Yoga can help your body more than just your health
Yoga has enormous health benefits — from joint support, cognitive wellbeing to better respiratory and cardiovascular functioning. Therefore, a lot people are motivated to adopt this ancient practice in their lives. Here’s how yoga can accompany you in your muscle building journey.
Increased flexibility, reduced injury risk
The human body was meant to go through certain ranges of motion but in today’s world we have compromised over that. As a result, we all have certain constraint over our flexibilities. When we perform an exercise that puts our body beyond a certain degree of our flexibility, injury is the most obvious thing that happens to us.
One of the standout benefits of yoga is enhanced flexibility. Increased flexibility will reduce the risk of certain injuries.
Lift more. Lift heavy
Having a muscular frame is not just associated to how much muscle mass you have but it’s also about how well you use the mechanical links for your body.
For example, a lot of people have tight hip flexors which hinders their deadlift and squat loads. The various ‘aasans’ practiced in yoga will open up your hip flexors and other stiff links in your body which will maximize your lifts.
Increased blood flow
The relaxation exercise in yoga boosts blood circulation, especially around your hands and legs. An enhanced blood flow ensures that your muscles are getting proper supply of nutrients for repair and growth. You’ll also experience a better pump during your workouts and we all love that beautiful feeling.
Yoga also gets more oxygen into your cells that improve their functioning as a result.
Better sleep quality
Restorative asana, Sawasna and Pranayama performed in yoga can help develop a deeper inward sense which provides interlude for the nervous system. As a by-product you’ll enjoy a deeper sleep making you feel energetic on the training days.
Greater high intensity workouts.
A key factor for performing well at high intensity workouts is lower resting heart rate. This gives you the ability to perform better even in low oxygen levels when oxygen supply is cut short during high intensity workouts like cross fit or super-sets.
Some Insta-fitness yoga personalities have personal training qualifications, but many more do not.
Often, there is no way of telling who is trained and who isn’t, without asking them.
Anyone with more than 100,000 followers, however, regardless of their qualifications, is deemed an “influencer”, courted by brands eager to reach their followers.
That’s a fact that angers many offline personal trainers, who feel that the unqualified yet famous ones devalue their profession.
“Online programmes want people to feel as if they have their own – affordable – personal trainer,” one tells me. “As some of them are totally unskilled and the programmes are really ‘one size fits all’, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It makes reputable personal trainers seem outrageously expensive.”
It is a sentiment echoed by one health and beauty magazine editor, who asks to remain anonymous because her views don’t tally with that of her employer.
Dangers of untrained yoga instructors
“These days, a strong Instagram following, good gene pool and even better spray tan can make you a fitness star, regardless of what qualifications you have. Not only do many of these ‘fitness stars’ know little about what constitutes safe exercise. The truth is that no amount of likes come in handy when you need to solve a gym-induced injury.”
Continuing “they also create a false sense of what fit and healthy looks like – and it doesn’t always look 21 and great in a bikini. Add to that the fact that these social media stars get paid to shift fitness gadgets, gimmicks and protein shakes, and you’ve a whole load of dangerously misguided followers.”
No one would deny that people becoming more active is anything other than a good thing. Millennials claim to enjoy working out as much as going out; gyms have become stylish, social spaces where people spend their Friday nights and Saturday mornings, often doing back-to-back classes.
Yoga, spinning, boxing and hybrid cardio-barre workouts at city centre based studios often have waiting lists for evening or weekend sessions, when people would traditionally be kicking back with a drink (fewer people aged between 16 and 24 drink than ever before, according to the Office of National Statistics). Gyms are designed with sleek interiors and high impact feature walls – all the better to post to Instagram.
And while the rest of the fashion sector struggles, activewear – now not so much a genre of clothing as a way of life, led by leggings and crop tops – has become big business.
Morgan Stanley forecasts the workout clothing sector to be worth £63 bilion a year globally over the next three years. Gymwear is no longer old jogging bottoms or baggy T-shirts; it’s cut-outs and mesh – clothes you can wear all day, seven days a week.
Using Instagram, blogs and YouTube to learn about yoga and get fit is fast becoming ever more popular.
And despite getting collectively fatter and more sedentary, the British spend record amounts of money exercising. Figures from the 2017 UK State of the Fitness Industry report show that the sector is worth more than £4.7bn annually – up more than 6% on the year before.
