Weights for Yogis: Top 3 Lower Body Exercises to Injury Proof Your Practice

This post follows on from my previous post about upper body strengthening to aid and rebalance your yoga practice. Exactly the same principles apply in the lower body.

As yogis we can get a bit obsessed with forward folds and hip openers. I know being able to bite your toes or fold in half is a really cool trick. And I know hip openers can feel really juicy and like they are doing us loads of good (and in some cases they may well be).  If we are always pushing to get further/ deeper into these poses without strengthening at the same time then we can run the risk of overstretching / weakening / injuring ourseleves. Particularly the hamstrings, glutes and  pelvic / knee stability.

 Another contibuting factor can also be super grippy modern mats which allow us to 'hang out' or sink into or flexibity in standing poses such as warrior 2, triangle etc becuse we don't need to engage other muscles to stop our feet sliding out from under us (try doing W2 on a slidier surface and you'll see what I mean)

Please note I'm not saying yoga or stretching is bad (I'm a yin teacher afterall!) just that it's about balance and realising there can be too much of a good thing :)

Below are my top 3 lower body exercises to help your lower body stay supple AND strong.They can all be done at home with some dumbells if you don't have access to a gym. Choose weights that are appropriate for you, if you're new to weights start light and see how you go. Make sure you warm up first! Do consult a medical professional if your are unsure if these exercises are right for you.

Try 3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise 2-3x per week and let me know how you get on!

1) Romanian Deadlifts

If you've every tweaked / torn a hamsting (me included!) then you'll know that they can be pretty painful and take a while to heal. It might seem counter intuitive but eccentric contractions (where the muscle is lengthening under a load) are a great way to not only gain functional strength but also to help rehab muscle tweaks and tendon sprains becuse the help orentate the healing fibers the right way.

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart holding a barbell or pair of dumbells in your hands, arms straight, palms facing back towards your hips.
  • Your shoulders should be slightly down and back, pushing your chest out.
  • With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight and lower the weight/s down the front of your legs until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Squeeze your glutes (bum) and use your hamstrings to come back up to stand.

2) Goblet Squats

Sqauts are fab, they help strenthen the glutes, quads, hamstings and calves.They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which improves the communication between your brain and your muscle groups increasing stability around the hip, knee and ankle joints.

  • Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Hold a weight against your chest, with your elbows tucked in. If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it vertically. If it’s a kettlebell, hold the sides of its handle.
  • As you squat, keep your elbows inside the line of your knees, and the heels of your feet flat on the ground.
  • Go as low as you can in this position, then come back up, pushing through your heels. Keep your movements smooth and your abs engaged throughout.

3) Reverse Lunges

Another all round exercises that particulary strengthens the glutes and the quads. The spilt stance challenges your balance more (even better for stability and mucle control) plus it allows you to "even out" strength and muscular imbalances by bringing your weak side up to par with your stronger side

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your hands should be on your hips or if you're using weights holding them by your sides. Look directly forward, keeping your chest lifted.
  • Start the lung by taking a step back, contacting the floor with the ball your foot, allowing your knees to bend to lower your body. Keep lowering until your knee nearly touches the ground. Move slowly with control paying attention to the your alignment. Your front knee should stay stacked over your ankle in line with your foot, your hips level and your upper spine should remain neutral.
  • After a brief pause, return to the starting position by driving through the heel of the front leg to extend the knees and hips.
  • This movement can be done completely on one side before switching, or can be performed in an alternating fashion


Weights for Yogis: 4 Upper Body Strengthening Exercises to Boost your Yoga Practice

Do you use you yoga as your main form of physical activity? Do you have niggles in your shoulders, wrists, or elbows when you practice? If yes then you might benefit from adding some upper body strength training into your practice.

Yoga is wonderful and has many benefits for mind and body. However,  yoga practice tends to neglect some movement patterns and overemphasis others which can lead to imbalances developing in the body. As yogis it's easy for us see how yoga can benefit other athletes but perhaps it's time to recognise how other forms of fitness can help us.

