Yoga hasn’t always been a woman’s domain, but according to a 2008 Yoga Journal study, 77% of American yoga students are female, and overwhelming they report their motivation is mental and physical fitness. What does yoga have to offer specifically for women?
Safe, Effective Strength and Cardio Challenge
While the benefits of strength and endurance are clearly a benefit to a woman caring for a family or a corporation, women commonly report an aversion to “bulking up.” Yoga offers an infinitely modifiable, accessible and congenial way to cultivate strength and fitness. Yoga’s incorporation of arm balances not only creates upper body strength and definition without bulk, but this weight bearing on the upper extremities is beneficial for bone health.
One of the number one concerns reported by women, whether they have families or are single, whether they are career minded or stay at home moms, regardless of socioeconomic status, is balancing self-care with care of their loved ones. Women are commonly caregivers in formal and informal ways but this is often an outbound identity. Because yoga includes periods of reflection, silence and stillness in even the most arduous class it can offer a sure fire method of including self-care in even the busiest schedule. If you’ve got 1 hour to get your cardio, resistance and you can sneak in a bit of “me-time” to boot, what’s not to love?
Body Image Stabilization
From the time we are conscious of the media, women are digesting ideas and images of what it means to be in a female body. Whether it’s the Cinderella Princess dream, fashion model striving or power suit success striving we have no shortage of messages about how we look ... and how we “should” look. In yoga class uniquely of group fitness classes, sensation of the body from the inside and expression from the core outwards determines the form and “rightness” of the pose.
In addition, because of yoga’s stress relieving benefits that go beyond the advantages of just cardio and resistance training, yoga can support us in changing deeply ingrained habits of relating to food, stress and sleep. These changes can make the difference for lasting changes in our health and body image.
For women who are, may become or have been pregnant, having an established yoga practice can make the difference in ease, health and complication for pregnancy, labor and delivery. While it’s greatly beneficial to begin a yoga practice once pregnant or in the post-natal window, women with prior experience in having a yoga practice have tremendous advantages in everything from pelvic core strength to internal body sensation and dealing with intense sensation and distinguishing it from pain. Add in the unique practice with breathing and using the breath to cope stress and intensity as well as to generate power, and you have a tremendous foundation for embracing a healthy approach to becoming and sustaining a pregnancy.
Whether you plan on ever giving birth or not, yoga provides myriad benefits for female reproductive health. The regularity of practice can even out with ups and downs in mood and energy that come with hormonal cycles, while the variety of poses and types of practice help to contend with the difficulties inherent in this natural variation. While you might practice Cobbler’s Pose with a forward fold early in your cycle to create flexibility in your hips and legs as well as give your low back a break after a long day, you can practice a supported version while reclining on bolsters later in the cycle to ease the discomfort of cramping and gather energy to continue your day. Pelvic floor engagement, crucial to core strength and an integral part of everyday yoga poses such as Downward Facing Dog and Awkward Chair Pose as well as Crane Pose and other arm balances, prevents many difficulties of aging as well as serving as de facto Kegel exercises to add vigor, sensation and variety to your physical intimacy.
Whether you began practicing yoga at your mother’s knee or are finding yoga as an adult, investigate many styles of yoga so you know your favorite go-to classes for your changing needs.