The Best Back Exercises: How Yoga Can Help with Back Pain

Back pain is extremely common. It doesn’t discriminate when it comes to culture, fitness levels, career choice, or your overall health. And as you age, back pain may become part of your everyday reality. 

But just because it’s a common ailment doesn’t mean it has to rule your life and place a limit on your capabilities. Back pain can be managed and even banished with the help of yoga. 

If you’re looking to ease your pain, here’s how yoga-based back exercises can help. 

The Benefits of Yoga for Back Pain 

Yoga is a practice that is centuries old, but it has made its mark in the world of health and fitness. Today the practice of yoga can be harnessed to improve strength, flexibility, improve mobility, and alleviate pain. 

While yoga may not be the best option for very severe back pain, it’s a healthy practice that can be used to manage chronic aches and pains. 

Yoga helps to lengthen the spine, stretch and lengthen the muscles, and even re-align parts of the body that could be out of place.

Yoga’s focus on balance and flexibility encourages your body to build up a defense against what could be causing your back pain. More often-than-not, back pain stems from poor posture, weak abdominal and pelvic muscles, and very tight hips. 

By strengthening these key muscle groups, this helps to lighten the load on your back and reduce your pain. 

6 Yoga-Based Back Exercises to Alleviate Your Pain

If you’re looking to focus on a more restorative practice rather than a strengthening one, here are some of the most common yoga poses for back pain.

1. Cat and Cow Pose 

This is a great pose for an achy back, whether the pain is in your lower, middle or upper back body. It’s also a good pose to warm you up for the rest of your yoga practice. 

Begin on all fours on your yoga mat. Slowly move into cat pose by drawing in your belly-button and arching your spine to the sky.

Breathe in as you do so. Then hold for a few seconds. As you exhale, move into cow pose and release your core, relax your spine towards the ground, and press your tail bone towards the sky.

Make sure to engage your shoulder blades and lift your head upwards. Hold for a few seconds.    

Repeat this flow approximately 10 times through to relax your back muscles into a neutral position.   

2. Downward-Facing Dog 

This is a classic yoga pose that targets the hamstrings, and lower back extensors. 

Begin on all fours on your yoga mat. Then, move your hands a little further towards the front of your mat, away from your shoulders. As you straighten your arms and press backward, raise your knees off the floor and lift your tailbone to the sky.

To stretch out your hamstrings, gently press your heels toward the floor. For an extra lower-back stretch, bend your knees slightly and push deeper into the stretch. 

Hold this position for 5-10 breaths and repeat up to 5-7 times, depending on your lower back pain and stiffness.  

3. Upward-Facing Dog 

This pose is great for engaging the lower back and simultaneously stretching the abdominal muscles. 

Begin by lying flat on your stomach on your yoga mat. Place your palms facedown, just next to your rib cage. As you draw your legs together and press into the tops of your feet, lift your front body away from the ground.

Try to use the strength of your back muscles and not your hands to lift your chest. Make sure your legs and feet are extended behind you and flat on the ground. 

Hold this position for 10 breaths and repeat as many times as your back allows. 

4. Pigeon Pose

If you have tight hip flexor and rotator muscles this can only compound your back pain. Pigeon pose is a great way to warm and loosen these tight muscles and ease your pain. However, it’s important to proceed slowly with this pose if you are new to yoga or have severe back pain. 

Begin in a downward-facing dog position, but keep your feet together, rather than hip-width apart. Draw your left knee forward towards the front of your mat. Then, turn your leg out a little to the left so that it bends to a 45-degree angle.

Then slowly lower yourself to the ground. Keep your rear leg straight and stretched out behind you and support your torso by placing your hands on either side of your front leg. You should feel a good, deep stretch in the hip joints. 

Hold this position for 5-10 breaths and don’t forget to repeat on the other side! 

5. Thread the Needle Pose

This is great pose for those with lower back pain, tight hamstrings, quads, hips, and outer thighs. It’s also a simpler version of the pigeon pose if that is a little too severe on your back. 

To begin, lay on your back on your yoga mat with your knees bent and soles of the feet flat on your mat. Keep your feet hip-distance apart. Then draw up your right leg and place your right ankle over your left thigh.

Remember to keep your foot flexed throughout this pose for an extra stretch. 

Then, thread your right arm between the space of the legs and your left arm around the outside of your left thigh. Interlace your fingers behind the knee and draw the top of the thigh down towards your chest for a deeper stretch.  

Hold this position for 1-3 minutes, depending on what you can manage. 

6. Supine Twist

A deep twist of the spine is a fantastic way to alleviate tension and pain throughout the entire back as well as the neck. 

Lay down on your back on your yoga mat and keep your legs bent, soles of the feet flat on the mat. Extend your arms out to either side of your body, keep them at shoulder-height. Slowly bring your knees up to your chest, and twist them across to the left as gravity pulls them down to the ground.

Make sure to keep your neck neutral as you turn your head to look across your right shoulder. Keep both shoulders flat on the mat as you repeat this flow.

Hold each position for 1-3 minutes at a time and don’t forget to repeat on the other side. 

Looking for Yoga Flow Inspiration? 

I’m Centered is here to help you find relief from pain and tension with yoga-based back exercises, strengthening sequences, and more. 

Visit our London-based studio for yoga classes for all levels of practice, or check out our online yoga content for tutorials and classes. 

How to Practice Yoga for Concentration and Memory Improvement

Do you ever find that you have trouble focusing on what you’re doing? Maybe you’re cooking dinner and realize you put the oven mitts in the refrigerator and the butter in the drawer. Or maybe you’re driving down the road worrying about a project coming up at work and you realize you don’t remember the last several miles.

Our world is more fast-paced than ever, and too often we don’t take the time to slow down and pay attention. Starting a yoga practice can help you change that. Read on to learn more about yoga for concentration, improving your memory and how you can start a practice today.

Overall Benefits of Yoga 

Although yoga is a great tool for improving memory and concentration, it also offers a huge number of other health benefits. On the physical side of things, you gain greater flexibility and tone when you practice yoga. You may also find it easier to breathe – literally – and have better cardiac health.

Yoga is a form of meditation, and so comes with a number of the same benefits. It is a wonderful stress reliever and can help ease pain and make it easier to sleep. It relaxes the mind and creates mental clarity and calmness, which can be helpful for anxiety, depression, reducing stress and help improve your overall brain health.

How Yoga Helps Concentration

For many of us, concentration problems stem from the fact that our minds are always running in a million different directions, which makes it difficult to pay attention. We’re thinking about when we have to pick the kids up from practice, the projects we have going at work, what’s for dinner, chores we need to do around the house, and when we’re going to call our best friend. That doesn’t leave much space for us to concentrate and stay focused on the task at hand.

What yoga does is teach us to compartmentalize and focus on one thing at a time. When you’re doing yoga, you’re focusing on your breath and the movements in your body. That practice of shutting out distractions will carry over to the rest of your life, making it easier for you to let go of everything else going on and focus on the task at hand.

Tips for Practicing

Everybody’s yoga practice is different, and the key to building one that works for you is to listen to your needs. Yoga is a time to get back in touch with your body and your mind, listen to what they are telling you, and be with them non-judgmentally. So bring that acceptance into your practice.

