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Written by Lauren Weaver

Do you want to live a long healthy life, reduce your risk for disease, keep your mind sharp, and prevent injury? Great!

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion wants this too. They created the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, providing recommendations for these five areas: aerobic activity, muscular strength, bone strength, balance, and flexibility. These guidelines are published online so be sure to check them out if you are in pursuit of a long and healthy life.

The guidelines share that physical yoga practice (asana) is particularly beneficial for three of the five categories: muscular strength, balance, and flexibility. Read on for suggestions on integrating yoga into your exercise routine.

Practice for Muscular Strength

Yoga inherently improves balance, flexibility, and strength. Regarding muscle strengthening, the Guidelines specifically recommend activities at least twice a week that work the major muscle groups of the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.

If you are new to yoga, check out the beginner section that follows. If you have been practicing yoga for some time, check out the intermediate section.

Beginner:
Perhaps the best way to learn about yoga is to attend a class taught by a qualified instructor. Consider talking with the instructor or someone familiar with the class beforehand to see if it matches well with your goals. If you are seeking to build strength, look for classes that will challenge you. During class, notice what is easy and what pushes you to go further. Give yourself permission to make any adjustments for pain or discomfort without letting yourself off the hook when your muscles begin to tire; the challenging parts are often the most valuable! After class, jot down those things that were both easy and challenging. Then, to satisfy the Guidelines for your best health, schedule a time 2-4 days later to try those poses again or take another class; explore lots of classes to see what is right for you. If you become comfortable enough to practice on your own, consider trying out the poses in the intermediate section. Enjoy the many benefits of yoga not detailed in the Guidelines as well!

Intermediate:
Advanced yogis and beginners alike attend classes so don’t hesitate to join them! If you feel comfortable practicing on your own, you may follow the sequence below or pick some of the poses. Be sure to exercise all major muscle areas. While each of the selected poses engages most, if not all, of these groups to some extent, the emphasized muscle groups are noted in parentheses.

  1.  Bring your Attention to your Breath and Set your Intention
  2. Warm Up and Align your Spine with Cat/Cow, Side Bends, and Twisting
  3. Locust/Salabhasana (legs, hips, back, shoulders, abdomen, arms)
  4. Boat/Navasana (legs, hips, back, abdomen)
  5. Downward Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana (legs, hips, abdomen, shoulders, arms)
  6. Plank/Chaturanga Dandasana (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, arms)
  7. Chair/Utkatasana (legs, hips, back, abdomen, shoulders)
  8. Warrior I/Virabhadrasana I (legs, hips, chest, abdomen)
  9. Extended Triangle/Utthita Trikonasana (legs, hips, abdomen)
  10. Relaxation/Savasana to Integrate the Exercise Benefits

General Tips

Be kind to your joints. If you feel any pain, move out of that position. It does not serve your joints to overstress them.
Your body will benefit. With yoga practice, you strengthen large muscle groups and important smaller muscles as well; for example, there are many small muscles that help move and protect your spine.
Yoga can be a warm-up. You can use yoga to prepare for other exercises like weight training and running by, at the least, increasing your awareness of your body, aligning your spine, and warming up your muscles and joints.
Listen to your body. If your muscles are tired and tight, try a gentle or restorative yoga class. This will help you bounce back for next time!
Yoga is just the start. If you are seeking to lose weight, remember that physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Find activities that you enjoy!

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