A quick search for the #fitspo hashtag on Instagram brings up almost 47 million images – people in workout gear lifting weights, close-ups of ultra-defined abs, bulbous biceps, “transformation” pictures (taken before and after fat loss) – each one advocating a programme more punishing than the last.
These days, fitness sells. Even Nike, which made its name with that inclusive Just Do It tagline, has taken to lambasting joggers in its latest ad campaign: “If You Like It Slow, Jog On”, or “You Win Some Or You Win Some”, proclaim its new billboards.
Gyms run “go hard” or “hot yoga” promotions, with discounted packages for those taking up unlimited classes for short periods of time, such as 10 classes in 10 days – the kind of training that many dub “binge workouts”.
The new stars create a false sense of what healthy looks like. They’re also paid to shift products.
But nowhere is full on training more powerfully advocated than on social media, where inspirational quotes such as “Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body” and “Sweat Is Your Fat Crying” are liked and shared millions of times.
In the age of “wellness”, a well honed body is more desirable than the latest pair of designer shoes. The so called world of “fitspo” began as a niche way for gym nerds to share tips and document how their bodies changed, before spreading into a whole lifestyle movement.
Instagram’s short videos lend themselves to fitness content; people started following routines in the gym.
Fitness movements have been around a long time – think back to Jane Fonda, The Green Goddess and Mr Motivator – but working out has become a lot more complex since the aerobics days.
Increasingly, there seems to be this feeling of, ‘Why would I go for a gentle 5km jog or a moderate aerobic session when I can do a punishing high-intensity set?
High-intensity training (mixing all-out bursts of activity with short rests) gets mixed reviews from health professionals: some swear by the fast results, while many believe that unsupervised exercise of this kind can cause health problems.
Many young people I see are completely obsessed with Instagram fitness stars, and they follow workouts from so-called trainers they don’t know, which may not be right for their body or their levels of fitness.
Fitness athletes are stars online, but their followers often try to train at the standard of a professional athlete, without the core level of fitness. Following these kinds of workouts can very often lead to injury and burnout.
The National Careers Service advises that training to become a yoga or fitness instructor can be done on the job at a gym, as an apprentice, or via a college course.
Becoming a yoga personal trainer (YPT) is more advanced. YPTs are usually self-employed, and they need insurance, first-aid training, an awareness of anatomy and physiology, and a qualification, which takes anything from six months to three years to achieve.
Sadly, increasingly, gyms are looking for another asset in their PTs: they want them to be photogenic, with a big social media following.
How your foot strength impacts longevity and 3 exercises
Right now you aren’t running as fast as you could, standing as tall as you should or likely to live as long as you would if you paid more attention to your feet.
Consider this: The medical and fitness communities have known for a while that your grip is a reliable indicator of longevity.
But an emerging field of research indicates the strength of your feet might be an even better measuring stick for your health.
A team of Japanese researchers examined the toe-flexor strength of 1,400-plus men across various age groups. (Toe flexors are muscles like the abductor hallucis, which lets you lift and wiggle your big toe.)
The scientists found they could tell how well people took care of themselves based on the test results.
The data accurately predicted a person’s age, sleep, exercise and drinking habits. They also observed that foot strength started declining at an earlier age than grip strength — and fell off more dramatically than grip strength over time.
That’s bad news when you consider that the muscles in your feet are very much involved with balance control, and that as you get older, falls are a common cause of death. Weak feet and ankles may be holding back your athletic performance right now.
“Foot and ankle strength crosses over into everything you do,” says Dr. Joel Seedman, who trains and coaches high level athletes and regular people. “Without proper foot and ankle activation, it’s impossible to have ideal mechanics on any lower body movement.”
Seedman describes having weak feet and ankles as “a massive energy leak.” If you’re an athlete, that means you’re losing force you could use to propel you forward. “It slows you down,” Seedman says.
The good news? You can be on the road to recovery starting right now.
Just add these three foot exercises to your routine.
They require no equipment and can be performed anywhere, at any time. But adding them at the beginning of workouts fires up not only your feet and ankles, but your entire lower body.
“It’s impossible to get full recruitment of the posterior chain without proper foot and ankle activation,” Seedman says. “Once you start firing the feet and ankles, most people start to feel a huge burn in their posterior chain, because it starts sending better neural signaling all the way up. It even starts affecting your posture, upper body and neck.”