When you’re trying a new pose, or practicing your favorite yoga poses, don’t push things to the point of pain; instead, try to gently lean into the poses that you struggle with while giving your body the space it needs. Practicing in loose-fitting clothing and on an empty stomach will make this easier. And if you find you have trouble winding down or shutting out other thoughts, some gentle meditation music in the background can serve as a signal that this is time to focus on your body, your breath, and your practice.

Inversion Poses 

Doing inversion yoga poses where you are upside down can do a few things to improve your concentration. For one thing, it promotes a rich flow of blood to the brain, encouraging brain health. And for another, these poses often require some balance, which requires focus and patience — two important skills to have.

Stand straight up with your feet wider than your shoulders, clasp your hands behind your back, and slowly lean over until you are bent double with your hands clasped at your low back. You can also lay on the floor on your back and lift your legs up in the air, bracing your elbows at your sides and using your hands to help lift your hips up off the floor. And if you’re feeling daring, you can try a headstand.

Balance Poses

Yoga poses that focus specifically on balance require greater concentration and are great for learning to tune out distractions. You can’t focus on balancing if you’re thinking about what’s on your grocery list. These also strengthen your core, as well as your arms and legs.

A great balance pose to start with is Vrksasana, or Tree Pose. Place your hands folded at the center of your chest, shift your weight to one leg, and put the other foot on your leg as high up as you can. You can also do Garudasana, or Eagle Pose, by crossing one leg over the other and then tucking your ankle back around your supporting leg, followed by placing one arm over the other and then bringing your palms around to meet in front of your face.

Seated Poses

Seated yoga poses are great for bringing your focus back to your breath and centering your mind. These poses are low-impact, which makes them great for beginners and for finishing out practices.

Start in Lotus Pose, or Padmasana, sitting cross-legged with your feet tucked up on top of your thighs. You can then extend your arms up over your head with your palms together for Parvatasana, or Seated Mountain Pose. Or you can sit in Vajrasana, or Thunderbolt Pose, kneeling with your lower legs tucked under your upper legs.

Breath Control

Everything in yoga comes back to pranayama, which is the practice of controlling your breath. You focus on your breath, control it, and use it as a mechanism to get back in touch with the rest of your body. There are a variety of breath control techniques you can use in your practice.

Start by using your thumb to close your left nostril and then inhaling deeply through the right. Hold that breath in, open your left nostril, and close your right nostril with your pinky finger. Exhale through your left nostril, inhale slowly again, and switch back.

You can also chant or hum on every exhale as a technique to help center yourself.

Try Yoga for Concentration and Memory

Yoga is a fantastic practice that can calm stress, reduce pain, and give you greater flexibility. But you can also use yoga for improving your concentration and memory. Start with a simple ten-minute practice and watch how much that little bit of time will change your life.

If you’d like a space to get started with your yoga practice, come see us. We offer yoga classes in London. Contact us today to schedule your first class and start restoring peace to your life.

9 Knee Strengthening Yoga Poses

Everyone goes through aches and pains in their life, it’s a sign of experience and the adventures that you’ve taken.

As the body’s foundation, the legs are especially susceptible to pain and tightness, which will force joints like the knees and ankles to undergo some painful throbbing as well.

People search far and wide for ways that offer knee pain relief, such as over the counter medication, when all they truly need is to incorporate yoga.

Not only does it help with recovery, but yoga can also make those knees stronger and prevent pain and future injuries.

Here are 9 amazing knee strengthening yoga poses and how to correctly perform them.

1. Chair

Many yoga postures that you see on this list are geared towards strengthening the leg as a unit, not separate muscles.

Building strength in the muscles that surround your knee will help them to support the joints and not rely on them so heavily.

Doing the Chair pose helps your body start to understand the concept of distributing weight between your hips and knees, as well as every muscle in-between.

Imagine doing a wall sit exercise with your legs at a 115-degree angle… now take out the wall. That’s essentially the leg workout you can expect.

Start by standing up with proper posture while putting your feet and legs together side-by-side. Sink your hips down as if you’re going to sit in a chair while having your arms raised straight up into the air.

Make sure your chest stays lifted, and keep the weight evenly distributed on the back of your heels for proper alignment. 

Stay in this pose for 1-2 minutes and focus on your breathing, repeat 2-3 more times for a strengthening exercise.

This will start to develop your hips and thighs a bit more. And your calves will start to feel the burn as well, for support from the other side of the knee.

2. Mountain

Those that aren’t super familiar with yoga practices may see this pose as no different than just regularly standing. However, it is so much more than that.

The mountain pose is vital to teaching you good posture while training your muscles to be receptive to that notion. It also allows for relaxation and optimum breathing techniques.

To get yourself into the mountain pose, start by standing straight up on your yoga mat with your feet a hip’s width apart from each other.

Make sure that your hips are stacked directly over your feet and your shoulders directly over your hips for proper alignment. Do not lock your knees for this exercise, it’ll contradict the entire pose.

Next, roll your shoulders up and back to open up your chest. At the same time, rotate your thighs inward to activate your quads. You should start to feel the burn on the back of your legs.

To engage your arms in the mountain pose, have your palms facing in front of you and spread your fingers out so they aren’t touching each other.

Keep your head raised and tuck your chin slightly into your neck as you close your eyes and focus on the rhythm of your breathing. Stand in this pose for about 1-2 minutes and revert back to it a few times during your routine.

3. Warrior II

Now it’s time to activate each leg individually for the first time, and the Warrior II pose (one of several warrior poses) is a great pose for improving your balance.

Not only are you activating each leg muscle group on an individual leg basis, you’re also keeping your core engaged throughout and giving those shoulders a workout.

Start by taking your left foot and placing it in front of you (pointing forwards) while placing your right foot behind you at a 45-degree angle. This will open up your hips for the entire exercise.

Bend your left leg and make sure your left knee is directly over your left foot; keep your right leg straight while you lunge with your left.

Next, raise your arms on both sides to be completely horizontal and turn your head to face the front. 

Focus on your breathing and keeping your back straight. Wait for 1 minute and then switch legs.

4. Forward Fold

The more flexible you are, the more impressive this pose will look. But it will still work wonders regardless of your flexibility.

Start by standing up with your knees a few inches apart from each other. Refrain from locking your knees as you take your head and slowly lower it to the ground. 

If you can, touch the ground with your palms and keep the arms bent (they aren’t the priority of this pose).

For more stretching, you can take your hands and place them on your calves to slowly stretch the hamstrings and hips. This will also lengthen the back a bit more.

Focus on your breathing and try to stretch a bit more with every exhale, repeat for 4-5 breathes before returning to a standing position.

5. Bridge

The bridge pose will have that knee pain feeling like water under the “bridge” in no time! 

Cheesy jokes aside, it’s one of the best postures out there for engaging your buttocks and core simultaneously.

Start by laying on your back and take your feet (shoulder-width apart) and bend your legs while you set the bottom of your feet down on the ground.

Place your arms down beside you and lift your midsection up to the sky by pushing the floor with your heels; keep your shoulders rolled back.

Make sure to squeeze your glutes as tight as possible and take slow, deep breaths. 

Take 4-5 deep breathes in bridge pose before moving onto the next one!

6. Warrior I

Not to be outdone by Warrior II, Warrior I activates more of your core to stretch the legs a bit more in front of you.

Same as the Warrior II, start with your left foot in front of you (pointing forward) while you step your right foot back behind you and into a 45-degree angle again.

