Yoga is more than a powerful way to relax -- it can transform your body, says Travis Eliot, a registered yoga teacher in Santa Monica.
"Yoga has the potential to increase fat loss, develop muscle tone, and build flexibility, leading to a more lean-looking physique," he says.
If flexibility and balance are what you’re after, even the gentlest forms of yoga will do the trick. Many types also help you build muscle strength and endurance. If you want to work on your cardio fitness, yoga can do that, too, as long as you opt for a more rigorous form.
Hatha, Integral, and Iyengar yoga. Choose one of these gentle forms if you want to target flexibility, balance, strength, and relaxation. In a recent study, people who did Hatha yoga for 8 weeks had better balance, improved flexibility, a boost in endurance, and an upsurge in strength.
Hatha yoga is filled with poses that strengthen your chest, abs, and core. "Many poses, like the Forearm Plank and the Boat Pose, build tremendous core strength," Eliot says. "Others, like the Plank and Chaturanga, build strength throughout your upper body." And the Warrior III and Half Moon poses are great for improving your flexibility and balance.
For even bigger gains, hold your poses for 30 seconds.
Power, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, and Hot yoga. Try a more intense type for a more dramatic transformation, Eliot says. "If you’re looking for muscle tone and fat loss, Power yoga is best," he says.
Expect to do longer strings of poses with fewer breaks. You’ll move more and do more challenging poses. If you choose Bikram or Hot yoga, you’ll sweat more, because the room is kept at a higher temperature.
You’ll reap the benefits of the gentler types of yoga -- flexibility, balance, strength, and relaxation -- plus you’ll get a cardio workout. Moves like Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B boost your heart rate and build stamina.
One footnote of sorts: If your goal is to build muscles, weightlifting will give you better results. If you want to lose weight, good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are also key. "Often someone who practices yoga regularly starts to make more optimal choices when it comes to being healthy," Eliot says.
Go to the Mat
To maximize your results, try these tips from Eliot.
Max out. The more you practice yoga, the more changes you’ll see in your body. Start with three sessions per week. After about a month, bump it up to five or more.
Mix it up. Each style of yoga has unique benefits. Try to vary your yoga practice to target different areas of your body and fend off boredom.