Yoga is a system of postures which are combined in customizable series for specific purposes. Yoga is similar to weightlifting: you choose your goal - strength vs. endurance, size vs. definition; your target - chest, back, arms, legs, abs. Then you design a series. In weight lifting you can choose from supersets or straight sets, maxing out or high reps. You can include cardio by jumping rope between sets, focus on functional training or use free weights.
In yoga you choose a style according to your goal. Interested in cardio? Go for Vinyasa. Strength? Try Ashtanga. Start with a Basic class to learn the basic moves - the Warriors, Cobras, Dogs and Sun Salutations - and find a teacher whose classes you look forward to.
So why include yoga in your overall routine? Time is valuable and you’ve gone to great lengths to create time for working out. So you wouldn’t want to give up an entire workout to something that doesn’t move you toward your fitness goals. It’s time to include yoga in your toolbox because it works synergistically with your other cardio and strength workouts to increase strength, endurance, speed and recovery time, as well as focus and concentration.
Yoga increases functional strength. Strength can be measured simply in how many pounds you can lift in a gym, but if it’s not there to deploy when and how you need it, who cares? Additional factors such as adaptability, ability to recruit the muscle fibers and accessory muscle recruitment and stability go into how strong you are in everyday life. Yoga increases these collateral determinants of strength by enhancing muscle fiber length - flexibility, and by making demands on muscles in positions mimicking everyday life, but held for longer periods. For instance, Awkward Chair Pose strengthens hip and knee stabilizers while targeting the quads and core.
Yoga increases endurance by combining breath and movement with stillness. Beginners hold postures for about 3 breaths, Intermediate students from 5-10 and Advanced students are able to hold postures for 12 breaths. Advancement in yoga means endurance. Three breaths might not sound like much, until you’ve been in 15 poses back to back. Additionally, the Sun Salutation sequence is a linked series of 12 postures, each held for only half a breath - an inhale or an exhale. Again, might not sound like much. Except that you train to keep an even, calm, quiet breath through your nostrils. When your breath becomes taxed or ragged, you rest until you’ve recovered and then begin again. This method trains you for endurance and stamina. You perform these 12 movements back to back in this fashion for up to 108 reps.
Plyometrics is a method of training often used to increase speed and explosive power. If you’ve ever seen yoga practitioners in arm balances or executing Vinyasa with jumpbacks you know that explosive power is part of Intermediate and Advanced yoga as well. In yoga, you learn to access your core strength to increase your accuracy as well as speed, jumping distance and balance.
Yoga has an advantage in recovery time. Because yoga routines are constructed according to complementary motions and muscles that are challenged are also stretched and finally rested in constructive rest at the end of practice in Corpse Pose, yoga is your secret weapon in workout recovery.
Yoga cultivates two mental benefits that are unique: focus and concentration. Focus is the ability to choose and rest on a single object. Concentration is the ability to remain focused over a period of time. Yoga specifically targets each of these in different ways. Each pose has a natural focal point - over the front fingertips in Warrior 2, or a spot 4 feet in front of you for balance poses - creating a natural training for focus. Remaining in poses for extended periods of time and mindfully transitioning between the poses naturally develop the concentration.
Men often come to yoga with one or more of two specific areas of concern: hamstrings and the desk jockey hunch. Hamstring issues can lead to low back pain and postural imbalance and are essentially a flexibility issue, while the slump any of us gets when at a computer too long is a strength and flexibility issue. For hamstrings, the basic Warrior 1 & Warrior 2 postures are great for warming and opening, followed by aligned forward folds and Downward Facing Dogs. For the upper body slump, Locust, Cobra, an aligned Plank and Upward Facing dog are the go to moves. When part of an intelligently designed sequence balancing forward and back bends with their counterparts and with twists these simple moves can form the backbone of a strong yoga routine to complement everything else you do.