Raise your arms completely up towards the sky and lunge your left leg so that your knee is directly over the foot. Keep the back leg straight, but do not lock your knee.

Next, arch your chest towards the sky, allowing your head to go back with it.

Extend your arms as far back as you can and concentrate on your breathing. With every exhale, try to reach your arms back a bit more. Take 4-5 deep breathes before switching to the opposite leg.

7. Triangle

Place your feet wide and place your left leg in front of you and straighten it (again, don’t lock your knee). 

Bend your body to the side towards the front leg while reaching your other hand to the sky. Turn your head to look up at the hand that’s reaching upwards.

Try to resist turning your hips and keep your core activated as you go along. Again, focus on your breathing for 3-4 deep breathes. Then come back to a standing position before doing the same triangle pose on the opposite side.

8. Pyramid

Start in a standing pose, then take your right foot and place it around 3 feet behind you so that your legs form a pyramid shape (hence the name of the pose).

Keep your feet only a hip-width apart from each other and start to bend forward, keeping your back straight. Engage your core and place your hands behind your back.

If you’re a beginner, feel free to place your arms along either side of your front leg to keep your balance. 

Focus on bending further into the pose with every exhale. Take 5-6 breaths before returning to a standing position and switching to the opposite leg.

9. Peaceful Warrior

Who knew warriors did so much yoga, right?

For this version of the warrior pose, take your left foot and set it behind you at a 45-degree angle, bending your right leg into a squat position.

Keep your back straight and torso opened-up as your face forward. Extend your arms out to either side and open your palms to the sky.

Now, take your left hand and lower it down to touch your left leg, slowly arching your back. At the same time, take your right hand and lift it over your head.

Take a few deep breathes, and wait around 45 seconds to a minute before returning to a standing position and switching to the opposite leg.

Try These Knee Strengthening Yoga Poses Today!

Nothing will get you into a better frame-of-mind than a thorough yoga session. Put these knee strengthening yoga poses to work in your next practice.

Please be sure to check back with our website frequently for the latest tips and tricks in the yoga universe!

While you’re at it, check out this article on great poses for two yogis so that you can find out about other poses to use with a partner.

How Often Should You Do Yoga? Find the Right Regimen for You

Get this: the yoga industry is worth more than £875 million in the United Kingdom. What does this mean? With over 10,000 yoga teachers at your disposal, it’d be crazy not to try out a live yoga class in London.

Many people wonder, “How often should you do yoga?” The answer can vary, but this guide will help you find the right number of weekly sessions for your body!

How Often Should You Do Yoga?

You might be wondering: how many times a week should I do yoga, or is yoga once a week enough? The truth is, the answer really depends on your own personal preferences and goals. But no matter if you practice once a day or once a week, you’re definitely going to start seeing results off and on the mat soon enough.

Question: Can I do yoga every day?

For starters, the amount of time that you choose to dedicate to your yoga practice depends on a couple of important factors, including your financial budget and your health needs.

While some advanced yogis practice every single day, you don’t have to be a pro to get started. That being said, we highly recommend that yoga beginners practice once every two weeks, or once a week if possible. 

We know what you’re thinking: how often should I do yoga? Based on everything we mentioned above, it’s up to you to figure out what your individual goals are for your practice. 

For those that don’t have a lot of time in their day, there’s no harm in dedicating at least one hour per week to your yoga mat. But if you have much larger health goals in mind, then you may want to practice several times a week, if not daily!

In case you’re new to yoga, you can always add more time to your mat as you gain experience. Our general rule of thumb is that the more time that you spend on the mat, the better you’ll be!

But what’s the real deal about the perks of becoming a yogi?

What Are the Benefits of Doing Yoga?

What are the benefits of doing yoga? Some of the most popular reasons that people get into yoga in the first place include:

  • Relieving anxiety and stress issues
  • Building balance and flexibility
  • Improving your heart health
  • Building muscle and increasing strength
  • You can even lose weight by doing yoga

First of all, those that practice yoga find that it adds more tranquility and peace into their daily lives. As a natural way to relieve anxiety and stress issues, yoga also helps practitioners catch up on sleep too. One study showed that people with mild levels of stress who did yoga once per week found overall improvement in anxiety levels within a couple of months.

On top of that, doing yoga regularly can help you to build your balance and flexibility as well, It’s no wonder why a ton of professional athletes do yoga to avoid injuries and take their game to the next level.

Don’t believe us? According to another yoga study on male athletes, the men who practiced yoga daily were way more balanced and flexible than their non-yogi counterparts. The result: practicing yoga on a regular basis is the key to stepping up your physical fitness.

Imagine this: practicing yoga can even help to improve your heart health too. Not only that, but doing yoga consistently can also reduce inflammation and body pain as well.

Have high blood pressure? Don’t worry, getting into a healthy yoga routine can help to reduce that. Not to mention increasing low pulse rates. Sounds like a win-win to us! 

Practicing Different Yoga Styles

Do you yoga? Then you probably already know how many different yoga styles are out there. It gets better: each unique style has its own set of rules, techniques, and outcomes too.

Determining your personal goals before you begin your yoga practice is the best way to figure out which yoga style is best for you. If you need a push in the right direction, here are a couple of our favorite yoga flows:

  • Vinyasa yoga
  • Restorative yoga
  • Bikram yoga 

Vinyasa yoga is one of the most advanced styles of yoga. Since it involves a lot of fast-paced, vigorous yoga moves, vinyasa yoga is fantastic for those who are looking to lose weight during their practice. 

Also referred to as ashtanga vinyasa yoga, this special technique is more of a modern take on traditional Indian yoga. As an energetic and hot style, vinyasa flow is all about syncing your movements with your breath. As a result, your yoga instructor will often help you find your flow between poses.

What about those who are looking for a more slow, meditative yoga style? If that’s the case, then you can’t go wrong with restorative yoga. Focused on relieving stress and improving flexibility, restorative yoga often includes a certain posture sequence.

That’s not all. Restorative yoga is the best way to work on slowing down your breath and opening up your body by stretching for extended periods of time. Don’t be surprised if you feel deeply relaxed after practicing this zen-like technique!

And then there’s Bikram yoga, or hot yoga. Commonly performed in a heated room, Bikram yoga is a wonderful way to open up your muscles, making it easier to get into more difficult positions.

Studio vs. Online Yoga Classes

Dying to do yoga every day? Here’s the thing. When it comes to studio versus online yoga practice, nothing beats getting in a real classroom in front of an experienced yoga teacher.

In fact, beginning your practice in a live studio is a great way to add yoga into your daily routine. And if you’re not sure how often you’ll attend class, you can also choose a class package that fits your budget and your schedule. Plus, there’s nothing better than having your instruction adjust your positions in real-time.

Another amazing perk about studio yoga classes is that it can feel less intimidating to practice among a bunch of other students. In addition, live yoga classes are an excellent way to meet like-minded friends.

But here’s the catch. If you don’t have the time or money to practice in a studio, you can always try online yoga classes. Although it’s not as personalized as face to face instruction, it’s still a good way to begin your practice.

We can’t emphasize this enough: once you feel comfortable with your home-based practice, you might want to take your skills to a live yoga studio. Not only will you get to show off what you learned, but you’ll be able to improve your yoga positions too. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

But improving your yoga postures, or asanas, is only one small part of the yoga experience; meditation, breathwork, and diet are also incredibly vital to your practice. 

