Did you know that many of the exercises you do regularly in your group fitness classes have their roots in traditional yoga practices? From lunges to planks, many exercises are modernized versions of a deep-rooted practice. What separates a yoga posture (asana) from a weight room exercise is the focus on breath work, long isometric holds, continuous flowing movements and mind-body integration.
If attending a 200-hour yoga training isn’t in your future, you can still use the following yoga flows in your next group fitness class to enhance your participants’ flexibility, strength and mindset. (Each asana, or pose, is given in both its English and traditional Sanskrit name.)
Balance is the foundation of all movement and strength. Too often, however, balance is practiced through static positions. While it is great to be able to stand on one leg, falls do not happen when people are standing still, but rather while they are moving, transitioning or adjusting. Therefore, the true key to building balance and coordination and preventing injuries from falling is to master the transitions, develop power and improve dynamic balance.
This flow is designed to do just that. Each asana challenges the body in a different way by shifting the weight through various transitions. As balance comes from the ground up, it’s important to activate the feet and toes by pressing them firmly into the ground.
Use this as an active recovery or as part of the cool-down. Repeat this flow six times total, three times per side for tree pose. For the first two rounds, hold each pose for five breaths, and then move through rounds 3–6 at one breath per pose.
- Chair (utkaasana)
- Standing hand to big toe (modified) (utthita hasta padangusthasana)
- Airplane (dekasana)
- Tree (vriksasana)
Yoga is known for improving flexibility, and many of the static stretches used in group fitness classes are, in fact, yoga asanas. This flexibility flow focuses specifically on the thoracic spine, an area of the body that is often neglected when it comes to flexibility, but is vitally important for movement in the rib cage and back.
Limited range of motion in the thoracic spine impacts rotational movement, pulling and overall comfort in daily life. And while there is only so much movement that can be garnered in the thoracic spine, this flexibility flow offers just the right amount of movement.
Use this as part of an active dynamic warm-up, during an active recovery period, or as the cool-down. Repeat this flow six times total, holding each pose for five breaths.
- Cat/Cow (marjaryasana/bitilasana)
- Thread the needle (parsva balasana)
- Gate pose (parighasana)
For this strength flow, instead of thinking about counting reps and “feeling the burn,” turn your coaching focus to the breath. Encourage participants to tune into all the muscles of the body, from both a strengthening and opening perspective. Coach them to move with their breath. This slight shift in coaching may be just what a person needs to truly find the mind-body connection of these strength-based yoga asanas.
Use this as part of an active dynamic warm-up, during the body of class, or as the cool-down. Through the long isometric holds and powerful transitions, this flow improves the strength in the hips, abdominals and back extensors. Repeat this flow six times total, holding each pose for five breaths.
- Bridge (setu bandha sarva?gasana)
- Reverse plank (purvottanasana)
- Boat (navasana)
Breathing and Relaxation
It is the breath-to-movement connection that truly makes yoga a mind-body experience. Focusing on the breath makes it possible to calm the mind and nervous system, creating a deep sense of relaxation. A focus on the breath can be a great way to finish an intense group fitness workout, with deep breathing serving as a cool-down and a reminder for the participants to slow down and appreciate what is around them.
A simple breathing exercise you can use in your group fitness class is known as “The Long Exhale.” In this 1:2 breathing practice, gradually increase the exhalation until it is twice the length of the inhalation. Start off with a two-second inhale and four-second exhale. As you and your class participants improve, you can increase the duration of the inhale and exhale. Make sure you experience no strain as the exhalation increases. For example, if your inhalation is comfortably four seconds, do not increase the length of your exhalation to more than eight seconds.