible traumas you have had throughout your life, interventions, surgeries, if you have vision problems or have endured dental treatments, shape the person you are today.


Yoga Practice Can Helps You Increase Your Flexibility

Yoga postures are achieved by bringing your muscles to stretch.  When muscles are released, the range of motion of your limbs improves, your body movements become more fluid and less stiff or tired. 

In a study with university athletes, there were very positive results in terms of improved flexibility and balance compared to the control group.

According to this study, "the premise of yoga differs from other specific types of training because of its multifaceted requirements that challenge the body in a variety of ways.   When performed correctly, athletes can optimise body function by maximising movement possibilities and minimising movement restrictions. The physical practice of yoga involves maintaining regular, steady breathing while changing body position through a series of Asanas (static postures) during which all target and supporting muscle groups are engaged (under tension). Connecting the mechanics of breathing with an active musculoskeletal system while performing the postures is a holistic (complete) challenge for the whole body.”

But this benefit does not only help athletes.  People who are sedentary or must spend a large part of the day at a desk or in front of a computer can benefit from Yoga to avoid or mitigate muscle stiffness due to immobility.


You Can Increase Your Strength by Practising Vinyasa or Yoga in Motion

The truth is that practising certain types of Yoga can certainly improve flexibility, posture, and balance.  However, if you also want to strengthen your body, Ashtanga Yoga provides this complement.

Regular practice of Ashtanga Yoga allows you to strengthen both upper and lower limbs, wrists, and core.  This is achieved by performing the sequences of the "Sun Salutation" (Surya Namaskar) and the Vinyasas, which in its entirety is a dynamic and flowing sequence that tones your muscles and makes them more flexible.


Yoga can Help to Improve Blood Circulation

A recent article in the medical journal indicates that proper fitness and stress maintenance using Yoga can effectively reduce cardiovascular disease and that the practice of Yoga exercises improves cardiovascular health and reduces associated risk factors.

It is well known that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a chronic inflammatory immune disorder that affects the arteries. Over time, arteries become stenosed (narrowed) due to a build-up of arterial wall sclerosis and intimal atheroma (thickening).

If persistent, rupture-prone plaques can form, clogging the coronary arteries and causing thrombosis.

About 80% of CVD is caused by modified risk factors, the most important of which are hyperlipidaemia, body overweight, diabetes, and hypertension. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) not only top the list of causes of death worldwide but are also responsible for the greatest loss of healthy life years.

Smoking is the second most important risk factor for myocardial infarction, behind hypercholesterolemia (3 times the risk), according to the results of the INTERHEART research. Yoga acts on the stress and behavioural impulses associated with addiction and is increasingly recognised as a potential complementary treatment to conventional medical treatment for smoking cessation.

Numerous styles of yoga, including Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga, improve mood, decrease negative effects such as withdrawal, among others.


Yoga Can Help to Manage Anxiety and Reduce Stress

Yoga's key to reducing stress and anxiety lies in three pillars: body movement, breath control and clearing the mind.

Hatha Yoga is a type of Yoga that focuses on postures, some classes focus more on stretching while others consider transitions making the class more dynamic.  The choice is yours. 

As for breathing, it is an important aspect of Yoga practice and although breathing is an involuntary act, you can become aware of it and thus have the power to regulate it.  Yoga teaches you at when to breathe in, when to breathe out and how to breathe while holding a posture.  These times give you the opportunity to find calmness during the posture, to allow the muscles to release without pressure and to let your thoughts wander away from worries.

Finally, the third pillar of Yoga is to control the racing mind, but already through achieving the postures that require physical effort and concentration, you are forcing yourself to let go of so much thinking and worrying.  Likewise, becoming aware of your breathing again forces you to let go of other thoughts.  Both postures and controlled breathing can be considered basic meditation techniques.  

Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga practice can be part of a programme to reduce excess body weight. In 2022 a topical review of 22 studies showed that Yoga can help reduce overweight, muscle mass index, body fat percentage and waist circumference among obese participants who took part in these studies.

