Did you know that Shavasana (dead man pose) is significant in toning up muscles? In the classical literature on yoga, asanas for developing muscles are not a separate practice because yoga is a holistic routine that impacts muscles the most, including relaxation and Pranayama. You don’t need to do a specific practice for building muscle tissue. However , there is a combination of well-known asanas besides Pranayama plus Shavasana that helps keep our muscles not just buffed but toned, flexible and elastic. It is because of this that yogis do not have problems in their old age.
Muscle-building exclusively is a recent fad and people are wont to look for methods in yoga to build six packs or a buff body. However , yoga is a holistic development for maximum flexibility, health, balance and harmony among all systems of the body and brain. Nothing you do in yoga is targetted towards any one part of the body to the exclusion of the other parts. This flows from the very meaning of yoga exercise, which is union and not division.
Second, the definition of asana as described by Patanjali is, “Sukham sthiram asanam ( happy steady pose is asana). ” Therefore , relaxation, too, becomes an important part of our own practice for muscles as it is not indifferent to the involvement of our nervous system which is what makes our muscles work in the first place. Moreover, synchronisation of breath with your practice also contributes greatly to visceral muscles toning, tightening and burning of fat and excess lactic acid.
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A football player once developed a thigh muscle lock a few days before his big game and, as expected, could not give his best performance. His coach advised him to eat simple vegetarian food for 10 days (because the player consumed meat in large quantities) before the match and practise relaxation. This helped.
My own yoga exercises teacher, Dr Rajesh Kumar, related his experience of helping a patient of muscle dystrophy, which is supposed to be hereditary. He did a combination of asanas — Pawan Mukta Asana, Tadasana (Palm tree pose), Triyaktadasana (Sideways bending), Katichakrasana (Body twisting) and backward and forward bending (I have described all of these in my earlier columns in this space). This lasted for two hours every day for six months. Coupled with Pranayama, he even did Suryanamaskar followed by Yoga Nidra. He was cured after six months.
The purpose of giving these examples is to drive home the point about how effective yoga is for muscles in general. Most of the practices listed above are also good for getting a toned body, be it biceps, triceps, hamstring, serrated muscle groups, tendons or ligaments. The particular practice, combined with relaxation plus breathing synchronisation, assures there is no damage to muscle, ligaments or tendons.
Below I’ve detailed some practices which I have not touched upon in the earlier articles or even those which you may not find easily:
Utkatasana: This asana builds your leg, pelvic and core muscles because of the breathing linked with this exercise.
Practice: Stand with your feet together and hands raised over the head with palms together in a prayer pose. Steady your posture, relax. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, bend your knees to lower the body about a foot while keeping the spine straight. Then inhale and come back to the full standing position. Then as you exhale, lower your body twice as much as the first time to come almost to the waist level, bending along with full weight on all the muscles in the thigh, calf and ankles. The core area is pulled in, tightened and the arm’s muscles remain stretched and taut. Then again come up to a full standing position as you inhale. Then in the next round, you go a little lower than the waist and with inhalation, come back to the starting position. Finally, in the last round, you sit down on your haunches with buttocks close to the floor, arms stretched above your head and spine straight. After that as you inhale, raise your body again back to a full standing up pose. Bring your hands down and relax your whole entire body.
This is one round. You can go up to five more rounds as per your fitness.
Naukasana: This asana is done lying on your back as the name indicates. Get your body in a boat shape by exhaling and raising your legs, head plus arms about 45 degrees up. This manipulates the leg and arm muscle tissues but is most effective in building a strong core and reducing all excess fat in the belly.
Agnisar: This is again a practice for tightening the core muscles and directly influences the particular BMI rate of the whole body. It converts visceral fat into muscles. Anyone who practises this for a few months will notice how the belly fat disappears and the abdominal muscles become toned.
Exercise: Sit in Vajrasana but separate your knees so that you are able to place your palms flat, with fingers pointing inwards and palms in line with the knees. Stick your tongue out to the maximum and then do rapid exhalation with a loud sound like the gasping of a dog. Do a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25 rounds. This is also a wonderful practice for toning up the digestive system.
Suryanamaskar: This is a proven, tried and tested series of asanas with regard to toning up the whole body. As I have discussed them in detail before, all you have to do will be follow the series up with Shavasana.
The Pranayama combination is as follows:
Bhastrika with Kumbhak: Rapid breathing in and out for a minimum of 50 rounds. Then exhale completely. Pull your stomach in by locking the arms on the knees and hold your breath as long as you can. When you want in order to inhale, release the Udiyana bandha (stomach lock) and start the second round.
Diet and lifestyle: Protein, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian, must be part of your daily diet. Sugar, toxins like coffee, tea or alcohol must be had in moderation. If you are following a yoga practice, you are most likely to have good quality of sleep, which is imperative for the body to build tissues, muscle tissue and nervous system of the body. Fruits and vegetables must be part of your daily diet with carbohydrates in moderate amounts.
(Kamini Bobde is a Kundalini practitioner who follows the Swami Satyananda Saraswati tradition of yoga. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga exercise for All: Unlock the Power of Your Body and Brain. Published by Penguin)