The point is, there’s no “one size fits all” guidebook for living a yoga lifestyle. But with your instructor’s help, you’ll find balance in no time!

How Often You Do Yoga is Totally Up to You!

Are you still asking yourself: “How often should you do yoga for best results?”

The truth is, it really depends on your personal goals and budget. However, those that practice yoga at least once a week have seen tremendous benefits — including, as we’ve seen:

   * Relieve anxiety and stress issues.

   * Build balance and flexibility.

   * Help to improve your heart health.

Confused by all the different yoga styles? Fortunately, we’ve done all the hard work for you. From ashtanga vinyasa and restorative to Bikram yoga, we’ve got you covered. Need a push in the right direction? Sign up for one of our classes!

Yoga for Runners 101: These Are the Benefits and How to Practice

Many runners are hesitant to add yoga to their weekly workout schedule. They feel like they don’t have any time for it given how many runs they do each week, or they don’t see the benefits of adding yoga to their routine.

In reality, yoga is the perfect complement to running. And practicing yoga regularly can help improve running performance.

Wondering about the benefits of yoga for runners and how runners can easily add yoga into their routine? Read on to find out everything you need to know.

Benefits of Yoga for Runners

Practicing yoga is beneficial for both the body and the mind. Anybody can benefit from adding some yoga into their weekly routine. Runners who are looking to improve their performance, prevent injury, take care of their bodies, and gain more mental focus should definitely do yoga a few times per week.

Here are a few specific ways that yoga running can help you run faster and longer than ever before.

Better Breath Control

The foundation of yoga is linking breath with movement. While this sounds like an easy task, it’s harder than you’d think. In our mile a minute world, we rarely slow down to focus on our breath.

Runners are more aware than most of how breath powers movement. If you’re struggling to breathe during a run, your performance tanks quickly.

Yoga teaches you how to pay close attention to your breath and how it feels in your body. It also teaches you how to keep the focus on your breath as you move, and use your breath to power you through pose transitions or hold a pose when it feels tough. 

The breathwork practices that accompany yoga also train you to breathe more deeply than you normally would, which brings more oxygen to your muscles. This increased oxygen allows for better muscle performance and less fatigue.

Learning more about how breath impacts movement through regular yoga practice can help improve any runner’s breath control, which leads to better runs. 

Build Strength in Different Muscle Groups

Running requires a lot of strength in many muscle groups, but also very specific muscle groups.

When you run frequently, you’re using and often overusing a very specific set of muscles. If these muscles are overused frequently without focusing on strength in opposing muscle groups, our bodies start to overcompensate. This overcompensation can lead to injuries.

Yoga is a total body exercise that helps build strength in all your muscle groups. Through yoga, runners can build strength in muscle groups that they don’t use when running.

Building strength in these underused muscle groups provides more balance and stability. It also ensures that the muscle groups used in running are properly supported so that overcompensation doesn’t occur. This helps prevent injury.

Runners who are looking to keep their whole body strong and prevent injury can achieve these goals by adding a few yoga practices into their routines. 

Keep Muscles Loose and Limber

Every runner knows that running multiple times per week leads to some pretty tight, sore muscles. Most avid runners know that stretching before and after runs is essential. Some do and some don’t. The ones who don’t eventually pay for their lack of stretching with an injury.

If you’re not great at stretching on your own around your runs, yoga is the perfect opportunity to give your tight, sore muscles the attention they need.

Yoga stretches out all your major muscle groups. And many of the poses focus on stretching muscles that are particularly tight in runners – hamstrings, quads, and hips. 

When you hold yoga poses for extended periods of time, the fascia (the connective tissue between the muscles) lengthens. This leads to looser, more limber muscles. 

The heat that you build by doing poses in quick succession, such as when you do sun salutations, also helps improve the stretches because your body is warm while you stretch. 

Any runner who struggles with tightness and soreness will feel better if they take the time to really stretch their muscles. And practicing yoga is the perfect opportunity! 

Injury Prevention

Runners are very prone to overuse injuries. These injuries occur because running creates imbalances in the body by overusing specific muscle groups. When those muscle groups become too tight from overuse, injury occurs. When those muscles groups aren’t supported by the surrounding muscle groups, injury occurs.

Practicing yoga regularly ensures that both muscles don’t get too tight, and that the muscle groups not used by running are strong enough to support the muscle groups that are used by running.

Yoga also teaches you how to be acutely aware of how your body feels and what it’s telling you. Runners are often trained to shut off what their body is telling them so they can push through a tough run.

But not listening to your body when it’s trying to tell you something important — like you’re about to get hurt — can lead to injury. Learning to tune in and listen to your body while maintaining movement, the way you do in yoga, can help runners listen to and respect their bodies’ signals.

So, yoga can be an essential part of injury prevention for runners.

Increased Mental Focus and Toughness

When a run doesn’t feel good, when it gets really hard, it takes a lot to push through that and continue the run. It takes a lot of mental focus and mental toughness to push through like that.

Runners who choose to race, especially long distances, really need mental focus and toughness to succeed. But even runners who don’t compete will need to call on that mental focus and toughness at some point.

Yoga is an incredible way to build mental focus and toughness.

Yoga is as much a practice for the mind as it is the body. When you practice yoga, you turn the focus inward and learn to calm the mind. And you learn how to take that calmness into your movement.

When a pose feels really hard during practice, yoga encourages you to use the breath and mental focus to maintain the pose. Yoga challenges you to use the power of mind and breath to push through, which builds mental toughness.

Runners that are looking to improve the mental aspect of their running will learn a lot from practicing yoga regularly. 

How to Add Yoga into Your Weekly Routine

If you’re now convinced that yoga will benefit your running, you’re probably wondering how you can add some yoga practice to your weekly routine. 

The good news is that you can see benefits by adding a yoga practice to any part of your weekly routine. It doesn’t really matter if you practice yoga before or after you run. And if you choose a gentle yoga practice like Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, or Restorative yoga, you can practice on the days that you run too! 

Yoga really fits anywhere in your weekly routine, as long as you choose your practice well. What does that look like?

On your cross-training days, you can add a Power Yoga class to build both strength and cardio. Or you can choose a Vinyasa class that focuses on holding poses for a long time to build strength.

On days when you have runs scheduled, choose a slow class that focuses on holding poses to stretch the muscles. Hatha, Yin, and Restorative classes are a great way to prepare for a run or recover from a run.

On rest days you can choose a slow class that focuses on meditation and breathwork, so you can mentally and physically prepare for your next run.

Start by adding one or two classes to your weekly routine on cross-training or rest days. When you get more used to practicing, you can add as many practices as you want to your weekly routine. 

Yoga Poses That Help Runners

Any of the poses you encounter in a yoga sequence have some benefit for runners. Poses that stretch the muscle groups you constantly use when you run are the ones that will provide the most benefit initially. 

Here are some of the best stretches for after running that focus on stretching your hips, hamstrings, and quads — since these are probably the muscle groups that need the most attention.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is perfect for stretching your inner and outer hips, your glutes, and your back.

Bring one leg forward, with your shin parallel to the top of the mat and your leg bent. Your other leg stretches out straight behind you. Slowly fold forward and hold the pose for 10 to 15 breaths.

