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Yoga for Fitness & Stress Release

Yoga isn’t just for woo-woo crystal loving hippies. Everyone can stand to benefit from adding a little yoga into their workout regimen. Yoga, much like martial arts, is rooted in ancient traditions. In other words, yoga has stood the test of time. The word yoga means union. Yoga, in the purest form, is connecting breath to movement, and this practice has profound effects on the mind-body connection. The benefits of incorporating yoga into your routine include instantly improving athletic performance while reducing stress in your life. Some things you will start to notice pretty immediately include the following:

1. Improved Power and Strength - Yoga focuses heavily on proper alignment. Power, strength, and speed rely heavily on proper alignment to transfer force and power. Proper alignment also means that movement will be more efficient and effective, which also results in increased power.

2. Increased Balance and Proprioception - Yoga helps to open the body by lengthening muscles and creating more mobility, which leads to better body awareness and stability. 

3. Deeper Focus - Deep breathing, lengthened muscles and connecting the mind and body ultimately deepens focus. Increased focus translates into more impact in training and life. The ability to focus deeply is the biggest differentiator of good to great. 

4. Stress Relief - Practicing yoga is known to help lower and manage stress response by training the nervous system. This happens through inhalation and exhalation. When we inhale, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, and with the exhale, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. A person’s ability to readily shift back and forth between these two states is an indicator of emotional and physical resilience. 

In one study conducted at Newcastle University in England and published in 1997 in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found that six weeks of practicing hatha yoga increased the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming side) without decreasing the influence of the sympathetic (the arousing side). In other words, yoga trains the body to meet life’s challenges.  

Related: 10-Minute Stress Busting Workouts

Mood-Boosting/Stress-Relieving Yoga Workout

Here are three easy-to-access poses that are instant mobility and mood boosters as well as stress relievers. 

Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

This pose feels like a mini-spa visit! You instantly feel the tension melt away. It helps open the hips, inner thighs, and groin—all of which are places we hold tension and stress. 

  • Lie down on your back in Savasana. 

  • Take the soles of the feet together, knees out to the side. If one or both of your knees are quite far from the floor, you can use yoga blocks, bolsters, or folded blankets underneath them to make the pose more restorative.

  • Options for the arms, you can take them up overhead and take each elbow with opposite hands, or they can be resting on the floor alongside your torso. Put one hand on the heart center and one hand on the belly. 

Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Standing forward fold promotes feelings of calm and peace. 

  • From mountain pose, bend the knees, slightly engage the core, and hinge forward from the hips

  • Place the hands in front of or alongside your feet.

  • Shift weight onto the balls of your feet and feel the tailbone lift toward the ceiling. 

  • Lengthen through the backs of the legs while keeping the weight in the balls of the feet. (For tight hamstrings, you can keep the knees slightly bent) 

  • Take hold of each elbow with the opposite hand and along the weight of your head to lengthen you towards the floor. 

Cat/Cow Pose

Cat/Cow pose opens up the chest, shoulders, and spine promoting feelings of calm. 

  • Come onto all fours with your hands below shoulders and your knees below your hip bones, keeping your back straight in a neutral position.

  • Inhale, lower your belly, draw your shoulder blades together and open your chest, lift gaze to Cow Pose. 

  • Exhale, press against your palms, round into your back as you draw your shoulder blades apart, gaze toward the navel into Cat Pose. 

  • Continue to flow between these two movements. Follow your breath

– By Corey Phelps, NASM certified trainer and nutrition expert. Follow her on IG @cultivatebycorey

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