The Benefits of Yoga: Strength and Flexibility
Once you have mastered deep breathing, many yoga poses focus on strength and flexibility. Depending on the style of yoga, you may be asked to hold a pose for a certain number of breaths. This is a great way to start to improve your strength and flexibility. First of all, it gives you a goal and it distracts you from how challenging the pose is to hold for a prolonged period of time. Whether your muscles are tight or you are starting to feel the burn, yoga can push you to challenge yourself at times.
Yoga is a total body strengthening practice. As you flow through the warm up sequences, you alternate between using upper body, lower body and core strength. Most poses can be modified to become easier or harder, which a yoga instructor can work with you to help you modify. Some of these strengthening moves involve some of the traditional exercises you might already perform: squats, lunges, planks, pushups, etc. These exercises are performed with body weight only (no extra added weight) and can make a huge difference when it comes to performing your activities of daily living. As your strength improves, you will notice that activities such as stair climbing or cleaning your house will get easier.
Yoga also helps to improve flexibility. As you become more flexible, you can start to notice an improvement in your range of motion and stretching can also help to relieve pain and tension in tight muscles. Most of us spend most of our days sitting at a desk, which can lead to tight muscles in our chest, hips, and neck. Through regular stretching, you may notice not only an improvement in your flexibility, but also improvements in your posture and a decrease in your level of stress or anxiety.
Some physical therapists may choose to use yoga poses as exercises or stretches for the treatment of your condition. They are not only excellent strengthening or stretching exercises when put together into a flow during a class, but also have many benefits when performed alone. Even if yoga doesn’t interest you or your physical therapist has chosen to not give you yoga poses as a part of your home exercise program, take some of these principles and try to adapt them to your own exercise routine. An example of this would be holding an exercise for 5-10 seconds or a stretch 20-30 seconds. Your physical therapist may give you a range of time to build up to as you progress through your home exercise program. Start with the number of seconds that feels comfortable and as time goes on, focus on your breathing and try to hold for a few seconds longer each time you try. If you perform your exercises regularly, you will start to notice an improvement in your strength and flexibility.
It is also important to consult your physical therapist before trying your first yoga class. Even though yoga has many benefits, there is risk for injury if done incorrectly. Your physical therapist can help you choose the safest class option based on your condition, balance, strength and flexibility.