“If you get physically fit, your performance becomes better. This increases your confidence and you get mentally tougher.” – Souray Ganguly, Captain of the Indian Cricket Team
Rippling muscles, tanned skin, washboard abs, lush locks, smooth features. These are what we think of when we hear the word ‘fit’. This is the idea fed to us by the media and seen parading along the shores of Bondi or Venice Beach. Somehow, we feel that unless one can lift 100 pounds, one is not fit; unless one can parade around in a skimpy swimsuit without any jiggle, one is not fit. So then, how can we become and stay fit?
For a long time, yoga has come under scrutiny by the spandex-clad, physically fit gym buffs, saying, “Yoga may be good for relaxation and flexibility, but to be truly fit, it must be coupled with another activity, like running.” You. Are. Wrong, spandex-clad, physically fit gym buffs. Fitness is described simply as the ability to live your life without feeling fatigued. It is related to good health and the ability to maintain physical activity. You do not have to have the strength of a football player or the endurance of a marathon runner to be considered fit. Plainly, you just have to be able to perform your normal activities and still have a reserve. Hah!
There a four types of fitness that help to boost health, these are Flexibility, Cardiorespiratory and Muscular fitness, and Body Composition. Unbeknownst to many, yoga addresses all these. Here’s how:
There is no doubt that yoga increases one’s flexibility; in fact, it is a well-known fact. The different poses and stretches practiced in yoga help to strengthen and realign muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons; and hydrate joints, making them more flexible. With regular practice, the practitioner will begin to notice an improvement in his ability to reach and stretch further, being able to hold an asana for longer and in better position.
This refers to the health of your heart, lungs and blood vessels. Being fit in this sense leads to better stamina and a lower risk of diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Through the various Sun Salutations and asanas, the heart rate is increased, making yoga aerobically challenging. By this working of the heart, the muscle is strengthened and pumping is improved. (Need a Sun Salutation guide? Fill in the form on the right side of your screen for a copy of our free step by step Sun Salutation guide)
Through the different pranayama (breathing exercises) and asanas (postures), yoga helps increase lung capacity by improving the flexibility of your general breathing area – rib area, shoulders and back – allowing the lungs to expand more fully. Through this the diaphragm is conditioned and as a result the blood is more easily fully oxygenated.
Muscular Fitness refers to both muscle strength and endurance. Being an active tissue, muscles plays a role in regulating our metabolism. We tend to lose muscles mass as we age, especially without exercise; this results in weakness and loss of balance and coordination.
When we stretch, as we do through yoga, our muscles respond by becoming larger and more capable of extracting and consuming more energy faster. This results in increased muscle strength and endurance. It is a great cycle, really, because the small but significant increase in maximal oxygen capacity is caused by an increase in muscle endurance, which makes practitioners last longer, extract more oxygen and increase their maximal oxygen uptake.
Because yoga increases the heart rate, metabolism is, in turn, improved as well. This aids the practitioner in weight loss. The practice of hot yoga also helps to remove “water weight“ almost immediately. Lastly, studies have shown that the regular practice of yoga has shown to improve the hip to waist ratio.
More than making us physically fit, yoga makes us mentally fit, relieving stress and bringing awareness. Once our body and mind are balanced, all other benefits flow forth from the practice of yoga.