“All we actually have is our body and our muscles that allow us to be under our own power.” – Allegra Kent
History has shown us many a symbol of beauty. For so long, the most desirable women were ladies – beautiful, delicate, demure, self-effacing, helpless, prim and proper. Their bodies should be long, slender and soft because large muscles were too masculine and connoted the need to labor. Naturally, things are different now. This modern day and age have delivered us actual heroines, rather than the run-of-the-mill Marie Antoinette’s. Strong is the new sexy. The hottest women of today are strong, toned, witty, self-assured and independent. Today’s ladies can run in heels, bend over backwards and live happy independent lives. Of course, this goes for men, as well. Rather than being skinny, today’s beauties are strong and toned. Being toned is not being a body builder with bulging muscles, rippling abs and veins practically pulsating with tension. It takes a totally different approach. Improving muscle tone is the product of low-weight, high-repetition exercises. One great way to do this is through yoga.
Yoga is well-known for being a stress buster, but is also one of the most effective ways to beat stubborn fat stores and to tone strong muscles. Studies show that yoga lowers stress levels, quieting the mind, and increases the insulin sensitivity, which helps to burn fat rather than store it. In addition, the stretches and holds of each asana (posture) help to tone muscles.
To get started, here are 5 simple poses that can help tone the body:
Crescent Pose [Firms abs, hips, legs and thighs]
Begin in a standing position with feet spaced shoulder width apart. Move your right foot forward, toes pointing frontward, positioning your right perpendicular to your left foot. Inhale, and as you exhale, bend you right knee until you achieve a comfortable stretch, keeping it exactly above your right ankle, with your right thigh parallel to the floor. Inhale and lift your right arm overhead, reaching fingertips to the ceiling, sliding the left hand down the left leg’s back. Exhale. Inhale and arch your torso, arms, and head backward, gazing at your fingertips.
Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. End by exhaling and returning to the standing position. Repeat the procedure in the other direction by alternating your limbs.
Willow Pose [Firms oblique muscles]
Begin in a standing position with your feet together and arms at your sides. Draw your right foot up and place the sole up against your left inner thigh, with your toes pointing to the floor and knee bent to the side. If possible, press your heel into your inner groin. Rest your hands on your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Press your hands together in prayer position. Gaze softly at a fixed position in the distance for 2 breaths. On the third inhale, palms still together, extend your arms up, fingertips toward the ceiling. Exhale. On the inhale, bend your torso to the right. Inhale and straighten.
Repeat 3 to 5 times, all the while pressing your foot into your thigh. Step back to standing position with an exhale and repeat the procedure on the other leg.
Chair Pose [Firms buttocks and thighs]
Begin with a standing position with your feet together, toes pointed forward and arms at your sides. Inhale and raise your arms over your head with your palms facing each other. Exhale and begin to bend your knees, sitting back, and taking your thighs as nearly parallel to the floor as possible. All the while, keep your abdominals tight to support your back. To come out of this pose, straighten you knees with an inhalation. Exhale and release your arms to your sides, back in to standing position.
To make this pose even more challenging, as you sit back, lift your heels up off the ground, balancing yourself on the balls of your feet. Don’t forget to gaze at your fingertips.
Rocking Boat Pose (Firms abdominal and back muscles]
Begin by sitting on your mat with knees bent, feet flat and hand on your thighs. With a straight torso and your head in-line with your body, lean back about 45 degrees (you may grip your thighs). Raise your feet of the floor so that your calves are parallel to the floor, keeping your toes pointed. Keeping your legs together, inhale and extend your arms and legs. Exhale. On an inhale, lower your torso and legs about 3 to 4 inches, creating a wider V with your body. All the while, remember to keep your back and head straight and chin lifted. Exhale and raise your torso and legs. Repeat this procedure 3 to 5 times.
To make this pose even more challenging, once you lean into a wider V, raise your hands above your head.
Hover Pose [Firms shoulder, arm, abdominal and back muscles]
On a mat, begin in a push-up position on your toes with your arms straight; shoulders, elbows and hands in-line; and the entire body in-line from head to heels. Breathe. On an exhale, lower your chest to toward the floor, keeping your arms close to the body and bending your elbows back. All the while keep your abdominal muscles tight. Hold your hover a few inches above the floor.
To make the pose even more challenging, while hovering, lift your right leg 6 to 12 inches of the floor, hold and lower. Repeat this 3 to 5 times then repeat the procedure on the other leg.
Remember not to give in to the adulterated image of beauty fed to us by the media. Strong is the new sexy; strong is definitely beautiful.