I promised to write more about strengthening and why I have been using hand weights in my yoga practice. So let’s take a deeper look at using weights, building muscle, and overall health.
One of the things I like most about using weight in my yoga practice is how they help me integrate. The use of external load – meaning something other than your body weight – helps connect your body parts to your center and offers an opportunity to ground more fully and lengthen out along the core lines of the body for a full stretch. And because of this external force, your body adapts and grows stronger, more stable, and toned.
Since so much of yoga is about awareness, let’s talk about proprioception. Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense its position and movement in space. Using hand weights in yoga can help to increase proprioception by adding an extra level of challenge and resistance to the movements. The added weight forces the body to work harder to maintain proper alignment and balance, leading to greater awareness of the body’s position. This increased awareness can help improve proprioception over time, enabling you to coordinate movement better and reduce your risk of falling, which is essential as you age.
Using hand weights in your yoga practice can help you take your practice and overall health to the next level in various other ways. Weights add extra resistance to your movements and postures, challenge your balance and stability, and help you target specific muscle groups and tone them. As the body works harder because of the force of the weight, it increases cardiovascular fitness by raising your heart rate and, in turn, burns more calories.
When using weights, I like to cultivate a yogic attitude. I create the experience of receptivity and feel the weight coming down with gravity. I allow this to connect me deeper to my center and root me into the foundation of the posture. Then from there, I lengthen back out into the weight. This way of practicing induces stretching while the muscle is toned and can help increase flexibility by creating more length and building strength at the end range of the muscle. The extra weight causes the body to work harder to maintain stability, so you sneakily strengthen your core postural stabilizers.
Using hand weights will contribute to building muscle. For example, When you use a weight in a pose like Utkatasana/Chair Pose, you add load to the legs and hips. You build strength in the arms and shoulders when you hold weights in a pose like Virabhadrasana II/Warrior 2.
I have been studying Functional Medicine (FM) for the last few years and recently completed a certification in Functional Medicine Health Coaching. Many FM doctors I have studied with call muscle “the organ of longevity.” But you may be wondering what the benefits of increased muscle mass are and how it supports longevity.
Muscle tissue is crucial in supporting movement, balance, and posture. Improved posture increases mobility and physical function. Muscle also helps boost metabolic function and can lower the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. It can improve your blood sugar and insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Since muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, it can lead to a higher resting metabolic rate. The weight places beneficial stress on the bones, stimulating the production of new bone tissue. So, using external load in your yoga practice can improve bone density.
As with all exercise, it boosts mental health and well-being by reducing inflammation and stress, managing anxiety and depression, and improving brain health and cognitive function. Regular exercise even boosts the immune system by increasing the circulation of immune cells throughout the body to fight off infections and pathogens.
All that said, I don’t want you to pick up weights and do some yoga postures. It’s essential to ensure you work with a solid foundation, good form, proper breathing, and use the appropriate weight. I always recommend starting with pretty light weights (2-3 lbs) to experience using the external load in your yoga practice without straining yourself. You can gradually increase the weight over time as you become more comfortable with the movements and the postures. And always listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly to avoid injury.
I now have a collection in my Video Library dedicated to yoga with weights. And I teach some of the basics and expand from there. My videos are always available to rent on-demand, so why not try one? Or click here to find out how to sign up for a monthly subscription. And as always, if you have more questions, please reach out and ask. I always love to hear from you and am happy to engage in the conversation.
Already using weights in your yoga practice, let me know about your experience in the comments.