Why Yoga with Weights?
When I tell people I am a yoga teacher 9 times out of 10 I get a variation of the response “I am not flexible at all”. I wish I could supply an answer more impactful than “it’s much more than that and it will come with practice” but, summing up the benefits of yoga would take much more than a sentence or two. After one of the almost daily conversations that flow along this sequence I realized, the general view of yoga is defined as stretching. This misconception began to shape my personal yoga teaching philosophy and has allowed me to focus avenues that provide options for practitioners who may be either intimidated or “bored” by a traditional asana (physical) practice. I hate to use the word “bored” but, I must be honest in pursuit of sharing yoga and recognize that people who are used to higher intensity workouts or have fast paced lifestyles cannot find an hour of their day just to breath. Which is ironic because these Type A’s are typically the ones who could benefit the most. By adding weights, cardio, and high energy I am able to sneak in some yoga moves and everyone is happy. Sort of like when you were younger and you didn’t want to eat your veggies so your parents added a little ranch dressing to the plate and voila all of your carrots were magically gone. Your body still got the vitamin C it required and your heart was happy because you got to indulge in something that brings you joy. I believe that a little bit of yoga is better than nothing at all. Spoiler alert, typically once a student starts to feel the benefits they then begin to branch out into different and more traditionally rooted styles. Sort of like a gateway drug, but an organic one that leaves your mindbody in better condition than when you began and may even cause some muscle growth along the way. All natural baby!
Interested? There’s even more good news. I’ve listed a few of the benefits below:
1. Increases flexibility and range of motion
Let’s address the issue of flexibility and get it out of the way. It is true, yoga does inevitably make you more flexible. While it is not the main idea behind the practice it does happen to be a side effect. You are training your muscle fibers to expand. They’ve done a great job holding your skeleton together so far which means they will continue to remain tight as long as you allow them to. As you practice you encourage your body to recognize that it’s okay to relax and to find some opposition to the constant contraction. Soreness, swelling, and pain relate to the loss of tissue and movement in your joints, to prevent injury it is beneficial for them to have maximum range of motion. Movement causes internal lubrication. If you’re identifying with the Tin Man right now the only way you’ll get rid of those creaks is by oiling up (from within).
2. Fosters body awareness
Combining yoga with weights creates a proprioceptive environment. Defined as an unstable yet controllable physical situation in which exercises are performed that cause the body to use its internal balance and stabilization mechanism. The addition of weights heightens your body’s awareness of its alignment, making it easier to feel when joints aren’t properly stacked. They help you recognize where you are and where to go, forcing you to engage the right muscles in each posture.
3. Strengthens and tones
Continual activation plus induced stress of a muscle equals muscle fiber expansion, increasing its strength and diameter. By adding in additional resistance of weights the force required by the body to maintain control of its movements is greater reaping proportionally more measurable results. Not to say that yoga itself does not strength and tone naturally, because it certainly does. Especially if you’re practing chaturangas. However, weights do decrease the period of time for physical changes in muscles to be noticed.
4. Challenges core strength
Core muscles go beyond their capability of producing a rad six pack. They are truly our “power source”. (This is one of my favorite terms, I often use it in class to stress the importance of abdominal engagement). Your outer limbs cannot increase in mass unless your core is strong enough to support them. Core muscles consist of both the front and back muscles around the trunk. Supporting the spine, hips, and shoulders aka all of the structures involved with posture. By strengthening theses muscles they are able to provide more assistance in maintaining a strainghter spine. Not only relieving pressure from your neck and internal organs but physically representing a more confident stance.
5. Improves circulation
Constant flexion and contraction of muscles signals to the body to send more blood to those areas. The fresh blood bathes the muscles with oxygen and other nutrients allowing them to become stronger and healthier. Stretching also aids in muscle fiber renewal.
6. Builds bone density
Bone density is determined by measuring the amount of calcium and other minerals in a segment of a bone, a higher mineral content equals a higher bone density. With weights there is more positive stress on the bone as the muscle pulls away from it to work harder. The body detects this and sends a warning signal to recruit additional assistance for the bones to get stronger. Basically “a use it or lose it” situation. If are bones are used to getting by with minimal stress they body will redistribute the excess energy of bone reformation to other areas. By adding weights to yoga practice the body recognizes that it requires consistent replenishment of bone minerals.
7. Encourages proper breathing
By increasing the intensity your practice your body will require more oxygen consumption. Often times in physically strenuous situations we tend to hold our breath. Becuase breath is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of a yoga practice there are plenty of reminders to re-engage the cycle. Weights also help to physically feel the benefit of matching breath to movement. Strengthening exercises make it more naturally noticeable where the inhale and where the exhale should occur. I often refer to our breath as out biggest tool, and in the moments where are approaching our edge the connection of breath to movements is what enables us to push past it.
There are plenty of benefits to a yoga practice and to a weight lifting practice. By forming a hybrid of the two you get the best of both worlds (undoubtedly developed as a solution for this age of multi-tasking). Wether you’re a regular yogi who wants to tone a bit more, an avid lifter who is curious about the benefits of stretching and breathing techniques, or if you’re new to both and want to begin incorporating a physical and mental practice into your life, yoga with weights is an excellent option! Being raised as an athelete my body was conditioned to crave higher intensity movements so this style of sequence initially attracted me and became continual exercise outlet. Over the years my personal practice has expanded into multiple styles of class but my teaching reamins rooted in this sense spirit of strengthening.
I hope you will find the courage to try something new and experience the benefits of yoga with weights for yourself. You deserve it!
Giving credit where credit is due: thank you soul sister, Gillian Budd, for introducing the article I referenced in this post during our time leading yoga sculpt training together. Miss you dearly!