When you complete one side, switch to the other.

Saddle Pose

Saddle pose is a great pose for stretching out your quads and your back.

Sit upright on your heels. Slowly reach behind you and plant your hands with your fingertips pointing toward your butt. Slowly fold your torso backward until you feel a big stretch in your quads.

Hold for 10-15 breaths. 

Forward Folds

Forward folds are wonderful for your hamstrings and your back. And they can be practiced in many ways to stretch these muscles in a different way.

While sitting, extend your legs out in front of you. Fold over your legs, reaching for your toes. Hold for 10-15 breaths.

Or you can stand with your legs wide apart and slowly fold forward, reaching for the floor. This wide-legged standing forward fold has the additional benefit of stretching your hips as well as your hamstrings and back.

Lizard Pose

Lizard pose is the ultimate pose for runners because it hits all your sore areas – hips, back, hamstrings and glutes.

Step one foot forward and leave the other leg long behind you, coming into a runner’s lunge. Lower the knee of the extended leg. Step the front foot out to the edge of your mat, creating more space. Plant both hands inside the front foot and lean into the pose. If you have the flexibility you can come down to your elbows.

Hold for 10-15 breaths.

Yoga and Running – The Perfect Pair

Runners who want to improve their performance, care for their bodies and minds, and feel better will see awesome benefits from adding yoga practice to their weekly routine. Regular yoga practice offers runners the opportunity to cross-train, rest, and recover — which makes it the perfect complement to any running regimen.

For more information about yoga for runners and other benefits of yoga, check out our blog.

14 Qualities That Make a Yoga Teacher Great

Do you have a yoga teacher with whom you just completely resonate? It’s an amazing feeling to go into a class and experience that sort of connection. 

What is it, exactly, that makes you feel so at one with that person? The reasons why one person clicks with another so deeply can be elusive.

There will always be instructors with whom you feel a stronger bond than others. And the student beside you may not feel nearly as strong a connection. So be it. 

But deep bonding aside, there ARE certain qualities that every great yoga teacher possesses. We’ll take a look at 14 of them here.

1. Checks in with His/Her Students

If you’ve ever attended a class only to encounter a bored or disinterested teacher sitting in the lobby and looking at his or her smartphone, it probably didn’t bode well for the class.

A mindful teacher knows the importance of making some sort of preliminary connection with the students. Whether it’s a smile and an introduction to someone new, or just simply asking how a regular student is doing.

This is particularly important if a student is dealing with some sort of injury that will require modifications. 

Checking in can be tricky though. Some students come into the studio ready to talk and share, while others have come for peace and quiet in a safe space. The more intuitive an instructor, the more likely that he or she will know just how much interaction the student requires. 

No interaction at all is a red flag. 

2. Shows up Prepared

This does not necessarily mean that the instructor should have a set flow or series of asana memorized and at the ready.

Some teachers like to plan their classes. But others work more spontaneously and intuitively – getting a read of the energy and the students in the room and catering the class to that.

But in either case, a prepared teacher doesn’t float into the studio one minute before class, out of breath and without having given some time or thought to how they will lead the class.

They will ideally be there already so they can set the tone and create a specific environment.  

3. Is Aware of Proper Alignment

Yoga teachers who have taken the time and training to learn alignment understand its inherent importance in avoiding injury.

This doesn’t mean that every teacher needs to come from the Iyengar lineage. But any respectable shala or training program will place a strong emphasis on alignment.

There’s almost nothing more frustrating to a yoga teacher than to go to another teacher’s class and watch students flail about with a blatant lack of regard to alignment while nobody corrects them. 

This is a sure recipe for injury.

4. Knows Appropriate Adjustments

Improper adjustments can be just as egregious, if not more so, than the utter lack of them.

Some teachers are quite comfortable with hands-on adjustments to help their students find the proper alignment in their bodies. And if they are doing them safely and respectfully, such adjustments are tremendously helpful.

Once again though, a good teacher understands that not everyone is comfortable being touched. Therefore, a compassionate instructor will often have everyone settle onto their backs and close their eyes before requesting that those who don’t wish to be touched give some sort of quiet signal.

Verbal adjustments are also valuable and can help the student determine the proper alignment without feeling vulnerable. 

Using verbal adjustments is also best practice if there is any sort of recognized physical attraction between the teacher and the student. This is a line that no respectable yoga teacher crosses.

5. Caters To All Levels of Practitioners

In the West, the dogged focus on asana and postures can quickly take students away from experiencing the deeper levels of the practice.

Teachers need to be cautious not to fall into this trap.

While students who’ve been practicing a long time might want arm balances and inversions in an all-level class, a skilled yoga teacher knows the importance of creating a class that is completely accessible to new students.

The ability to offer plenty of space and modifications in each pose allows each student to explore at their level of experience. 

6. Allows for Silence

There was never any mention in the Yoga Sutras of the need for loud pounding music that almost certainly leaves one with hearing damage.

This is not to say that great yoga teachers don’t use music in class. The choice to do so is personal. And some students find it easier to reach that meditative state with some ambient music in the background.

But what a great yoga teacher doesn’t do is rattle on incessantly without allowing any space for quiet moments of contemplation. This is more often than not the sign of a new teacher who is intimidated by the silence and feels the need to prove himself or herself.

When a great teacher has taught long enough to establish their voice, they also learn the importance of not always using it.  

7. Is Compassionate and Respectful

If you’ve ever walked out of a yoga class feeling beaten down, mocked or humiliated by a yoga teacher, we can only apologize on behalf of all the teachers who truly care.

Yoga is not a boot camp workout. Even if you’re doing a rigorous ashtanga practice six days per week, the idea is to come to your mat without judgment and to fully honor who you are.

A sizable task, to be sure. But it’s the path upon which a truly great yoga teacher will guide you — through respect, compassion, and an understanding of where you are on any given day. 

8. Knows the Importance of Breath

Yoga is breath.

Your breath is the one consistent thread through your practice. It is ultimately what dictates the pace and breadth of it.

Any instructor that makes no mention of the breath in class is, in essence, failing to teach yoga.

A skilled yoga instructor will continually keep you in touch with your breath, and bring you back to it if you lose it.

9. Values Authenticity

It’s usually easy to tell when someone is putting on a front rather than being real. And it’s off-putting.

The same is true for yoga teachers. 

An instructor who is trying too hard or has something to prove is only going to detract from the practice. Students will always connect better with teachers who are genuine.

10. Is Open to Suggestions

Be wary of instructors who are unable to acknowledge or validate student feedback.

Of course, you’ll want to be equally cautious of teachers who seem incapable of teaching a class unless they know what every student wants.

As yoga teaches us, it’s all about balance.

Great teachers are open to suggestions from students. They are then able to tailor the class to include these suggestions without them being the entire focus of the class.

So, for instance, two students might request hip openers while another wants to work on shoulders. A skilled instructor will then be sure to include perhaps an extra pose each that focuses on the hips and shoulders respectively. But the class will not be comprised solely of hips and shoulders.

Because even though being able to take suggestions is the sign of a great yoga teacher, so too is the ability to help students break out of their comfort zones and explore.

11. Sticks Around After Class

A good instructor is well aware of the importance of connecting both before and after class.

It is often after class that you have the desire to share something with the instructor. Perhaps you had a revelation you want to discuss. Or maybe you have a question about how to integrate the practice into your life.

