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Archive for February, 2012

Can astanga yoga make your biceps bigger?

Getting bigger?

In short – yes of course!  But I know and have heard of quite a few women not doing Astanga because they are worried about how big it will make their arms and shoulders – men don’t seem to have a problem with this!  I thought I’d do a little personal study and practice Astanga daily after a period of ‘rest’ and see how big my biceps actually get after one month.

I begin on the 13th of January. It feels rather self indulgent measuring body parts… With a long unflexed arm my bicep measures 24cm – when flexed it is 25cm.

After one practice my unflexed bicep measures 24.5 cm and when flexed 25.5cm.

By the 15th January my unflexed bicep stays at 24.5cm but flexed it is now 26.5cm.

These measurement are taken straight after practicing. On the 17th and 18th January the measurements are the same as the 15th – but I also take a reading about 10 hours after practicing – both days show a decline in muscle growth – back to the original size of 24cm unflexed and 25cm when flexed.

On the 13th of February at the end of the one month of Astanga my unflexed bicep is 24.5cm and flexed up to 26.5cm.

So in a month a total bicep growth of 0.5cm when unflexed and 1.5cm when flexed.

I haven’t been able to measure the growth of the muscles in my shoulders – they definitely look stronger – especially the Deltoid muscles (top outer corner of shoulders) and the Pectoralis Major muscles. Although I only really notice this new definition if I happen to be brushing my teeth and happen to look in the mirror.

14th of February – no Astanga today as I think it would be good to see if there is a decline in muscle tone after missing one practice. Bicep – 24cm when unflexed – back to original size! and 25.5cm when flexed – just 0.5 cm more than when I started – Gosh what a quick decline….

Astanga yoga has really forwarded my physical practice and made my arms and abdominal core muscles much much stronger.  Even after a few years of being a yoga teacher and very comfortable in a dog posture, I was never able to do a proper push up. Navasana – boat pose has always seemed impossible – but Astanga makes you do these postures and I can now do a push up with the best of them and Navasana – looks nearly (but not quite!) effortless…

If you enjoy pushing yourself physically than Astanga can be fantastic – it can feel so good to do and after a practice you feel like you have really moved. A shame to miss out on because of possible bicep growth!

So yes, Astanga does make your arms and shoulder’s look stronger – but not too much! They then seem to go back very quickly to the size they were if you don’t practice for a few days – In my case anyway! Everybody’s body is different and unique… and so what if your arms get bigger because you have strengthened them!

pose of the week… dog – adho mukha svanasana…

dog pose - adho mukha svanasana

BENEFITS: Lengthens hamstrings and increases strength in the wrists, shoulders and arms. This posture is great for the circulation and can give you extra energy.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: If you have high or low blood pressure, only stay in the posture for a short while – say one breath to start with. Any back condition, keep the knees a little bent to soften the pose. As with all postures of the week, only practice if it feels comfortable and good to do…

PRACTICE: Begin on all fours… spread the fingers and thumbs wide. Then find a relaxation in the hands and just let them be heavy on the ground.

Tuck the toes under and breathe in to prepare…

As you breathe out, bring the pelvis up into the air.

Relax the head and keep the knees bent to begin with.

Notice how your body feels and then begin to move in. Whatever feel good for your body to do. Bending and straightening the legs if that feels okay… Bending each elbow (dogs have four legs!), Maybe coming right onto the toes. Moving the pelvis from side to side…Have a little play…

At some point you could find some stillness in dog. Imagine a string attached to the back of the pelvis gently pulling you upwards…

Breathe and feel the body long, strong and lengthening…

Enjoy the strength and lightness of your body.

When you feel you’ve had enough, rest in child (kneeling with the upper body folded over the knees) and breathe…

* The above photo is of me doing a rather ‘short’ dog. To make the posture longer, simple walk the hands a little further away from the feet.

pose of the week…tailor – baddha konasana

Tailor - Baddha konasana

BENEFITS: Improves flexibility in the hips, tones the abdominal muscles.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not practice if you have SPD – Symphysis pubic dysfunction.   As with all poses of the week – if something doesn’t feel comfortable – don’t do it for now….

PRACTICE: Begin by sitting on the ground with the knees bent and the soles of your feet together.

Allow your pelvis to be heavy and relax your hips…The feet will begin to unfold like an open book.

Visualise the spine being long…

If it feels an effort to keep the body upright, then place part of a cushion just underneath the tailbone. If the knees feel too heavy – place some cushioning underneath them for support.

Be aware of your sitting bones and the contact they have with the ground. Circle around them one way, then circle the other way. Come to still in the centre of these circles…

Pelvis heavy, with sitting bones very much in contact with the ground. Hips released and spine like a growing plant seeking the sky…


pose of the week… curling forward bend – uttanasana

curling forward bend - uttanasana

BENEFITS: Increases flexibility in the hips, hamstrings and back. This posture is detoxifying as it massages the internal organs.  Can increase brain power due to extra blood supply to the head.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: If you have any back conditions, or your hamstrings are very tight, but it still feels good to do uttanasana, keep your knees bent throughout the posture and rest your hands on a chair or sideboard. As with all poses of the week, only practice if it feels comfortable…

PRACTICE: Stand in Tadasana – with your heels a little narrower than your hips and directly underneath your sitting bones – the outside edges of your feet parallel to each other.

Breathe in to prepare and then as you breathe out, gently bend your knees and let the head roll forwards and follow the head vertebra by vertebra, rolling down the spine and finally bending at the hips, until you are as far as you can comfortably go.

Don’t try to reach for the ground, just let the upper body give in to gravity and breathe…

If it still feels good, straighten one leg and then bend it again. Do the same with the other leg. Keep doing this a few more times and then if still at ease, straighten both legs.

Breathe and enjoy the lengthening of the whole of the back of the body. Stay here as long as it feels good.

When you are ready to come out, take a breath in as preparation, bend the knees and send the tailbone down, coming up vertebra, by vertebra.

Gently shake out the arms and legs.

You might now feel as though you want to go into child as a counter pose and have a little rest….