Some practices for building strength and increasing muscle mass have been proven to be effective since the ancient times in which they were first founded. Similarly to how the Deer Antler has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries, yoga has been practiced for thousands of years as a tool to hone in the strength of the mind, body and spirit.
Combining breathing techniques with a series of balanced and careful movements, yoga tones the whole body from the inside out, while quietening the mind allowing for self-reflection and mindful stillness. However, unlike weight training, yoga appears more delicate and is often considered a more effeminate form of bodybuilding. Yoga, in fact, has been and is practiced by people from all walks of life, particularly martial arts practitioners. Excellent for core strength, yoga teaches discipline and an inherent knowledge of the body, allowing for more purposeful, balanced movement in life.
Here are a few positions that focus on core strength. Prepare for them to be harder than you realise!
- Dolphin Plank
Similar to the high plank, the dolphin plank features straight legs, with ankles in line with the hips, toes on the ground with heels thrust backward. However, the top half of the body rests on the forearms. Forearms should be shoulder-width apart with the elbows directly beneath the shoulders. Face downward, extended the crown of the head forward, providing a straight line from the tailbone to the crown. The whole body should be active with the heels pushing away and the crown pushing forward, with the front ribs drawing up to the spine. As well as providing core strength, this posture also tones the forearms, biceps, and triceps.
- Thread-the-Needle Side Plank
To side plank, first place the right hand on the mat, and lengthen the whole body with the outer side of the right foot on the mat and the left foot stacked on top of the right. The left arm should reach up to the sky, creating a star shape. Raise the hips to create a straight line from tailbone to neck, and align the neck and head with the crown. Breathe in deeply through the nose, and on the out breath, bring the left arm down under the right armpit and through the gap between the armpit and the floor, pointing behind. Bring the left arm back to the sky on the in breath, and repeat. After 8 repetitions, swap sides.
Lay flat, with the whole back touching the mat. Bend the knees, with the feet flat in the floor under the knees and close to the buttocks, hip-width apart. Bring both hands to your sides. Slowly roll the back up toward the sky, tailbone first, as slowly as possible, raising the hips. When the hips are fully raised and the weight rests on the feet and shoulders, bring your hands under the body, clasp them together and bring the shoulders together. Hold this pose, actively engaging the abdominal muscles to pull the hips higher. Slowly roll back down the spine, and repeat.
These three positions will help to engage the core, strengthening the abdominal muscles and back muscles to support whole body movement, promote healthy digestion, and keep mental balance. Bear in mind that these positions require active engagement from the whole body, with the mind consciously focusing on how to alter the position to create balance and to support oneself more comfortably. This engagement will tone the muscles further and create a full-body exercise experience.