In this excerpt from Yoga With Weights for Dummies, author Sherri Baptiste explains what yoga with weights is all about and how it can help you improve your health and well-being.
Everyone can benefit from yoga-with-weights exercises. No matter how flexible you are, how old or young you are, whether you’re a paragon of good health or you’re just starting down the road to a healthier, happier lifestyle, yoga with weights can help.
Yoga with weights is a hybrid of two powerful, time-tested exercise systems: yoga and bodybuilding. Working out with weights is one of the best ways to achieve overall physical fitness, and yoga is renowned as a system of personal development by which you can cultivate peak performance and achieve a higher quality of life. By combining these exercise systems, yoga with weights addresses the needs of your body, but it also goes beyond the physical dimension of your well-being.
Yoga with weights calls for 1-, 3-, or 5-pounds weights on your wrists and/or ankles. The weights stabilize your body and help you achieve a higher level of physical benefit and conditioning. Yoga with weights is a system for the body, mind, and spirit. If you practice diligently, it can be a way of being and living through conscious exercise that leads you to discover your true self.
The addition of the weights makes you feel the effect of the yoga training sooner. The weights train your muscles where to be and where to go. In a beginning yoga practice, several months could go by before you start to “get it.” You have to figure out how and where to move different parts of your body.
It doesn’t take you as long to understand what yoga is about when you practice yoga with weights, because the weights help you move your body into the right positions. The weights force you to engage the right muscles. The added weight also offers a deeper sense of physical grounding, and the weights challenge your balancing skills more intensely than traditional yoga.
Here’s a catalog of health benefits you may experience if you devote yourself to yoga with weights.
Making You Stronger
Yoga makes you stronger and tones your muscles, but by adding the weights, you give additional boost to the muscle strengthening and toning powers of yoga.
When you stress a muscle with exercise or a repeated activity, the muscle increases in strength and diameter as the muscle fiber expands. In other words, the muscle is toned.
The weight-bearing aspect of yoga with weights improves the oxygenation of muscles, which promotes the muscles’ growth and repair. The stretching improves the flexibility and health of muscles and tendons. Yoga with weights also reduces the risk of muscle tears and strains because weightlifting, when properly done, integrates the muscles closer to the bones.
Building Your Core Strength
When we talk about your “core,” we’re referring to the muscles of your trunk and torso that support your spine. These muscles are the major players in balancing and coordination. The core muscles also support your shoulders and hips.
Most people don’t know it, but the abdominal muscles, which are also core muscles, are very important for supporting your spine. Unless your core muscles are strong, you can’t develop the muscles of your arms and legs to their fullest potential, in much the same way that tree branches can’t grow big unless the trunk of the tree is strong enough to support the branches.
Your core muscles are also responsible for good posture. They keep your back straight and your shoulders square, and they keep you from slouching. Your core muscles also support and protect your internal organs. For example, if the muscles around your back and abdomen aren’t strong, sitting up straight for long periods of time is hard, because the muscles of your back and abdomen take some of the weight-bearing stress off the smaller muscles in your head, neck, and even your shoulders. Without strong core muscles, you’re more susceptible to back problems.
When most people think of getting stronger, they imagine being able to lift heavier weights or run faster. But before you can accomplish such feats, you need to develop the core muscles of your trunk and torso. Deep strength begins in these core muscles—your power source, the axis around which so many muscles move. Yoga with weights is a superb program for reaching into the center of your body to engage, utilize, and exercise the core muscles that really matter.
Toning Your Muscles
Yoga-with-weights exercises are designed to work and tone all the muscles of your body. If you think your arms are too flabby, if you want to develop your abdominal muscles, or if you want to strengthen your legs, you can find many yoga-with-weights exercises that target those areas.
In traditional yoga, you can tone and refine parts of your body with exercises. The addition of weights makes it possible to really dig into a muscle or muscle group and work it hard.
Being More Beautiful
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But beauty is also a matter of confidence, poise, and bearing. We’ve seen older people with wrinkles and thinning silver hair who don’t fit the standard definition of beauty but who are nevertheless very beautiful. These people radiate an inner glow that has ripened during the years. They have a light in their eyes that tells you that they’re very much alive to the world around them and living their lives in a way that’s full of enthusiasm. They have what’s sometimes called inner beauty or an inspired state of being.
It’s often said that yoga slows the aging process. What yoga really does is to help maintain and improve your posture and general health through exercising and proper breathing. Yoga with weights helps to increase your vitality and overall well-being so you look and feel younger and more beautiful. It can give you self-confidence and poise, increase your self-awareness, and make the light inside you shine more brightly with each decade.
Addressing Your Flexibility & Range of Motion
Yoga is well known for making people more flexible, supple, lithe, and limber. You’ve probably seen photographs of human pretzels, contorting themselves into different yoga postures. Being flexible is necessary if you want to be comfortable in your body. Think of all the practical advantages of being flexible. You can reach higher, sit more comfortably on the floor, sit at your desk for longer periods of time with greater ease, or stand longer. You have the choice of bending at the waist or squatting when you want to pick up something from the floor.
Soreness, swelling, and pain relate to the loss of body tissue movement. To prevent injury and postural changes, it helps if your joints have a maximum range of motion.
Many people believe that being flexible enough to get into pretzel poses is the primary goal of yoga. Being flexible does show up over time as a natural part of the process, but it’s a secondary goal. You can be a good yoga practitioner without being especially flexible. Yoga with weights combines basic master techniques from the yoga tradition with physical culture practices.
