Many people think yoga is essentially a stretching regimen. It is that, and much more. For example, if you happen to be seeking stronger muscles, yoga can help provide that, as well. Yoga also helps you relax and focus, and if you do yoga gently, it can improve your joint motion.
Examples of yoga postures that will strengthen your muscles include:
The "downward facing dog" posture, which strengthens your arms and legs
The "half moon" pose, which strengthens your legs and ankles
The "plank pose," which strengthens your arms, wrists, and back
The "locust pose," which strengthens the back of your torso, legs, and arms
How do you strengthen your muscles with yoga? Simply by getting into a yoga posture and holding it. When you start a stretch, your teacher may instruct you to focus intently on the muscle that opposes the ones you are stretching.
Contracting your muscle signals its opposing muscles to stretch without resistance. Every muscle has opposing muscles. When you contract your biceps while stretching, for example, your triceps have to release. When you contract your triceps, your biceps release.
Most yoga traditions give ample rest breaks between poses. But power yoga—in many cases, simply another name for Ashtanga yoga—emphasizes both strength and flexibility through a challenging nonstop series of postures that include flowing connective movements between each posture.
Power yoga can be a real workout. Many people who attend power yoga classes are weight lifters, runners, bicyclists, football players, and other athletes who come for injury prevention or, at times, as part of a comprehensive injury rehabilitation program. When does someone start power yoga? If you're new to yoga, begin with less intense forms so you can develop flexibility and skills in a less intense class.
Strength-training with yoga helps you get fit for life. It helps you deal with stress, allows you to pick up your child, to control your dog, to carry groceries, to work in your garden. It also can help to prevent or ease back pain and muscle or joint injury, and give you self-reliance and self-esteem.
Yet, one of the most important benefits of any yoga routine isn't physical—it's the quieting of the mind.
The bottom line is learning to pay attention. You fine-tune your attention, beginning with the body, and then moving to the mind. As you get deeper into your practice over the years, you start to see the mental and spiritual benefits.