Yoga Myths Debunked: #1 Yoga Can't Make You Stronger

Transient

On the rare occasion I find myself at a coffee shop (oh, so rare), I’ll hear (overhear, listen in, eavesdrop, what have you) the most interesting conversations; interesting as in so intriguing, entertaining or bizarre that I’ve been tempted to start a series simply on these discussions I overhear. I think I would call it “Starbucks Snooping,” or maybe “Chronicles of a Cafe Pryer.”

Typically it’s a pet peeve of mine to be working on something and wind up overhearing the world problems of those around me. But every now and then someone says something that grabs my attention (and yes, I think, “That would be a fantastic topic to write on!”). Excuse my dorky self.

Well just the other week I sat down in a cafe at one of those inviting lengthy wooden study tables, that are either the most wonderful invention for the solo studier at coffee shops or the most annoying concept, because essentially you're sitting at a wide-open invitation for anyone to join you. (Now I’m sure I sound like a community-avoiding loner, but I guess thats what earbuds are for.) Soon I was joined by a 60-something southern belle who was sharing just how “famished and parched” she was and before I knew it, the conversation led to a series of questions (she was doing all the asking) that wound up revealing a rundown of my resume. After I mentioned I was a yoga instructor, this lithe, elderly Scarlett O’Hara responded “Oh, yoga! I hear that’s relaxing and good for you. But it doesn’t really strengthen you, so it’s not really like... a workout.” Au contraire!, I wanted to reply, but I held my tongue like the good reserved northern girl my southern dad raised me to be. In conversation one does not always have to have the last word and in the presence of the elderly (aka - anyone older than you), one never takes the last word. 

What I did want to tell this little lady (side note, but too hilarious not to note: my Mac proofreader just suggested I avoid using “little lady” because it is sexist)... Rephrase: What I did want to tell this sweet, capable wise woman was, Yoga* will undoubtedly make you stronger, and you don’t have to be doing a P90X routine to discover it.

This is a misconception I had for some time that held me back from giving yoga a go. How can focusing on balance, breathing and flexibility actually lead to a stronger physique? But Iet me be honest here: at the time I was more concerned it would not melt calories away like my spin class or Tracey Anderson dvds. If I couldn’t burn 400 some-calories, why would it even be worth 20 minutes?

When I did make the dive, and exchange my high-impact runs and spins for some soft, varied and restorative routines, I found my strength was challenged like nothing I had ever tried. Granted, I’ve never entered a Crossfit (and likely, never will) so this is not a claim that yoga will make you a body builder or the show-stopper in your Crossfit clique, but if you’re looking to challenge your body in a new way and strengthen skills you rarely tap into, you may want to give yoga a chance.

So how can this odd form of “working out” make you stronger?

1. Yoga will strengthen you’re coordination.

Learning to allow your body to release (opposed to forced stretches) and still hold poses for lengths of time, is both a mental and physical challenge. You’re constantly battling the “I can do this”, “No, no I can’t do this.” “I can hold this a few breathes more.” “Nope, there’s no way. I’m going to fall!” thoughts. 

Yoga challenges your strength on a whole new level.

I recall being in classes in NYC with firefighters and gym owners, who would sweat and pant, attempting to hold poses instructors would lead us through. 

2. Yoga will strengthen your focus.

In one study it was found that after a yoga practice, individuals “were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly,” and were overall more productive. (The Journal of Physical Activity and Health)

3. Yoga will strengthen your breathing.

Yoga will make you focus on your breathing.

 The benefits are endless for better breathing: Stimulated brain growth, improve heart rate variability, lower stress levels, alleviate anxiety and negativity, lower blood pressure, the list goes on. (Huffington Post)

4. Yoga will strengthen your emotions (or self-control).

Studies suggest yoga may have a similar affect as antidepressants and psychotherapy on the body. Of recent, it has become a form of therapy used for many struggling with PTSD and even Psychiatric disorders. (Time)

5. Inevitably yoga will make you stronger. 

Simply put, by an aspiring neuroscientist, “Yoga is a scientific technology that harnesses the innate capability of the body as a vehicle for transformation.” (US News)

Male aspiring neuroscientist, I might add. 

Yes, yoga can and will make you stronger. Even you, men.

*Though many programs are incredibly restorative and invigorating, Yoga can be a very loose term. Some programs, such as P90X, can be counterproductive. You should feel a sense of recovery and energy. If you feel like you’ve been run over by a mack truck you may want to look elsewhere.

Free and approachable yoga routines by Tara Stiles are always a sure thing.