Do you think that yoga is practiced only for stretching, flexibility and stress release? Do you think that only weight training can help you build strength and develop muscles? If yes, then you are underestimating the immense power of yoga and ignoring its most important facet – yoga makes you strong!
Yoga builds lean muscles and doesn’t add excessive build to the body, giving it a leaner, more sculpted and toned look. This ancient form of working out helps in conditioning several muscles at once, unlike weight training which works on isolated muscles. The drawback in isolated training is that when you focus on a single set of muscles, the rest of the body may suffer because of it. Muscles and strength are evenly built throughout the body. Another plus point of strength training with yoga is that yoga stretches and strengthens muscles at once. Weight training can result in excessive soreness and cramps. It also makes the muscles stiff. Unlike weight training, yoga increases muscle endurance and conditions muscles for a longer period of time. It builds strength without compromising on flexibility and agility.
11 Top Yoga Poses:
Here are the top 11 yoga poses that can help you build muscles and become strong:
1. Virbhadrasana I:
Targets: Thighs, calves, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and back.
Virbhadrasana I, also known as Warrior 1 Pose, is included in Surya Namaskar. This pose is done after doing Hasta-Padasana. The pose is the first of the three warrior variations. It is aptly named ‘warrior’ as it strengthens the body physically as well as spiritually to battle with the ills of the body. It strengthens the legs, arms and core; opens up the chest; and works on the back. The pose is also known to have a good effect on the groin area.
- Stand in Tadasana with your abs tight and shoulders back.
- Step back with your right feet as wide as you can.
- Bend your left knee at 90 degrees in such a way that your thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Lift your arms straight in the air and try to reach the sky with your fingers. You can also fold your hands in Anjali mudra.
- Balance and stretch your legs. Open up your chest by bending backward a little.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Targets: thighs, calves, ankles, core, chest, spine.
Vrksasana, also known as the Tree Pose, is one of the easiest and most strengthening poses of yoga. The pose is a balancing pose, which also strengthens the legs and tightens the abs. Improving the posture, it also helps in realignment of the spine.
- Start in Tadasana, ABS tight, shoulders back, spine straight, and bellybutton sucked in.
- Shift your weight on your left foot. Keep it firmly pressed on the ground.
- Slowly lift your right leg up and bend the knee. Now press the sole of your right foot to the inner thigh of your left leg.
- Balance your weight on your left leg.
- Stretch your arms overhead and try to reach the sky.
- To make the pose more challenging, close your eyes. Heightening the sense of unbalance, it will make the balance more intense.
Targets: legs, buttocks
Malasana, or Garland Pose, can also be called a deep squat. It helps in strengthening the legs and effects all the muscles in the legs. It also tightens and strengthens the glutes.
- Start in Tadasana with your feet as close as possible.
- Now squat deeply to the floor. Squat as deep as you can. Keep your heels pressed into the floor.
- Split your thigh wide in such a way that your knees should touch the sides of your torso.
- Fold your hands together in Anjali mudra and press your elbows together between your split knees.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds and then return to Tadasana.
- This is a beginner pose, but people whose Hamstrings are not flexible enough and those who can’t squat deep with their heels pressed into the ground can put a folded mat under their heels. If you do the full squat, do as deep as you can and then try pushing deeper.
Targets: Core, ankles, thighs, buttocks, calves, spine, obliques and arms.
Ardha-Chandrasana, also known as Half-Moon Pose, is usually done after Uttitha-Trikonasana. But it can also be done separately. The pose strengthens legs and core. It is good for groin, chest and hip flexors.
- Start Tadasana with your abs tight and shoulders rolled back.
- Jump to a wider stance with your feet more than shoulder-width apart.
- Turn your left foot 90 degrees to the right while keeping your torso and right foot straight forward.
- Lift your arms in a straight line by your sides and parallel to the floor.
- Now press your left foot firmly to the ground and bending to your left side, press your right palm to the floor before your left foot.
- Keep your arms in a straight line, so that after bending, your right arm will be stretched straight in the air.
- Now lift your right leg, so that it is perpendicular to your left leg.
5. Chaturanga Dandasana:
Targets: Abdominal muscles, biceps, triceps, and wrists.
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Chaturanga Dandasana, also known as Four-Limbed Staff Pose, is included in Surya Namaskar. The pose is done after Adho-MukhaSvanasana and the Plank Pose. This pose strengthens the arms, wrists and the core. This is the traditional yoga push-up.
- Start the plank pose with your shoulder blades pressed back, abs tight and belly-button sucked in.
- Inhale and lower your torso and legs down by bending your elbows until you are just hovering a few inches above the floor. Make sure you are parallel to the floor.
- Push your elbows toward your heels and keep them by your torso’s sides.
- Lift your head and chest to look forward.
- Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds.
- Exhale and release the pose.
- Beginners can start with doing the pose with their knees touching the floor. Those who want to deepen the pose can start shifting forward and backward on their toes after holding the pose for 20 seconds.
