Not a gym person? Hate struggling with those heavy weights? Whatever your reasons for avoiding the gym may be, it doesn’t mean you have to compromise on getting stronger and building muscle. When you think of building muscle, the first thought that enters the mind is heavy weight lifting and long hours at the gym.
But, sometimes all you need is your own body, and to balance and train with your own body weight. A regular yoga practice is an excellent way to increase flexibility, mobility, stability, to build muscle and lengthen and tone the entire body.
The wonders of pose progression
One great way of building muscle through yoga is pose progression. What is pose progression? Each pose in yoga will have easier and tougher variations. Always start from the basic pose, and as your strength increases, slowly add tougher variations of that pose to your practice.
The driving force of this process is the tension that your muscles are undergoing. If you feel stronger and the advanced level asanas become easier, you can always add volume i.e. increase the number of repetitions/duration of each asana.
I understand that yoga might not be the fastest way to attain your goal but it does come with its own set of advantages: Yoga allows you to explore and tap into your natural body movement. It helps you build strength in functional ways and helps you carry your own body weight.
Extreme weight lifting is counterproductive to one’s mobility and flexibility. However, yoga helps to build muscle, while maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Frequent weight lifting could take a toll on your joints and tissues, whereas yoga is a low impact form of body movement.
Here are some powerful yoga exercises to build muscle:
1. Downward facing dog and dolphin pose
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one. It strengthens the arms and shoulders, lengthens the spine, calves and hamstrings and energises the entire body.
- Start on the floor by placing your hands and knees down.
- Straighten your legs by lifting your knees off the floor and push your heels down, as far as they can go.
- Extend the spine by pushing away from the ground, using your palms. Stay in this position for 5 to 9 breaths.
- To go into a dolphin pose, hold the downward facing dog position, and then slowly drop your forearms onto the floor and hold.
2. Warrior III
Let’s take inspiration from the asanas in the warrior family. The warrior III pose requires balance, and engages your core muscles. This pose works on the entire backside of the body, and helps build strength and endurance in your calves, hamstrings, glutes, back, and shoulders.
- Start by standing at the top of the mat with your feet together. Inhale, raise your hands up to the ceiling and join your palms in namaskara mudra.
- As you exhale, balance and shift all the weight onto the left leg, and lift the right leg up backwards.
- Simultaneously, hinge forward from the hip and lower the arms and torso downwards, parallel to the floor.
- Look down at the floor and stare at one still object for balance.
- Hold this pose for 9 to 12 breaths.
- For an easier variation, place your palms in front of your chest in namaskara mudra.
3. Chair pose
A steady chair pose engages the legs, glutes, core and lower back.
- Start by standing at the top of the mat with your feet together.
- Inhale, raise your hands up to the ceiling and join your palms in namaskara mudra.
- Exhale, come into a half squat position by pushing your hips behind, and extending the torso upwards.
- Squeeze your thighs towards each other, and feel your quads and glutes burn, as your legs support your weight in this narrow-stance, half-squat position.
4. Plank pose and side plank
The plank pose is an amazing upper body strength builder.
- Start on the floor by placing your knees and palms on the mat.
- Place your hands directly under your shoulders. From here extend your feet back, one at a time.
- For more stability, bring your feet wider than hip-distance apart, and bring them closer for more of a challenge.
- Maintain a straight line from head to heel.
- Now, tighten your abs, quads, glutes, and hold.
Variations: Practicing high planks and side planks on your hands and low planks and side planks on your forearms.
New to yoga? No problem! Always start with an easier variation of the above asanas. With regular practice of these asanas, your body will start building muscle and make you stronger, so that you can easily move into more advanced variations