The truth is that with any type of exercise, be it athletics, weightlifting or Yoga, you are activating your metabolism which causes you to burn calories.  The difference is that Yoga is a practice that because of the mind-body connection, the gentle but demanding movements and postures, as well as the controlled breathing, contributes to making better food choices daily, to you noticing every part of your body and as you get deeper into the practice, you can see how your body is changing. 

Yoga can Help Improve Sleep Quality

According to a publication by the US National Library of Medicine,  "One possible reason for the improved sleep quality in Yoga practitioners is that Yoga exercises involve stretching and relaxation of muscles causing significant physical and mental exertion resulting in shorter sleep latency (time from sleep onset to the onset of the first REM sleep), deeper sleep, fewer sleep disturbances, and improved sleep efficiency. As the average duration of the study participants' Yoga practices was 5.26 years, it can be said that the benefits of Yoga were maintained even after long-term Yoga practice in the Yoga group compared to the control group. However, the exact relationship between yoga and better sleep quality remains to be elucidated."


Types of Yoga

There are styles of Yoga that increase your heart rate and, consequently, your metabolism.  These are,

Vinyasa, which involves continuous movement and breathing from posture to posture.

Ashtanga, which is characterised by rigorous repetition of a series of postures linked by transitions and corresponding breathing.

Power yoga, which is characterised by rapid movements and postures held for three to five breaths.

Hot yoga (formerly known as Bikram), which is practised in a heated room.

For slower classes that require concentration and physical stamina, Hatha Yoga which focuses on postural and breathing techniques, traditionally to channel the source of vital energy. In Sanskrit, Ha means Hatha translates as strength. The practice involves breath, body (postures) and mind (meditation).


Strength Training with Yoga

Many people think of Yoga as a sequence of stretches, which is also true, but much more as you have seen. How can you strengthen your muscles through Yoga? In principle, there are Yoga postures that force you to strengthen your muscles while holding it, as is the case with

Downward facing dog pose. Strengthens the arms and legs.

The half-moon pose. Strengthens legs and ankles.

Plank pose. Strengthens arms, wrists and back.

Locust pose. Strengthens the back of the torso, legs, and arms.

However, there are quite demanding types of Yoga such as Ashtanga Yoga where reverse postures are practiced (handstand, headstand, or forearm balance which is known as Pincha Mayurasana); and transitions that require lifting the weight of the body (Tolasana) and that clearly strengthen and tone the muscles, that does require discipline and perseverance.   So, there is something for everyone.


How to Get Started

Personally, I started to incorporate Yoga postures at the end of my workouts and little by little I developed a special taste for it as I felt that it really relaxed me and that the postures allowed me to connect with the trained muscles and to give me a moment with myself before changing to leave the gym.

I then looked for books myself that listed Yoga sessions of varying lengths that I liked to do on my days off from training. Eventually, the opportunity to get certified in Hatha Yoga presented itself.

Now, Yoga classes are everywhere, mainly in gyms or studios dedicated to this practice.  There are also online courses that you can follow from home, although I recommend face-to-face classes so that your teacher can correct you and give you advice according to your specific conditions.  Moreover, inform your teacher of any health problems you may have, such as hypertension or arthritis, as well as any injuries or physical problems. A good teacher will know which exercises are best for you and will tell you which postures to avoid.


Useful Tips for Preventing Muscle Imbalances with the Help of Yoga

Vary your exercises.  This is most easily achieved with Vinyasa Yoga classes because each class is different.  Or simply incorporate a weekly Yoga class into your existing exercise routine.

Make sure the exercises use both sides of the body.  Yoga classes usually make sure that each posture or exercise alternates each side of the body.

Don't wait until you get to a Yoga class to stretch.  Try to do some of the postures while standing to stay flexible and avoid muscle retractions. Try at least 5-10 minutes a day of stretching focusing on the core, upper and lower extremity muscles.

Stay moderately active throughout the day. Physical activity throughout the day - even a few minutes every hour - can help keep muscles relaxed as well as balanced, blood flowing and aware of your body's centre of gravity. If you spend too much time sitting, as many office workers do, you can do some quick desk exercises.

For me personally, I love practising Yoga because the only equipment I need, wherever I am, is a flat piece of floor and my body, so there are no excuses.

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