How to Use Yoga to Boost Your Stamina
You know it’s good for your soul, but it turns out, yoga is good for your strength and endurance, too.
If you think yoga is all om and not much oomph, think again. Traditionally celebrated for its focus on wellness, flexibility and mindfulness, yoga is not usually associated with building stamina—the buzzword for workouts like high-intensity interval training. But it turns out, yoga channels an energy flow that matches breathing with movement in a way that builds endurance and overall strength through a holistic mind-body connection.
“Yoga can improve your stamina, cardio-respiratory and general fitness levels as it really helps you get in tune with your body and your breathing,” explains Melissa Ahrens, a yoga instructor at Aligned Renewal in Chicago. “You’re also working on opening up your body, which means creating a better space for your respiratory system to do its work. This promotes lung health while cultivating a more mindful and relaxed mental state.”
That’s great news for those who want to get fit without all the pounding of an HIIT workout. Discover how you can get your stamina and mental strength on point through yoga.
Start With Your Breath
It’s a no-brainer that when you breathe better, you feel better. And better breathing starts with your posture, something yoga helps you improve. Poor posture like slouching can actually compress your lungs, forcing shallower breathing and limiting oxygen flow through your body. This means you’re likely to feel sleepy and have a harder time concentrating (which is why slumping over your desk at work makes you feel even more tired than you already are). That is also true when you exercise. Without good posture (and the support of the right sports bra) during a workout, you aren’t able to feel comfortable or regulate your breathing as effectively, leading to more frantic gasps for air. Eventually, this out-of-control breathing slows you down.
“Yoga teaches many different breathing techniques that can help your body better regulate its oxygen intake. This in turn helps you hold your poses for longer and helps build your overall strength and stamina,” says Ahrens.
No matter what type of workout you’re doing, once you start applying yoga principles, you’ll notice a difference. “Before I practiced yoga, my breath would start to get erratic when I ran, sometimes forcing me to stop short of my target distance,” says Ahrens. “Once I started using yoga breath work in my runs with a technique called Sama Vritti, I could keep running for longer and felt better doing it.”
Train Your Brain
It’s impossible to talk about yoga without discussing the mind-body connection. Yoga encourages you to ground yourself in the present moment and find peace and calm where you are. “Yoga helps calm the nervous system and relieve stress, and at the same time reduces muscle tension and inflammation, while sharpening your focus and concentration,” explains Ahrens.
Heightening your connection with your body, the mental endurance required to hold many of the yoga poses—especially the uncomfortable ones—is at the core of yoga’s stamina building. “Those who build up their yoga practice over time will experience a new sense of their own strength and agility, while mastering the balance of their mind, too,” she says. “It trains you to listen to your body and your pain points and lean into them to heal them.” That type of brain training can help with the mental aspects of other activities that involve physical endurance, such as running or biking long distances. “Often it's the mental component that hinders you from going as far as you can really go,” she adds.
Go With the Flow
With so many types of yoga available, it can be confusing to know where to start. Ahrens says some versions are better than others for building strength and stamina. Slip on your favorite leggings and an easy top, and give ones of these picks a try:
· Vinyasa Flow: Typically, this is a moderate-pace yoga. It promotes steadiness, comfort and smooth breathing. It features a variety of poses, so you learn plenty of different moves. (Ashtanga, on the other hand, offers the same sequence each time.) Vinyasa is great for beginners to start their strength building and focus on breath work.
· Hatha: Hatha yoga is a catchall term for many different yoga classes, but generally speaking it moves at a slower pace, focusing on holding poses for longer and breath work that is deeper. Studies show that hatha programs can help with posture control and balance, while having positive effects on cardio endurance, strength and flexibility.
· Pranayama: Often called the “heart of yoga”, pranayama focuses on breath extension and control and uses the breath to create energy, cultivate awareness and you guessed it, build strength. Pranayama can help relieve fatigue, anxiety, and even depression.
· Restorative Yoga: This is a restful practice that’s all about slowing down and opening up your body through long stretches. When practiced alongside a faster pace of yoga, it can be the perfect antidote to stress. It calms the mind and body while helping with pain management, mood and overall wellbeing.
· Power Yoga: A fitness-based form of vinyasa, power yoga focuses on building internal heat, stamina, strength and flexibility through the vigorous poses. The key is to stay in tune with the breath work you’ve learned while you move through faster flows.
Ultimately, the type of yoga you try will depend on personal preferences. But whatever you do, know that you are doing more than relaxing the mind: You are strengthening your body with every breath.