The goal is to achieve the proper body alignment and breathe correctly in every move and exercise while cultivating an open mind and heart. You want to achieve a balanced and overall strengthening effect, not to be as flexible as a pretzel.
Improving Your Circulation
Whenever you exercise, you improve your blood circulation. After you stretch or contract a muscle in a yoga-with-weights exercise and the muscle relaxes, it becomes flooded with blood! Flooded with blood may sound like the title of a horror movie, but this blood inundation is good for you because it increases the flow of blood to your muscles, and blood delivers nutrients. Your muscles become stronger and healthier because they receive more nutrients. Stretching also helps renew muscles and muscle fiber.
Creating Body Awareness
Yoga with weights builds body awareness. You can think of yoga with weights as a dialogue between your mind and body. As you exercise, your brain sends a message to a part of your body telling it to move in a certain direction, and your body sends a signal back to your brain saying that the body part can make the desired motion or can’t move any farther. When your brain receives its signal, it sends out another signal asking the part of the body to become more active or relax a little more.
This ongoing dialogue amounts to a self-exploration of your body. In a very profound way, it makes you more aware of your body and enables you to extend the physical limits that you thought your body was incapable of reaching.
For the past several years, Sherri has worked with an older man who had polio in his youth. Her experiences with this man have shown her just how beneficial yoga can be to body awareness. He can now bend over, sit up, and walk with more ease, confidence, and coordination. In general, his muscle strength, range of motion, and overall sense of well-being have improved.
Through his commitment and practice, yoga has been supportive and helped him rewire some of what we call the nerve highways and pathways that polio had damaged.
Focusing on Your balance & Coordination
Most of the yoga-with-weights exercises in this book challenge your ability to balance and your coordination. Balancing is discovering how to work muscles in opposition to one another. When you balance on one leg, for example, you flex, or integrate, some muscles, and you relax others. If you flex or relax the wrong muscles, you lose your balance. Yoga with weights helps you understand which muscles to contract or relax in an action, and in so doing it teaches balance and coordination.
Balancing improves your ability to direct your thoughts or stream of concentration. You develop skills of concentration in order to balance. Balancing fires the neurons of your brain. It helps clear the nerve highways and pathways so you can focus better. Recent studies in brain elasticity indicate that exercises that develop coordination and balance stimulate the brain to create new maps and communication pathways, keeping the brain healthy and vital.
Building Bone Density
Loosely speaking, “bone density” refers to how strong and dense your bones are. To be specific, bone density is a measure of how tightly packed the cells and molecules in a bone are. The more tightly packed the tissue is, the higher the bone density, and the healthier the bone. Low bone density increases your risk of fracturing or breaking a bone.
As they age, most people lose bone density, partly because their bodies can’t absorb the calcium and minerals they need for strong bones as readily as they once could. Bone density decreases gradually in men and women starting at age 30; in women, the decrease is more pronounced after menopause because estrogen, the ovarian hormone, plays a role in maintaining strong bones.
Weight-bearing exercises such as yoga with weights help bones retain density. When you lift a weight, your muscle pulls against your bones, which makes your bones experience stress. Detecting this stress, your body sends a signal to the cells in your bones that goes something like this: “Please get stronger and denser.” Isn’t it nice to know that some kinds of stress are actually good for your health?
Finding Out the Correct Way to Breathe
“But I know how to breathe,” we hear you say. Are you sure about that? Most people don’t realize that they aren’t breathing correctly. They don’t breathe with their abdomens, mid-diaphragm areas, or upper chest areas in a balanced way. Instead, they habitually take short, shallow breaths.
When they exercise, some people even hold their breath without realizing it. Most people don’t always breathe fully into their lungs, and they miss out on the many wonderful benefits of proper breathing.
Proper breathing can reduce stress and lower your blood pressure. It delivers life-giving oxygen to your body so you have the energy you need. Yoga and yoga with weights are two of a handful of exercise programs that concern themselves with breathing properly.
Squeezing & Soaking
Squeeze-and-soak exercises are exercises that massage your internal organs—your liver, stomach, intestines, pancreas, and others. We include many squeeze-and-soak exercises in this book because they help squeeze out the toxins in your internal organs and deliver more blood and oxygen to the organs.
When you bend forward or twist your spine, you squeeze and soak. When you return to a resting position, your organs open up and return to their normal shapes and sizes, and as they do so, they soak up oxygenated blood cells. This oxygenation restores and helps to maintain the organs’ health and vitality.
Developing the Quality of Self-Awareness
This book mostly sticks to the physical side of yoga with weights, but that doesn’t mean we want to downplay the quality of consciousness and self-awareness that yoga practitioners develop when they commit themselves deeply and intensely to yoga. Yoga consciousness is real. Yoga encourages you to be more aware not only of your body, but also of the world around you.
The discipline helps you stay in the moment so you’re more cognizant of sounds, sights, and other sensations. Yoga awakens you. It teaches you to live a life without blinders so you’re more keenly in tune with the flow of life — the mysterious force that makes the world pulsate and grow.
We like to compare the yoga practice to the opening of a rose or other flower. The roots, foundation, and stem of the rose — the flower’s physical body — must be strong enough to support it. Yoga-with-weights exercises strengthen your body. As the flower awakens, it blossoms and opens its petals to drink in the sunlight. Similarly, the meditation and breathwork that accompany the yoga-with-weights practice open your awareness to the outside world and your own potential to grow. Like the blossoming rose absorbing light from the sun, you commune and connect from within more completely with the world around you.
Excerpted from Yoga With Weights for Dummies by Sherri Baptiste. Copyright ©2012 by Sherri Baptiste. All rights reserved.