Aging is not always kind to the human body. Muscle loss, or Sarcopenia, can happen at a rate of 3-8% after the age of 30, and is even higher after age 60. What you do with your body will affect whether this loss is faster or slower over time. Strength training is well known as something you can do so slow muscle loss and maintain the muscle that you have. Did you know that practicing yoga strengthens your body to prevent muscle loss?
Different styles of yoga offer different benefits. Some focus more on mental and physical relaxation, some more on strength building. Vinyasa yoga, which is what I teach, offers a wonderful balance of both strength and relaxation for both the mind and body. Building strength requires that you “stress” the muscles and bones in a way that causes them to mildly breakdown. When you sleep, the body heals itself and you become stronger. I’m not saying you need to push yourself to strain and injury (please don’t do that!), just enough so that you feel the effort. You want to feel your muscles working, but without struggle.
Strength in Yoga
What is beautiful about yoga is that it doesn’t require any weights outside of your own body weight. Poses like Plank, Chaturanga, Warrior 1 and 2, Airplane, Boat Pose, Utkatasana, and Bridge all require muscular effort to hold. Overtime, this builds strength. The longer you hold a pose, the more strength you build. Or, you can build strength with repetitions, like going back and forth between Crescent Lunge and Utkatasana (your legs and glutes will feel that!). What matters is that your muscles contract and release regularly.
Core strength is important for basic function in our daily lives, as well as allowing us to keep active as we age. Being able to apply core strengthening to your yoga practice is a bonus benefit! When I say “Core,” I am not referring to “6-pack abs.” Core strength is functional, not visual. It doesn’t matter what your outsides look like, anyone can build core strength with the body that you have.
Your Core is a number of muscles that work together to create stability in your body. Strengthening these muscles keeps your lower back from hurting, they improve or maintain your urogenital function, prevent “leakage,” and basically keep you standing upright.
These muscles are:
- Rectus abdominis (the 6 pack–doesn’t need to be visible to exist): help us “crunch”
- Transversus abdominis: deep lower abdominal muscles
- Internal and External Obliques: help us twist
- Levator ani: Pelvic floor, affecting urination and sexual function
- Adductors: Inner thigh muscles that bring our legs toward our midline
- Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus: “The Glutes” which extend our hips, abduct (move the legs away from our midline), and rotate our thighs
- Erector Spinae: Spinal muscles that keep us upright and help us backward bend
When these muscles are strong and stable, you feel strong and stable. Your balance is better, you can lift a laundry basket or load the dishwasher without your back “going out,” and you can get in and out of a car with ease. It’s these actions of daily life where you feel the most benefit.
Yoga for Cross-Training
Of course building and maintaining strength also affects any sports or activities that you do, like walking, biking, swimming, tennis, golf, hiking, dancing, etc. When your core is strong, you have better control over your body’s movements. Yoga, as functional strength training, is the perfect cross-training practice for every sport. Yoga creates strength in all planes of movement to balance the body and help your performance in your sports. I noticed a difference in my swimming after only 3 times on the mat. I had better glide through the water, and could pull the water more efficiently. It seemed like magic.
Building strength is important for health and longevity in sports. When you can build a strong, mobile, and balanced body, you feel more comfortable in your skin. You feel more at ease when you move. You don’t feel as old as you actually are…Getting strong and staying strong is definitely possible, at any age. What are you waiting for?
Join me online in my Facebook Group, May 5-7 for my Core and Lower Back Master Class Weekend! I’ll be teaching 4 classes in 3 days that address different aspects of core strength and lower back health:
- Friday, May 5 at 10am ET: Mechanics of Walking
- Saturday, May 6 at 9am ET: Fun with Foam Rolling
- Saturday, May 6 at 9:45am ET: Core Activation in Yoga
- Sunday, May 7 at 9am ET: Stretching Safely As We Age
For more information or to join, click this link!
Join me in person on Saturday May 13th for Yoga and Walking, Saturday June 10th for Yoga and Swimming, and Saturday July 15th for Yoga and Bicycling! Click here for more information!
I teach Mindful Core online every Friday at 9:15am ET. Can’t make it? I have an extensive on demand library with plenty of 15 and 30 minute classes that work your whole core mindfully. Click here for my full class schedule and here to see my on demand library!