Yoga Alternatives: Exercises With Comparable Health Benefits
Yoga is all around us: on television, in gyms, advertisements, magazines and more. Yoga mats have become a common accessory and yoga clothing is everyday apparel. The reason for the widespread acclaim? Yoga is good for mind, body and spirit. The level cultural saturation is akin to peer pressure: everyone is doing it because its good for you, there are varieties and intensities for almost everyone, the accessories are trendy, a marker for members of a healthier lifestyle, etc. I feel this pressure and spent years trying to make myself like yoga I have tried countless styles and teachers, different mats and clothing, and several types of meditation. Even after all that effort I was wary of speaking the truth: I don’t like yoga.
Admitting that I don’t like yoga was the first step, the next is finding ways to get similar health benefits. Yoga and dance provide a unique combination of strength and flexibility that relate closely to how bodies need to move during every day and athletic movements. While yoga is a unique type of movement a review of studies concludes other exercises are the same or maybe slightly less effective at improving physical, physiological and physical health-related issues. There are many benefits and modes of yoga but the most distinct is a focus on functional movement. Exercises focusing on functional flexibility, body weight training and mind-body connection can offer similar benefits.
The focus of most individual and group workouts is cardio and resistance training and leave out or include too little flexibility. Most of the workout should focus on aerobic fitness and muscle strength but if you want to run faster, jump higher, move more efficiently and improve joint health your exercise regimen must include flexibility. Functional flexibility means moving joints and muscles in the proper range of motion (ROM) correctly when needed.
The ideal flexibility program combining two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching is stretching a muscle or group of muscles to its furthest point (point of discomfort) and holding it. Dynamic stretching involves gently moving a joint through its range of motion 8-12 times. Arm swings and torso twists are dynamic stretches. A flexibility program including static and dynamic stretching promotes proper body mechanics. Poor flexibility contributes to orthopedic injuries like lower back pain. Most of the time flexibility is only addressed after injury. A proactive, balanced approach to stretching involving dynamic and static stretches helps prevent injuries and functional flexibility. Adding full body dynamic and static stretches to your regular workout will give you a yoga-like boost of flexibility.
Body Weight Training
The different ways of resistance training correspond to a type of strength. For example, if you train your biceps with weighted curls the musles get stronger within that range of motion. If you are looking for aesthetic results this type of training will help increase muscle size but will not help functional strength. There are very few, if any, daily activities that require holding something in your hand and performing a bicep curl.
Body weight training is strength training that does not use free weights and encourages functional recruitment of muscle groups. Body weight exercises like push-ups, burpees, planks, hovers and lunges need more balance, stability and coordination than weight room activities. While you may not need to do a burpee to get through your day incorporating it into your training regimen helps with activities like sitting down and standing that also require the simultaneous activation of several muscles in a given range of motion. A series of body weight exercises can simulate the functional strength gained through yoga movements like downward dog.
Popularity of mind-body exercises like yoga and pilates is, in part, a reaction to the belief that most people disconnect their mind and body. We tend to dissociate from our bodies, separating physical and psychological pain and ignoring bodily signals of tension or stress. Performing exercises that force you into awareness of how your body moves through space requires a greater mind-body connection. An elliptical machine dictates range and direction of movement freeing the mind to think of other things. When performing a burpee you must constantly think of how and where you are doing be aware of how your body is moving through space. You can’t zone out while performing a burpee, your mind and body must work together. Paying attention to how your body feels as it moves through space also increases awareness of areas of tension and relaxation.
While yoga provides a unique blend of functional strength and flexibility training there are other exercises that can provide similar benefits. So, if you don’t like yoga you can still reap the health benefits with an exercise routine that incorporates flexibility, body weight training and mind-body oriented movements.