For years now yoga has had a bit of a reputation for being a laid back meditation for softies. It may be something to do with the fact that in the west, yoga is practiced by far more women than men. And many people just have the idea that doing yoga involves lounging about on a soft yoga mat without really putting any effort in. On the contrary it is hard to think of a more complete workout than that provided by a full session of Ashtanga yoga. Just the opening moves of sun salutation, plank, cobra and downward-facing dog will leave most people feeling a little out of breath and weak in the arms and legs. This is an exercise that quickly raises the heart rate, providing good aerobic benefits, and it also works just about every muscle in the body. And that is just the warm up phase of a good yoga session.
Ashtanga yoga is known for giving people a good run for their money in terms of a physical work out. It is, after all, probably the most physically demanding of all of the yoga styles. But other forms of yoga also provide a really excellent combination of strength training and stretching. And it is perhaps the latter that provides the most benefit for many athletes and sports enthusiasts who already exercise quite a lot. Runners, for instance, will usually not have a problem when it comes to leg strength. But they may suffer from tight calves and hamstrings. And yoga is really great at lengthening those muscles and improving flexibility.
Another great benefit that it provides is that it improves resistance to injury. A pose such as “standing tree” in which you stand on one leg helps improve your balance but it also improves the strength of your legs, ankles and feet. These muscles and ligaments are often harmed or sprained so anything that builds them up is going to mean fewer days lost to injury.
The best way to learn yoga is by going to classes with a good teacher. But if that is not an option you could always consider trying a Yoga DVD. Learning yoga by DVD gives people the option of exercising in their own homes and at their own time. But there is a slightly higher risk of injury because a good teacher will spot mistakes and correct them before any harm is done.