These are important discussions, and a great teacher is thrilled to talk shop with you. They truly want to see you progress in the practice and become more empowered both on and off the mat.

12. Is Passionate About All That Comprises Yoga 

Yoga works the body, the mind, and the spirit.

A great teacher is passionate about this holistic approach and addresses all three of these components.

This isn’t to say that he or she systematically divides each class into equal thirds in speaking of them. 

But if you’ve been attending a class where the focus is eternally on great ways to tone your abs or achieve contortionist-level binds you can show off at parties, there is clearly something missing from the teaching.

13. Shares His/Her Knowledge

By “sharing knowledge” we’re not suggesting that a teacher gives a full-on lecture about the Upanishads while you’re held captive in a pigeon pose.

But a good teacher is an informed teacher.

You should be able to ask basic questions about the postures or yoga philosophy and get some solid and sensible answers that leave you with an increased level of trust in your instructor.

14. Is Unafraid to Show His/Her Imperfections

Every yoga instructor is human. This is one of the most important things to remember.

They do not live in glass castles perched atop the Himalayan peaks in a permanent beam of sunlight.

And a popular teacher is not necessarily a great teacher. So if you feel a strong connection with a yoga teacher, try not to put him or her on a pedestal. Else you may be disappointed when you see him lifting a beer at the bar or honking her horn impatiently at a fellow driver. 

Everyone is a work in progress. Even great yoga teachers. 

What Do You Want in a Yoga Teacher?

If you haven’t yet found a yoga teacher who brings the practice to life, then it might be time to find a new studio.

Feel free to contact us today to find out about our classes, styles of yoga, and, of course, our great teachers.

How to Perfect Your Sun Salutation

Almost every style of yoga practices some version of a Sun Salutation as part of their warm-up. A Sun Salutation, Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit (meaning salute to the sun), is simply a version of 8-12 different postures that are done in a sequence to prepare the body for a deeper practice.

If you are new to yoga, or if you are looking to take your yoga practice to the next level, read on to learn how to improve your Sun Salutation

Perfecting Your Sun Salutation

It should be noted that you have a “yoga practice” or you “practice yoga”, but you never perfect yoga. Below are the typical postures (asanas) in a Sun Salutation, along with tips on common mistakes and opportunities for improvement.

Breathe

As yoga instructors, this is the most common word we use in class. To improve the focus, heat, and intensity of your practice, you must focus on your breath. When you use the breath to move your body from one pose to another, your Sun Salutation takes you into a meditative state.

The breathwork in yoga also provides many other benefits, so breathe.

Slow Down

Often times we move through our practice quickly. It is a side effect of the fast-paced world in which we live, so it’s hard to leave that at the door and not bring it to our mat.

Take a couple of Sun Salutations during your practice and do them very slowly and deliberately. You want to move consciously from one pose to another.

Sun Salutations – The Postures

Here are the 8 basic postures in a Sun Salutation

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

In Tadasana, take a moment. This pose is much more than just standing. Start at your feet and ensure they are evenly planted on the ground. Work up your legs, keeping knees soft, core engaged, tailbone down, chest open, and chin parallel to the floor. Hands are at the side with palms facing forward. 

Now stop and take 10 breaths, with your eyes closed, and feel the pose. Can you feel the weight on the corners of your feet? If not, shift slightly to increase your grounding. 

Do you feel discomfort or tightness in this posture? If so, see if you can relax that area with just your breath.

Tightness in this posture also indicates the possibility of tightness in your posture throughout the day. Can you keep your upper body in Tadasana while you read this article?

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

To move into Urdhva Hastasana, inhale. Your arms reach up extending your body and chest to the heavens. Stop here and notice if you have released your core and your hips are now pushing forward. If they are, correct them.

If you want to add an arch back, do it from a lifted position. You should be lifting from your core and your chest, not your shoulders.

Caution: you should not feel pain or discomfort in your neck. If you do, do not go as deep into the backbend.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

You should exhale as you allow your body to bend forward.

Are your feet still evenly planted on the floor? Are your knees still soft? Are you still engaging your core? Is your head neutral, or are you pulling your head to your shoulders?

Play in this posture to feel the power you can generate when you are focusing. Shift your weight on your feet and your hands. How does your body feel as you elongate different areas?

If you have pain in your lower back or knees, soften your knees more. 

Uttanasana with a Flat Back

Many Sun Salutations will include a transitional posture between Uttanasana and Anjaneyasana. In this variation you will flatten your back, keeping your head in line with your spine and increasing the stretch along the back.

Your hands will stay on the floor if they reach, or slide up your shins. Your core should be engaged and providing the support, instead of all your weight pushing into your shins or the floor. 

You may want to add this variation: inhale as you lift into your flat back, exhale and fall forward again, then inhale into Anjaneyasana. 

Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)

As you inhale, step one leg back. Here is where some variations exist. Some will use Anjaneyasana with the knee on the ground, others will use a high runner’s lunge. Others step or jump both feet back at the same time, skipping this pose altogether.

Neither way is wrong, but focus on the specific movement into the pose. Use your core, engage it, to pull the leg back. 

Plank Pose

Plank is really a transition and less of a pose in the Sun Salutation. As you begin your exhale, step the front foot to meet the back. Create a straight line from the tip of your head to your heels.

As you continue your exhale, bring your elbows along the side of your body, and lower into the next pose.

NOTE: This is a difficult transition. If you are unable to do full Chaturanga Dandasana, drop your knees and then lower down your chest and chin.

You will move from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana; you will move from inchworm (knees, chest, chin) to Cobra.

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

As you exhale, you end up in Chaturanga Dandasana. This is a challenging pose. Push through your heels, elbows are bent and at your side, and you are hovering about 6 inches off the floor.

A common mistake is that your hips/glutes are higher than the rest of your body. Hold this pose to increase strength and power (10 Breaths).

As you inhale, push through into Urdhva Muka Svanasana.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, your shoulders are away from your ears, your legs are engaged, and tops of the feet are on the ground but knees and thighs are not.

To prevent discomfort in your lower back, lift forward before you curl back. In a faster class or flow, this transition is often rushed. This can cause either shoulder or back pain if you practice regularly, so be mindful.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

On your exhale, roll over your toes and push your hips up, into  Adho Mukha Svanasana. Ironically, as you practice, this pose becomes a resting pose — but not in the beginning. Those newer to yoga may struggle in this pose as it requires some upper body strength and stability.

Child’s pose is always an option at this (or any) point in your practice. To enter into child’s pose, drop to your knees and push your hips back to your heels.

You have many arm variations in this pose. Hands can stay where they are at, arms engaged, fingers tented. (Tenting of the fingers increases strength in your hands and wrists. Begin by pushing up on to the pads of your fingers, raising your wrists off the ground.)

You can flip your palms up, providing a little more stretch in the shoulders and allowing the universe to fill you with divine energy.

Or you can press your palms together in prayer pose and bring your hands to rest on your upper back. This is a great pose to open up tight shoulders and is a great way to create the openness needed for headstand.

You can also bring your hands back towards your heels. The goal is to rest the center of your forehead on the ground, you can make fists with your hands if your head is not quite there yet.

Next

You have options here, depending on your practice. You can step/jump both legs forward and repeat on the other side. Or you can take the other leg forward and repeat starting at Anjaneyasana.