1. Single Leg Stand
This one is as basic as it sounds: Just lift one leg off the ground and balance on the other. You should find that within a short time the muscles in your bottom and along the back of your legs have to fire up to help keep you upright.
No matter whether you’re a marathoner or a hard core Cross trainer, you can benefit from this move. “If I had to throw one exercise out there that’s a cure all for everyone, this would be it,” Seedman says.
If you’re a strength and power athlete, load the exercise by holding a weight for 15–20 seconds. Or if you’re a runner, do these with your bodyweight or just a light weight and hold for 1–2 minutes per side.
2. Ankle Push Outs
Performing ankle push outs is simple. You just do three things: Stand tall; press your big toes into the ground and push your ankles laterally outward. “I’ve seen this do wonders for my clients,” Seedman says. “Often, they can notice the difference within a few days — especially if they’re religious about doing it multiple times per day.”
3. Toe Raises
This exercise is essentially the opposite of a calf raise. While calf raises have you go up onto your toes to work the backside of your lower legs, in toe raises you keep your feet flat on the ground, lift your toes as high as you can, and spread them as wide as you can.
“It strengthens the muscles around both sides of the shins — the peroneals and tibialis anterior — which are basically toe flexors,” Seedman says. “The ability to dorsiflex, or pull your toes back toward your shins, is a critical aspect of foot and ankle function. I see even high-level athletes struggle with this big time.”
Try it and you’ll find the front of your shins might burn faster than you think. You can take the exercise a step further by adding a calf raise and performing the move with weight.
Any polite gym goer will wipe down a spinning bike or weight machine after a sweaty workout to stop the spread of germs, so people should do the same for communal yoga mats.
“If you swab a yoga mat you probably are going to pick up viruses and certainly funguses,” says Dr Seth Rankin, a GP and chief executive of the London Doctors Clinic. “Minor things like athlete’s foot can be picked up in any moist environment, it’s why we wear flip flops in the gym showers,” he says.
A US surgeon – Dr David Anthony Greuner – recently issued a more serious warning by claiming that herpes, a virus more commonly associated as coming from sexual contact, could potentially be picked up from dirty mats.
He says in a blog post: “Making skin contact with a dirty yoga mat covered in germs and bacteria can lead to skin infections, acne, toenail fungus and even transfer of the herpes virus and staph and strep infections in susceptible individuals.”
But GP Dr Rankin insists the risk of catching a more serious infection from a mat or seat is “vanishingly rare” and tells people not to worry.
Sue Millward, Nuffield Health’s lead for infection prevention, who monitors hygiene in its 111 gyms, says staff wipe mats and exercise equipment at the beginning and end of each day. But she says it is impractical for gyms to clean machines after every workout.
“We keep an eye on what’s going on and who’s using equipment,” she says. “If our staff see that somebody has been perspiring a lot and not cleaning they may go round and clean it.”
The best way to avoid getting ill from the gym is to accept that you will be picking up germs during a workout – and wash your hands and kit afterwards, says hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley.
“Don’t get too hung up about it,” says Dr Ackerley, a chartered environmental health practitioner. “Yes, there’s a risk of cross infection where you share equipment, but people do it and we’re not dropping dead from it.”
She says people usually have a shower after a workout – but during exercise, should avoid rubbing their eyes or touching the top of a drinking bottle.
She adds: “Kit can get really smelly, even if it’s being cleaned, because people wash it at a low temperature.” She says a sure fire way to kill germs is to wash clothes at 60 degrees Celsius, or consider using a laundry sanitiser.
She adds: “It’s simple really, after you’ve been on your gym equipment, don’t go and have a sandwich without washing your hands.”
As a new report reveals the mental health benefits of just an hour’s physical activity a week, it seems there is nothing a yoga or pilates workout can’t cure.
If it’s lunchtime, go and join a yoga or pilates class on foot. What’s to lose? You are going to feel better and live longer.
We have the sitting disease. According to a report by Public Health England (PHE) in May, physical inactivity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England. It is responsible for one in six deaths in the UK, which is the same as smoking.
If exercise was a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster in the history of medicine.
Getting off your backside and moving about, preferably a bit vigorously some of the time, will stave off heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes.
