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Yoga & Bodybuilding

As a bodybuilder or resistance trainer, the mere mention of the word “yoga” conjures up images of a room full of women, a couple of hippies, compromising and uncomfortable looking positions and tights… stretchy, black, lycra tights. But this is merely a common media depiction of yoga. In reality, the world of yoga is a complex, multifaceted system and may in fact have more in common with bodybuilding than you think. In fact, it may help you become a better bodybuilder or weight lifter.

Yoga History

The practice of yoga has been around for centuries in Eastern cultures, particularly that of India and surrounding regions, but has only been introduced into Western civilisation since the 1890s. In the 1930s, growing interest in health and vegetarianism resulted in many people beginning to examine Hinduism and its practices, including that of yoga. By the 1960s and 70s, the interest in Eastern spirituality reached its peak and so did the practice of yoga. Further interest in yoga grew in the 1980s as a result of practitioners promoting it as a therapy for a variety of health conditions including heart health and other chronic conditions. By the 1990s, the practice of yoga became extremely popular with women as a result of several high profile female celebrities endorsing it as part of their health regime. It is this progression of events that has fuelled the modern day image of yoga as being a predominantly female and counterculture practice rather than one for the macho weight lifter.

Yoga & Men

The stigma attached to exercise practices such as yoga and pilates by many males is simply due to preconceived notions derived from the media as well as from our mates. But becoming a bigger man, both figuratively and literally often involves making judgements and informed choices based on evidence rather than hearsay and opinions from mates. So let’s have a look at the evidence for the benefits of yoga and see if it can’t change your mind.

Yoga & Flexibility

Yoga is probably most well known for its variety of poses known as ‘asanas’. These positions range in difficulty and some can exert some extremely physical demands on the body due to the increased requirement on balance and flexibility. Flexibility is an important factor of musculoskeletal fitness especially as we age. Losses in mobility in old age can be dangerous as it can often result in increased risk and incidence of falls, one of the leading causes in mortality. Many bodybuilders and weight lifters are well known for the distinct lack of flexibility. Increased concentration on muscle size often results in muscular imbalances and a loss in range of movement. While flexibility might not rate highly in your list of goals, it is important to realise that increasing your range of motion and ensuring your body is more limber can in turn help you show off the results of your hard work much more profoundly. Good posing is paramount in bodybuilding competitions to show off your gains. Knowing how to pose effectively involves being able to stand in static positions, a common practice in yoga. In addition, being more flexible and limber will help show off your developed muscles a lot better. For example, you wouldn’t be able to clearly see chest muscle development if you’re hunched over like a gorilla.

Yoga as a Stretching Regime

Yoga and its asana’s as described above is extremely similar to static stretching. While stretching before exercise has been indicated in a reduction in strength, long term stretching protocols after exercise has been associated with improvements in strength, endurance, and sports performance1.

Yoga & HPA Axis

Supplements often contain stimulants such caffeine and other stronger stimulants which, while being beneficial to performance in the gym can place a strain on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the system responsible for the flight or fight response. Exercise itself is also a stress producing activity which combined with the supplements can overwork the HPA axis leading to dysregulation. Yoga has been shown to have the ability to downgrade the HPA axis2 and as such can help with a variety of conditions related to stress including decreased immune system function increased perceived exertion of daily activities. We all know that everyday life has the ability to raise stress levels, which can not only be a detriment to several parameters of health, but it can also be a barrier to exercise. How many of us really feel like exercising after a hard day’s work and sitting for an hour in traffic? Being able to deal with that stress through non invasive practices such as yoga may help you work out more often and increase the effectiveness and longevity of the supplements that you buy.

Yoga & GABA

Yoga has also been shown in studies to be able to increase brain GABA levels3. GABA or gamma aminobutyric acid is an amino acid that was first synthesised in 1883 and is a neurotransmitter associated with muscle tone and also with the excitability or the nervous system. That is, it affects muscle contraction. GABA supplements have also been around in the supplement world for awhile due to its effects on anxiety and growth hormone levels. Studies have been able to show that oral doses of GABA have been able to promote increases in growth hormone levels4, which is a potent anabolic hormone. In the study, participants were able to increase their GABA levels by 27% after a 60 minute session of Asana yoga.

Yoga & Other Benefits2

Yoga practices incorporate much more than just poses however. It also involves controlling your breathing as well as meditation. Countless studies have examined the effects of yoga and its practices on chronic conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Yoga for the Mind & Body

The practice of yoga aims at achieving physical, mental and spiritual discipline. While, not all three areas may be importantto you, there is no doubt that bodybuilding, weight lifting and a substantial portion of our lives involves a sense of discipline. Without it, achieving our goals and success would be much more difficult. But forgetting all the philosophical mumbo jumbo, yoga practitioners stand to gain:

  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved range of motion capabilities and effects as that of chronic static stretching
  • Improvements in the HPA axis which can lead to increased effectiveness of stimulant containing supplements.
  • Improved mood levels and decreased stress can help with adherence to exercise and training.
  • Increased GABA levels which can benefit sleeping practices but also increase your potential to increase growth hormone levels, a potent anabolic stimulator.
  • Benefits to a variety of chronic disease conditions.

So what are you waiting for? Give yoga a try today. And remember, you don’t have to wear tights to do it.

1 Refer to Stretching article on Mr Supplement: Last accessed 19th August 2011.
Ross A, Thomas S. ‘The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies.’ J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jan;16(1):3-12.
Streeter CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw PF. ‘Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.’ J Altern Complement Med. 2007 May;13(4):419-26.
Powers ME, Yarrow JF, McCoy SC, Borst SE (January 2008). "Growth hormone isoform responses to GABA ingestion at rest and after exercise". Medicine and science in sports and exercise 40 (1): 104–10.
Kristal AR, Littman AJ, Benitez D, White E. ‘Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women.’ Altern Ther Health Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;11(4):28-33.
Cowen VS, Adams TB. Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study. J Bodywork Movement Ther. 2005;9:211–9.

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