To improve, move through each posture thinking about your body’s placement. As you become more comfortable, begin focusing on moving with your inhale and exhales.

For example, from Tadasana inhale your arms up, exhale as they lower, inhale as your right foot steps back, and so on. Linking your breath to your movement.

For some styles of yoga there is a second longer version of the Sun Salutation that is often practiced after a series of the previously mentioned version. Surya Namaskar B includes chair pose and warrior one. Focus on mastering Surya Namaskar A/Sun Salutation A first.

Yoga is a practice and it is common to feel different from one practice to the next. Slow down, breath, and listen to your body; you will feel the difference in your Sun Salutations if you do.

Are You Ready to Further Your Yoga Practice?

Our qualified instructors can help you improve your Sun Salutations, Inversions, and Arm balances. Join us for an introductory class or workshop you will be glad you did.

Leave the bustle of London life behind and join us on the mat.

Which Yoga Level Are You?

Where are you on your yoga journey?

Yoga is an art that requires a lot of patience. Your level of yoga is an internal reflection of your practice, not an external one. Doing hard yoga poses doesn’t make you a master, just as having to modify your poses doesn’t make you a beginner.

Of course, it’s good to know where you stand in your practice so you know when to take a step back and revisit the fundamentals or challenge yourself and commit to the next level.

In this post, we’re going to discuss how to figure out what your yoga level is, and how to know when you’re ready to level up with the other students. Keep reading to learn more.

Yoga 101

No one (except maybe gymnasts and ballerinas) walk into a yoga studio for the first time and are able to master those advanced yoga poses. Of course, things like flexibility, balance, and strength are not a prerequisite to the practice. Those are the things that you achieve as a student with consistent yoga practice.

Trying to figure out which level of yoga you fit into will depend mainly on your knowledge and experience with the practice. (If you’ve only taken one yoga class in your life, then it’s safe to say that you’re definitely a beginner). Of course, even if you are at a more advanced level in your yoga practice, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a beginner’s class won’t be beneficial to you. In fact, you’ll find many yoga classes that house practitioners of multiple levels.

This should tell you that the fundamentals of the poses are much more significant than whether you’re a beginner, a level one, level two, level three, or master yogi. Another thing to consider is the various styles of yoga: Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Mysore, Vinyasa flow, Bikram, Kundalini, Hatha, Yin, Jivamukti, Restorative, and so on.

The style of yoga you choose bears some importance in relation to your level because each style takes on a different approach to the practice. For example, you may feel more comfortable and successful practicing Hatha over Vinyasa flow if you like to take your time in each pose. Or, maybe you do well in Vinyasa flow but have a hard time maintaining your posture—and your cool—with Bikram.

Having said that, all styles are meant to create lightness, relaxation, and ease—regardless of your level. So, how and where do you fit in? That can be determined by the break down of each level.

Level One: Beginner

A level one yoga class will be your essential introduction to the world of yoga practice.

The instructor will explain thoroughly the fundamentals of beginner poses. You’ll learn how to get in and out of each pose, and the proper alignment. The pace will also be very slow because the focus is on good form and safety. There will also be a lot of modifications shown for each pose to supplement all fitness levels. 

Furthermore, your instructor will teach you the yoga asanas in both their Sanskrit name as well as their English equivalent (“asana” is Sanskrit for “poses”). 

In a level one class, you can expect a lot of gentle bending, guided manipulation of your breath (Pranayama), seated meditation, and props such as blocks to aid in your flexibility level. There may also be strengthening poses meant to prepare you for a level two or three class that involve headstands and the like.

Some common beginner yoga poses include Downward Dog, Warrior one, Sphinx pose, Bridge pose, Cat pose, Chair pose, Cobra pose, Tree pose, and (everyone’s favorite) child’s pose.  

Level Two: Intermediate

A level two class will be a bit more aerobic, especially if you’re practicing Vinyasa flow.

By now, you should have a working knowledge of yoga—and a little more confidence. If you’re new to the level two practice, you can fall back on the modifications you learned in your beginner’s class. Your instructor will remind you of this as well as guide you if you’re having trouble.

You can expect to learn more advanced poses and to start using Downward dog as a transitional pose. You can also expect to learn Kumbhaka (which is Sanskrit for “breath retention”). During Kumbhaka you bring awareness to your breath, pausing between inhaling and exhaling while in a seated position. 

Another thing to expect is for the poses to be instructed in Sanskrit. Depending on the instructor, you may not always get the English equivalent. The teacher will also spend less time demonstrating the poses, and more time walking around for more one-on-one guidance.

A level two class will definitely test your stamina and flexibility as you will begin to practice inversions (upside-down poses). You should also have patience as you will be working with Mudras (hand gestures) and Bandhas (internal energy seals known as Uddiyana, Mula, and Jalandhara). Your intermediate yoga flow will begin to come together at this level. 

Some common intermediate poses include Big Toe pose, Boat pose, Bow pose, Camel pose, Crane (or Crow) pose, Dolphin Plank pose, Eagle pose, Extended Hand to Big Toe pose, and Feathered Peacock pose.  

Level Three: Advanced

A level three class will be just that — advanced. This is more or less the pinnacle of your practice given that by now you will know how to listen to your body. You’ll know that each day on the mat will be different, and you’ll understand how to respond and adapt to your body’s limitations.

The teacjer will assume that you have knowledge and experience of each pose and how to execute them properly. Therefore, they will be giving little to no instruction on alignment or the English equivalents to the poses.

The aerobic component of a level three class will be similar to a two-mile jog, and it will be practiced at a quicker pace. There will also be a good amount of strength required since you will be expected to hold those handstands (away from the wall), as well as other difficult poses.

You can expect to be doing a lot of full-arm balancing poses and deep backbends, with transitions from level one and two classes. This level requires a total focus on body and mind. Although you’re always allowed to modify your poses as needed, it’s not the type of class you can let your mind drift off into another direction. 

Some of the more advanced poses include Tittibhasana, Kapotasana, Natarajasana, Padmasana, Mayurasana, Eka Pada Koundinyasana, and Bhujapidasana.

Pro tip: If you don’t already know what the advanced poses listed above are without the English equivalent, you’re not ready for a level three class!

How Do You Know When it’s Time to Level Up?

Your journey to Samadhi (enlightenment) will be long and full of setbacks as well as great moments. It’s called a journey for a reason. But you can’t judge your level by time spent on the mat.

Sure, strength, flexibility, and stamina take time—but time isn’t always a relevant indicator. You can spend an entire year at the intermediate phase and still not be ready for more advanced yoga postures. 

Here are a few indicators that you’re ready to take on the next challenge:

You’re Stronger — Mentally and Physically

You are able to breathe and transition into the different poses with ease. You also no longer need the Sanskrit translated or to look around at what others are doing. But beyond that, you’ve become more in tune with your body and capabilities. 

You trust yourself and understand your limitations as well as when to push yourself safely. 

You’re More Flexible

Physically, you no longer need to bend your knees in Downward dog or modify basic poses. But mentally, you’re open to the many possibilities in your practice. When the instructor wants you to try something new, rather than flinch, you welcome the challenge.

You’re truly learning to go with the flow.

You Take Your Practice Off the Mat

We’re not talking about instagrammable nature poses here. You’re beginning to see that yoga isn’t just about the poses, but how you can set your intentions and harness your energy throughout your daily life.