It can keep your blood pressure steady and helps you sleep. You may not shed pounds, but it will help keep your weight stable. It can overcome anxiety and boost self-esteem. Older people who are active are less likely to have a hip fracture or a fall.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer who practises before she preaches, goes for a jog twice a week – even though she says she doesn’t much like it in order to set an example.
She advocates 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is the equivalent of half an hour, five days a week. That can be walking or cycling. It should be enough to raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. Vigorous activity is something that makes you out of breath.
We weren’t built to sit in front of a computer, a TV screen and a steering wheel. We were designed to be moving around.
“It is what we were made to do,” says Nick Cavill of Oxford University’s department of public health. “Everyone probably knows the basic point, but often we overlook it in our busy modern lives. We are hunter-gatherers. We were designed to be physically active all day long.
“Our bodies are still stuck in neolithic times, while our minds are in the 21st century.”
Given our ancestors were chasing dinner all day long, you might think it follows that we need to be physically active the entire time we are awake, jogging on the spot at our standing desk. But, thankfully, Cavill says no. Long-term studies, following active and sedentary people until their deaths, have worked out that there is a dose response curve.
“The more exercise you do, the better it is – up to a certain level,” he says. “A marathon runner or a triathlete is not doing much better for their health than somebody who is reasonably active.
Half an hour a day is what they say now – or two for the price of one if you do vigorous exercise. Every vigorous minute is the equivalent of two moderately active minutes.”
Doing moderate exercise like Yoga and Pilates several times a week is the best way to keep the mind sharp if you’re over 50 new research suggests.
Thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis, a review of 39 studies found. This remained true in those who already showed signs of cognitive decline.
Exercises such as Yoga and Pilates were recommended for people over the age of 50 who couldn’t manage other more challenging forms of exercise, the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said.
Physical activity has long been known to reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including type-2 diabetes and some cancers, and it is thought to play a role in warding off the brain’s natural decline as we enter middle age.
The theory is that through exercise the brain receives a greater supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients that boost its health as well as a growth hormone that helps the formation of new neurons and connections.
In this analysis of previous studies, researchers from the University of Canberra looked at the effects of at least four weeks of structured physical exercise on the brain function of adults.
In a variety of brain tests, they found evidence of aerobic exercise improving cognitive abilities, such as thinking, reading, learning and reasoning, while muscle training – for example, using weights – had a significant effect on memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise, the so-called executive functions.
Joe Northey, study author and researcher from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise at Canberra, said the findings were convincing enough to enable both types of exercise to be prescribed to improve brain health in the over 50s.
“Even if you are doing moderate Yoga and Pilates exercise only once or twice a week there are still improvements in cognitive function, but the improvements were better the more exercise was done,” he said.
He said people should be able to hold a conversation while doing moderate exercise.
NHS guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and exercise the major muscles on two or more days a week.
Dr Justin Varney, lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said any physical activity was good for brain and body.
“Whilst every 10 minutes of exercise provides some benefit, doing 150 minutes a week cuts the chances of depression and dementia by a third, and boosts mental health at any age.
“Doing both aerobic and strengthening exercises leads to a greater variety of health benefits. Physical exercise is one element of improved brain functioning, but not the whole story.”
As well as staying physically active, Dr David Reynolds, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was equally important to look after our brains by staying mentally active, eating a balanced diet, drinking only in moderation and not smoking.
Yoga as a holistic therapy has the potential to relieve both the physical and psychological suffering of Asthma.
The Cochrane Review – an international healthcare non-profit organisation – suggests yoga can improve the quality of life for people who suffer with asthma.
The review, published in the Cochrane Library, used randomised trials, which found evidence yoga can improve the quality of life and symptoms of sufferers to some extent.
It says yoga, as a holistic therapy has the potential to relieve both the physical and psychological suffering and could reduce the medication a person takes to cope with asthma.
Lead author Dr Zuyao Yang, from the University of Hong Kong, said the findings suggested practising yoga could lead to small improvements for those with the condition.
The researchers looked at 1,048 participants, both male and female, between six months and 23 years old.
However, the research does not provide a clear picture as to the extent yoga can help people with asthma or poor lung function.
Dr Zuyao Yang added the research team were not sure if there were any negative side effects to sufferers from practising yoga.
The authors added further research was needed to prove if yoga could become an alternative method of relief in place of medication.
Asthma affects around 334 million people worldwide, according to the Global Asthma Report, with the highest number of sufferers living in low and middle income countries.