Targets: Thighs, abs, butts, and back.
Utkatasana is also called the Chair Pose. It is a standing balance pose, which is good for the glutes, quads and saddlebags. It tones and strengthens the inner and outer thighs.
- Stand in Tadasana with your shoulders rolled back and abs tight.
- Inhale and stretch your arms overhead as if trying to reach the sky.
- Keeping your thighs tight, bend your knees and lower yourself as if you are sitting on a chair.
- Hold the pose for 30 second, and then straighten to Tadasana.
- Utkatasana seems easy enough, but the balancing is hard for the beginners. It is suggested to keep the holding time progressive.
7. Dolphin Plank Pose:
Targets: Arms, core, and spine.
Dolphin Plank Pose is a variation of the plank pose. The pose is a plank, which is balanced on the forearms. This pose targets the upper back and upper arms more specifically than the basic plank. It is also one of the best poses for sculpting abdominal muscles.
- Get into the push-up position, with your shoulder blades pressed back, torso tightened, abs tight, legs locked in a straight line and tailbone pressed towards the floor.
- Bend your elbows and lower yourself to your forearms. Lift your head and look straight ahead.
- Hold the pose for 30-45 seconds, and then raise yourself to the plank.
- To deepen the pose, you can alternate it with Dolphin Pose. Advanced Yogis can follow it with Salabhasana.
Targets: Arms, abs, legs, and shoulders.
Vasisthasana is also known as Side Plank Pose. It is amazing for building arm muscles and abdominal muscles. It comes under the arm balance poses. It is basically a balance on one-arm. The pose has stages, which transform it from intermediate level to advance.
- Get into the Plank Pose. Abs tight, tummy sucked in, tush towards the floor, shoulder blades pressed back, torso tight, legs and arms locked, and the body in a straight line.
- Shift your weight onto your left side.
- Slowly lift your right arm from the floor and push your body upwards, balancing on your left side.
- Put your right ankle over your left ankle.
- If your balance is not good, you can keep your right hand on your right hip. If it is good, raise your right arm in a straight line to the left, and perpendicular to the ground.
- Hold the pose for 30-45 seconds. Then do it for the other side.
- Advanced Version – Lift your right leg straight and perpendicular to the ground.
Targets: Abdominal muscles, glutes, back, and hips.
Naukasana, also called the Boat Pose, is an ultimate pose for building abdominal muscles and tightening and strengthening the core as a whole. The pose not only makes the core strong, but also tightens the glutei muscles. It also strengthens the lower back and hip flexion.
- Sit with your legs, stretched straight in front of you and abs tight.
- Keeping your back straight, tilt your torso backwards. Support your back with your hands if you want.
- Sitting on the two sitting bones, lift your legs with your knees bent, so that your calves are parallel to the ground.
- Straighten your arms by the sides of your legs.
- If you are comfortable with this and want to deepen the pose to complete the version, straighten your knees with your feet pointing out.
- Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds. Then, lower yourself to the original position.
Targets: Arms, shoulders and upper back.
Bakasana, also known as Crane Pose or Crow Pose, offers highly advanced arm balance. It is one of the toughest bodyweight exercises. It helps to build biceps, triceps and also strengthens the upper back.
- Start in Tadasana and squat down deeply with your feet just inches apart.
- Turn your posture similar to Malasana and then reach with your hands forward.
- Push your hands firmly into the ground. Try to contract your torso and shift your weight onto the balls of your feet. Keep your back rounded. Press your knees to your armpits.
- Lean forward and lock your elbows. Shift your weight onto your hands and keep your tailbone as close to your heel as possible.
- Push forward and balance your torso and legs on the back of your upper arms.
- Hold the pose for 10-20 seconds and then relax.
11. Adho Mukha Vrksasana:
Targets: Arms and shoulders.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana, or Handstand, is an arm balance and an inversion pose. The handstand is effective for strengthening arms and shoulders. If you are not a practiced performer of Handstand, it is better to do it by a wall.
- Get into Down Dog Pose.
- Tighten your shoulders and lock your elbows. Firmly shift your weight onto your hands.
- Step very close to the wall.
- Start hoping a few times and then jump a few inches up.
- Finally, press your legs into the wall for support.
- Hold the pose for 10-20 seconds.
These poses are traditional poses, which can be experimented with. Many of the asanas can be done either in a Yoga Flow or with repetitions. A few poses can also be mixed with weight training by using light-weight dumbbells. Don’t forget to follow these poses with stretching poses to avoid any soreness. The advantage of these asanas is that they not only make the body strong, but also bring out inner well-being and relieve stress. In this way, they ensure overall health and strength.
Yoga has something for everybody, no matter which level you are at. You can sculpt your body and become strong by trying these asanas and reach new levels in fitness. Just keep in mind not to push yourself too hard and seek guidance in case of advanced level poses. Also, inversions and bends must be done on a non-slip, sticky platform or yoga mat or padded mats to avoid injury.
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