You take your Pranayama and Kumbhaka everywhere with you. 

Yoga is Life

No matter what level you’re on, make sure you’re getting the most out of each class. Every class should place an emphasis on mindfulness and breathing. The purpose is to tap into a mind-body connection, whether it be through the movements, the Mudras, or bandhas.

For more information on yoga, classes, or for general questions, you can contact us here.

How to Add Yoga for Strength Training to Your Workout Routine

Yoga may be one of the most misunderstood forms of exercise in the Western world.

Some people think yoga is more of a type of meditation than an actual exercise. Others think its only benefit is flexibility. Chances are that those people haven’t done yoga more than a few times.

The reality is that yoga is a healthy workout in many ways, including strength training . If you’re focused on building muscle, there are even ways to optimize your yoga for strength training.

How Does Yoga Help with Strength Training?

The 300 million yoga practitioners around the globe are getting more than flexibility and zen. They’re building muscle — and burning calories along the way.

Yoga is a strength training exercise because you use your muscles to hold up your body weight in various positions. Each pose concentrates your weight on a different set of muscles, making it a full-body strength workout as well.

Yoga will also help increase the flexibility of your shoulders, knees, hips and other muscle groups in ways that traditional weight training just can’t match.

In fact, yoga is often a more comprehensive strength training choice than lifting weights. Getting the right mix of yoga poses can target muscles that many weight lifting and weight training regimens do not.

How to Optimize Yoga for Strength Training

If your primary goal with your yoga practice is to strengthen your muscles, there are several ways to reach that goal.

First, choose poses that focus on the muscles you want to target. This may involve trying a few different flows until you find the right combination.

Second, you need to find ways to increase difficulty. To keep building strength with yoga, you need to keep pushing and challenging yourself.

There are ways to modify most yoga poses to make them more difficult. The easiest way, though, is to hold each pose for longer. The longer your muscles are supporting and controlling your body weight, the more you’ll challenge them.

Best Poses in Yoga for Strength Training

As any yogi knows, there are limitless ways to customize and adjust your yoga practice to focus on what you want to accomplish (which is why yogis exercise even when they aren’t doing yoga). The best way to do this is by choosing the right poses for your flows.

If strength training is your goal, these are some of the best strength yoga poses to incorporate into your yoga practice.

Boat Pose

If you want an intense way to strengthen your core, look no further than the boat pose. For the more experienced yogis, this is also called navasana.

You’ll start this pose by sitting on your mat with your legs bent. As you balance on your buttocks, lean back slightly and start lifting your legs. Keep your knees bent at first.

The goal is to create a tight V shape with your torso and your thighs. As you’ll see, this is all supported by your abs as well as your back muscles to a lesser degree.

As you get stronger, you can make the pose more difficult by trying to straighten your legs. Only do this if you can keep that tight, controlled V in the process, though.

Plank Pose

Plank is one of the most well-known yoga poses, and it should come as no surprise that it’s a powerful one for building muscle. It’s so effective, in fact, that a wide range of other workout programs use the plank pose as well.

The plank pose is most effective for your core muscle group, including your abs and your lower back. Your shoulder muscles come into play as well.

To perform a plank pose, you’ll essentially get into the top position for a push-up. Your arms are straight, you’re up on your toes, and your body forms a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels.

If the traditional plank pose isn’t enough to a challenge, there are plenty of plank variations that will push you further. Some of these yoga poses and variations even work additional muscle groups like your obliques.

Awkward Chair Pose

This pose may not look like the most graceful thing you’ve ever done; but trust us, it’s a powerful workout for your quads.

Start by standing up straight on your mat with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly start bending your knees and moving into the way you’d sit if you were sitting in a chair. The difference is that, in this case, there’s no chair and your quads are supporting all your weight.

As you do this, bring your arms up in front of you while keeping them straight. Keep raising them until they match the angle of your torso.

Throughout this pose, make sure your knees stay above your ankles at all times.

The most obvious strength training happens in your legs. However, the awkward chair pose also works your back, your arms, and your shoulders to maintain the right angle.

If you reach a time when you want to make this pose more difficult, simply hold it longer and sit lower.

Cobra Pose

Don’t let the creepy name scare you. The only thing the cobra pose will bite is your back muscles.

To get into cobra pose, start by laying on the mat on your belly. Plant your hands on the mat on either side of you, next to your chest.

From there, push your chest up so you look like a cobra raising its head and chest.

While you’re in this position, focus on using your back muscles to keep your chest stable and upright. If you use your shoulders and arm muscles instead, it won’t be much of a challenge.

The cobra pose focuses primarily on building your back muscles, which can also lead to better posture. As an added bonus, this pose is a fantastic stretch for your abs. This makes it a refreshing pose to throw into a core-heavy yoga flow. 

Four-Limbed Staff Pose

The four-limbed staff pose is also called chaturanga. Don’t mistake it with the staff pose, which is a seated position.

The four-limbed staff pose looks a lot like a plank. That’s why this is the perfect illustration of how a small change in your body position can work on an entirely different muscle group.

To get into this pose, start as if you’re going into plank pose. Instead of straightening your arms, though, bend them at a 90-degree angle. From the side, you’ll see that your upper arms are parallel with your torso.

While your core should still be engaged in this pose to keep you steady, most of the focus is suddenly on your upper arms.

Warrior II

Each yoga pose has its own challenges. Unlike some of the other poses on this list, balance isn’t very difficult in the warrior II pose. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or ineffective, though.

Start by standing sideways on your mat with your left foot at the top of the mat and your right foot toward the back. Turn your left foot so it’s parallel with the mat but keep your right foot facing forward.

Begin bending your left knee and shifting your weight onto that leg. As you do this, your right leg will form a diagonal line from your hip to the mat.

Keep your torso facing forward while you do this. Your hips will be slightly angled to the left

At the same time, bring your arms up on either side of you. Extend them out from your shoulders so you can form a straight line from your left fingertips to your right fingertips.

Most notably, this pose builds the muscles in your left leg. The longer you hold the pose, though, the more you’ll feel it challenging your arms and your core as well. Make sure to repeat the warrior II pose on your opposite side as well so your right leg gets the benefits too.

Crow Pose

This is a more challenging yoga pose than most, but if arm muscles are what you’re after, you’ll have a hard time finding anything more effective than the crow pose.

Start by getting into a squat pose.

Your feet should be flat on your mat, a bit further than shoulder-width apart. Sink your butt down so it almost reaches the ground. The backs of your thighs and the backs of your calves should be touching.

From here, put your hands flat on the mat in front of you, about a foot in front of your toes. Start transferring your weight to your arms which will slowly lift your body off the ground. For balance, press your knees against your upper arms as you do this.

The ultimate goal is to lift your body high enough off the ground that your calves are parallel to the floor.

Building Strength with Yoga

People who don’t understand yoga will always ask questions like can you build muscle with yoga, or how do you build strength with yoga?

Yoga is one of the most multi-talented workouts around. It enhances your balance, it relaxes your mind, and of course, yoga builds strength and muscle without the stress traditional weight training places on your body. If you want to optimize your yoga for strength training, the poses above are a great way to start.

But, as with any workout (including yoga for workout), it’s always best to begin with the help of a professional. To find out more about our yoga classes, contact our yoga studio today.