It is a popular misconception to assume that people who are flexible are lacking in strength and vice versa. When it comes to yoga, you can use your flexibility to raise your strength, and your strength to work on your flexibility. The beauty of yoga lies in the fact that these two elements are closely related and we can find a harmonious balance between them.
Adults start to lose muscle mass around age 40, with the process accelerating around age 50. This can leave us feeling weaker and, if nothing is done, lead to some loss of independence later in life. The good news? There are numerous things we can all do to prevent or reverse muscle loss, and yoga is at the top of the list.
Yoga provides strength training for the whole body
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that yoga is a passive exercise. Each yoga pose is aimed at targeting a specific group of muscles and even the simplest asanas require awareness and control over your body. In a typical yoga flow, you challenge your muscles to support the weight of your body as you transition from one pose to the next and this is a great and simple way to tone your muscles (sometimes even muscles groups that you didn’t know you had!).
Movements like Plank, Chaturanga, Chair pose or Lunges build strength and, unlike weight training regimes that isolate movements, a good yoga flow is a whole-body workout.
It’s important to know that strength is about extending your muscles just as much as it is about squeezing them; it’s a Yin and Yang situation. When you squeeze your bicep, your triceps will loosen, when you extend your arm, your triceps will tense. So, eventually, stretching some muscles will help strengthen the muscles that work in opposition to them.
Yoga is not all about flexibility
Ok, let’s clear up the misconception that to practise yoga you need to be already flexible. In fact, the opposite is true: doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible, even though you are not by nature. Flexibility isn’t a requirement for practising yoga – it’s a result.
Yoga can help to enhance flexibility as the body is encouraged to hold the postures for a period of time, allowing muscles to go deeper into the stretch. It may sometimes be uncomfortable, and it can take time to notice the impact of the stretches and greater flexibility but don’t worry, if you are putting in the effort the results will come. Vinyasa flow yoga is especially great for flexibility as the poses are linked together to be more dynamic; this warms the muscles up, allowing for even deeper stretching.
In general, having great flexibility is not just limited to a wider range of motion, it also helps in achieving a better posture, a lower risk of injury and less muscle tension.
How strength and flexibility work together in yoga
Once you start working on improving your strength or flexibility with yoga, you will understand how closely related they are. When you see an experienced yogi doing difficult poses, it seems that they don’t place too great a strain on their body. This is because they understand the balance between strength and flexibility and use it effectively.
Students often ask me to teach them poses that can help improve either strength or flexibility, but in yoga, you can’t have one without the other. My answer is that in order to do any pose correctly (even the simplest ones), these two elements should be equally balanced.