Below are my favourite upper body strengthening exercises to complement the areas yoga tends to miss. They can all be done at home with some dumbells and a theraband if you don't have access to a gym. Choose weights that are appropriate for you, if you're new to weights start light and see how you go. Do consult a medical professional if your are unsure if these exercises are right for you.

1) Pull ups / Pull Downs

Broadly speaking (unless you do aerial yoga or have access to an Iengar rope wall) yoga lacks pulling movements. We do loads of pushing in chaturanga, plank, downdog, and arm balances but very little pulling. Pulling is to pushing what back bending is to forward bending.  a fantastic way to balance the shoulders and back , creating strength and mobility.

Or if you can't do pull ups do assisted pull ups or an active hang where you retract shoulder blades and get your lats involved. If you don't have access to a bar then you can use a pull down machine in the gym or loop a theraband over the top of a door. The point is start PULLING to balance out the all the pushing.

2) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
These strengthen the shoulders and upper back.Plus, because they are done with free weights which require more control they also recruit the stabilising muscles of the wrists and elbows which is great news if you practice arm balances as well and downdog and plank.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hold the dumbbells up by your shoulders, with your elbows out at a 90-degree angle.
  • Without leaning back, extend through your elbow and raise the weights directly above your head. Then slowly return to the starting position.

Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.
N.B this can also be done seated if prefered or if you  have low back issues

3) Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Another pulling exercise :) - these help strengthen your entire back (upper middle and lower) plus shoulders, biceps and triceps.

  • With a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing your torso), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist; as you bend making sure to keep your back straight and your core engaged. The weights should hang directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position.
  • While keeping the torso stationary, lift the dumbbells to your side. keeping the elbows close to the body.
  • On the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower the weight again to the starting position as you inhale.

Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

4) Standing Internal Dumbbell rotations

These help take care of the rotator cuff (the set of 4 muscle and tendons that keep the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa or shoulder socket). The rotator cuff is really important for both shoulder stability and smooth movement. Unfortunately repeated chaturangas and planks place alot of stress on the rotator cuff. In particular, the muscle at the front (subscapularis) which controls internal rotation. Use these internal rotation exercises to help strengthen and balance your rotator cuff.

  • Hold a light dumbbell or cable handle attachment in one hand with the elbow of that particular arm creating a 90 degree angle between your upper arm and your forearm.
  • Your forearm should be parallel to the floor and your elbow should be tucked against your side.
  • Internally rotate your forearm (i.e bring your fist inwards, across your body) ensuring it stays parallel to the floor.
  • Hold the contracted position before rotating externally to return to the starting position.

Repeat for 3 sets of 12 – 15 repetitions per arm.

Hope you've found this post useful! Part 2 - exercises for the lower body coming soon!


4 Ways to Enhance Your Yin Yoga Practice

Practiced mindfully yin yoga can be a wonderful way to enhance somatic awareness, relaxation and a sense of proprioception. Yin yoga is much less about making a 'correct' target shape and much more about finding the right shape for YOU to explore.

Everybody is unique. How far we can go into, and the kind of sensations we experience a yin pose vary widely from person to person. So how do we practice sensitively to get the most from a yin yoga class?

Below are 4 key points to keep in mind when practicing yin yoga to have a safe and beneficial class.

Start at an appropriate depth – especially when new to the practice it is important to be kind to the body. Go to a point where you feel a gentle stretch (4 to 6 /10 intensity), stop and wait. You may like to use props to help support The long holds can significantly change the sensations experienced during the pose.

Breathe with your whole body. Use your breath to help you soften into the poses. Your breath is also a very good indicator if your depth is appropriate. If you find you can’t breathe smoothly and easily the chances are you are in a little too deep and it's a good idea to ease out a little.

Be mindful of the sensations happening in your body as you hold the pose. Notice how they change, in intensity or if they travel and make adjustments accordingly.  If something starts to feel too much, or you start to feel any numbness / tingling ease out, if you feel your body opening maybe you might like to move a little deeper.

Cultivate stillness in mind and body. This can be the hardest part! Yin teaches you how to stay with something even if it not totally comfortable. This staying helps train the mind to be more focused and allows a deeper awareness of the body to develop.

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this post helpful. Wishing you a wonderful yin practice!