“The researcher’s suggestion to incorporate 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 different strength-building exercises is also evident in some yoga classes and practices. A continuous flow sequence that calls for moving into several poses sequentially is a physically demanding practice that provides students with opportunities for continued strength gains.” —Ram Rao
“I’ve seen the YHA sequences for upper and lower body strength in your book, but I’m wondering if someone at YHA might follow up on Ram’s piece and put together a flow sequence of 8-10 asanas for strength building for the major muscle groups?”
I decided to take on the challenge! I agree with Ram that one way to build strength using the resistance aspects of asana practice is, as he describes in this quote, with a continuous flow sequence. Another equally effective way to implement modern resistance practices with yoga would be to link a series of dynamic poses and mini vinyasa (which is what I’m going to do today). As someone who periodically goes to the gym and does resistance training on both machines and with free weights, I know the drill. For example, if I am targeting my biceps (the upper arm muscle that bends the elbow), I do 10 plus repetitions of the curl machine or biceps curls with a 20 lb. free weight, and then move on to the next exercise. With this routine, I am developing strength both while curling the weights up and while slowly lowering the weights down, via concentric and eccentric muscle contractions of the biceps muscles, respectively. And at the gym, I do a circuit of machines that target most the of the body’s major skeletal muscle groups, moving onto the next machine after completing a set of dynamic repetitions of movement that target specific areas.
This easily correlates to doing a series of dynamic poses and mini vinyasas where we use our own body weight as the resistance, repeating each mini practice 8-10 times, then moving on to the next one. I don’t believe moving directly from one pose to the next with only one repetition would have the same strengthening effect as what I am presenting here, but that could still be an option for lovers of modern flow classes that do just that.
So, for our reader and for the rest of you who are interested, I have designed a sequence that consists of 7 strength-building dynamic poses and mini vinyasas that you repeat 8 to 10 times before moving on to the next one.
While practicing this sequence, move slowly in and out of the primary pose with your breath. If you begin to shake or become significantly fatigued top before completing 8 repetitions, please stop and gradually work up to 8-10 repetitions over time. You can add more resistance strengthening in the standing sequences for the upper body by holding plastic, cork, or wooden blocks in your hands as you move dynamically. Note that I am not having you isometrically hold any poses (static poses) because that is not the classic way to do a resistance training, but you could add that to your sequence as another way to increase strengthening. Also, feel free to rest for up to 1 minute between sets of repetitions, especially if you notice that 8-10 reps is tiring for you.
1. Dynamic Locust Pose, 8-10 repetitions
This pose strengthens the entire back body, especially the hamstrings, buttocks, back arm muscles, and spinal muscles.
Start by lying on your belly, with a blanket under your pelvis if desired and your arms by your sides. On an inhalation, lift up into Locus pose. On an exhalation, release back down to the starting position. See Featured Pose: Locust Pose for instructions on the static version of the pose and my video for instructions on practicing dynamically. (Please note that the video presents both one and two legged versions. Also, feel free to do classic arm position instead of the one I’m using).
Rest if desired. To transition to the next pose, place your hands on the floor down under your shoulders, turn your toes under, and press up and back into Downward Facing Dog.
2. Dynamic Downward-Facing Dog to Plank Pose, 8-10 rounds
This mini vinyasa strengthens the upper body and core abdominal muscles.
From Downward Dog pose, inhale and swing your shoulders forward over your wrists into Plank pose, bringing your body into an even line, from the crown of your head to your heels. Then exhale and swing back to Downward Dog. See my video for instructions.
Rest in Child’s pose if desired or transition directly to the next pose by stepping your right foot forward to Lunge pose, spinning your left foot down to the floor so it makes a 45-degree angle with your mat, and bringing your torso up to vertical as you straighten your right knee.
3. Dynamic Warrior 1, 8-10 repetitions per side
This dynamic pose strengthens your legs, spine, and arms.
From the standing position you took after finishing your last pose or from Warrior 1 preparation pose, inhale and swing your arms forward and up alongside your ears. On your exhalation, bend your front knee over your front ankle. On your next inhalation, straighten your front leg. On your exhalation, lower your arms. See my video for instructions. You won’t be doing the second side of this pose until after you do Warrior 2 on the right (below).
Rest in Mountain pose if desired or transition directly to the first side of Warrior 2 by turning your back foot slightly out and turning your torso to face the long edge of your mat.
4. Dynamic Warrior 2, 8-10 repetitions per side
Like Dynamic Warrior 1, this dynamic pose strengthens your legs, spine, and arm muscles, but different parts of those muscles than Warrior 1.
From the standing position you took after the last pose or from Warrior 2 preparation pose, inhale and swing your arms out to your sides so they are parallel with your shoulders. On your exhalation, bend your right knee over your right ankle. On your next inhalation, straighten your right knee. On your exhalation, release your arms. See my video for instructions.
To transition to the second side of Warrior 1, turn your feet to parallel then spin your left foot and leg out 90 degrees while spinning your right foot in 45 degrees. Then repeat Warrior 1 and 2 on the second side as described above.
After completing Warrior 1 and 2 on both sides, step your feet together into Mountain Pose for the next pose. You can either rest here or move directly to the next pose.
5. Dynamic Powerful Pose, 8-10 repetitions
This pose strengthens the powerful muscles of your legs, as well as your back spinal muscles, arms, and shoulders.
Starting in Mountain pose, inhale and swing your arms alongside your ears. On your exhalation, bend your knees to come into classic Powerful pose. On your next inhalation, straighten your knees and come up onto Arms Overhead Pose. On your exhalation, release your arms down by your sides coming into Mountain pose. See my video for instructions.
You can either rest in Mountain pose or move directly into the next pose.
6. Dynamic Crescent Moon Pose, 8-10 rounds
The dynamic version of this pose strengthens the muscles on the sides of your body in addition to stretching them.
From Mountain Pose, inhale and swing your arms up alongside your ears. On your exhalation, side-bend your body a few inches to your right. On your next inhalation, swing back up to Arms Overhead pose. On your exhalation, side-bend your body a few inches over to your left. On your inhalation, return to Arms Overhead pose. Repeat that side-to-side sequence up to 10 times. See my video for instructions.
When you are done, exhale and release your arms to your sides and come into Easy Sitting pose. You can either rest here or move directly to the next pose.
7. Dynamic Easy Sitting Twist, 8 to 10 rounds
This pose strengthens the muscles of the belly and chest involved in rotation the spine.
From Easy Sitting pose, inhale and swing your arms up and out to your sides so they parallel with the floor. On your exhalation, twist to the right, bringing your right hand to the floor behind you and your left hand to your right knee. On an inhalation, swing back to center and bring your arms out to the sides again. On your exhalation, twist to your the left, bringing your left hand to the floor behind you and your right hand to your left knee. On your inhalation, return to center with your arms out to your sides, parallel with the floor. Repeat this side-to side pattern up to 10 times. See my video for instructions. (Please note that in the video you return to hands on the floor after turning to each side once while in this sequence you keep going from side to side.)
8. Easy Sitting Pose, 2 to 3 minutes
To keep the practice short, finish your sequence with a couple of minutes of simple breath awareness. (Of course, you can always add on Relaxation pose, if you like.)
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