It takes more strength than you think to hold deep postures in yoga. Here’s how to get stronger and take your practice to the next level.
If your aim is to touch your toes, do the splits or kick up into a handstand, then you might consider adding in some yoga sessions into your workout routine to help you get bendy. But if strength is your goal, yoga might be at the bottom of your list.
That might be an oversight. While big strength gains come from lifting with heavy weight, you can develop the strength to support your body and mind through exercise like yoga.
“You can get stronger from yoga not just physically, but mentally. One thing I can now do that I could ever do before practicing is lifting my own bodyweight. But I also teach students to be mentally stronger. Regardless of their shape and size, when they see what they can do with their body, and realise their body’s full potential, they take that off the yoga mat into everyday life,” says Donna Noble, yoga teacher and Intuitive Wellbeing Coach.
If you have ever tried to copy the postures performed by a yogi you’ve seen on Instagram, you’ll know how hard they truly are. It takes more strength and stability to hold your body in deep stretches or balanced in a pose than you might think.
The way to start building this strength then is to focus on holding postures rather than going fast through flows, Donna advises. “Going slowly will build more strength because you’ll be holding the postures for longer. You’ll open the body more. Your arms and legs will start to ache because you’re effecting change.”
Once you’ve done that, you can add your strength into dynamic yoga, jumping into postures and holding your bodyweight more easily. “It’s also about strengthening the body parts that will support you,” says Donna. First and foremost, that means building core strength. But you also need to practise, practise, practise. These are the postures that Donna recommends you stick with to build strength in your practice:
“The plank is amazing for strengthening your arms and core so that you can hold yourself in postures,” Donna says. Add a static plank hold to your yoga sequences until failure so you can learn to support your body.
Another good one for strengthening the core, says Donna. This is done by sitting on the floor and raising your legs off the ground, but keeping your chest up and open. “This really makes the abdomen work,” Donna says. “My students will be shaking while they hold this, then one day the shakes stop because they’ve given the body time to change and become stronger.”
With this pose, you place both hands on the floor and rest your knees on the back of your forearms to balance with your feet off the ground. “This is one of my favourite poses,” says Donna. “It’s my go-to for building strength.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).