You need stamina. There is no doubt about it. Most of the things that we enjoy or want to do require stamina for the proper experience. Yoga can work gently with your body and still increase your stamina overall.
In simplest terms, stamina/endurance(wiki) is defined as your ability to exert yourself before getting tired. Each one of us has difference endurance/stamina, which is dependent on physical health, the task for which we are evaluating ourselves. But still, a healthy human being is supposed to have certain standard endurance as a measurement of health.
This post is about physical endurance, mental endurance is addressed in its own dedicated post(to be published in few days and the link will be posted here)
The anatomy of getting tired:
Getting tired is not only about feeling out of breath (though we will discuss that in a while too). Not feeling energetic enough is similar too.
The most common anatomical reason is when your body is not getting enough nutrition or oxygen. This can be due to improper posture in our daily routine or improper breathing habit or simply lack of rest.
The other type of getting tired is what we call feeling out of breath. This happens due to the production of lactic acid in our muscles.
Let’s deal with both types:
What’s lactic acid & how does it affect us?
When our muscles move for any physical activity, it requires energy. Normally, this is supplied by oxygen in our bloodstream. This is what our prefers. And this works in most of the low-intensity movements of our body. When energy is produced in this manner (aerobically), muscles stay in their productive zone without getting tired.
But some situations, mostly sudden or high-intensity activity level, like sprinting, lifting weight etc. requires more energy then what our respiration system can supply. In such scenario, our body resorts to the emergency method of producing energy anaerobically. In this process, body breaks down glucose without oxygen to generate energy in series of steps. This leads to the creation of lactate. When such intense activity is continued for some time, the amount of lactate in body increases.
A side effect of lactate is high acidic level in muscle cells, which leads to resistance in muscle movements. This coupled with overexertion of muscles leads to burning sensation on muscles, which leads us to feel deflated and exhausted. You can read more here(Scientific American)
Is lactate bad?
Before we go further, let me clear this point. Lactate is not bad for our body. It is our body’s defence mechanism to prevent us from harming our muscles beyond repairable wear and tear.
This acidic burn, causes us to stop and relax. And relaxation allows our body to heal by replenishing tired muscles with oxygen and nutrition.
This defence mechanism is what defends our body from our sudden rush of willpower to push our body in a single day and damage our body.
So, how does yoga help in this?
One of the main points about practising yoga asana is focus on breathing.
Yoga focus on calming down your breath, during the whole class: while going in asana, while holding asana(however difficult), and of course while relaxing also.
This focus is not for sake of meditation(though that comes later) but it is based on fundamental understanding of how our body works.
As you just read how lactic acid is produced in our body, you know that it happens when our body is not able to supply the required blood. When you practice yoga asanas, you focus on breathing, even while holding difficult asana. This, coupled with stretched muscles, leads to the deeper level of nourishment of our joints, muscles and most important part, the blood circulation itself. When our practice deepens, our body gets more efficient in:
Utilizing lungs capacity to breath in more oxygen with each breath
With regular practice of pranayama, you are forced to improve your breathing pattern. This along with improvement is body posture helps in increasing the capacity of lungs. Plus as you can read in proper breathing post, with the main focus on complete exhalation, the overall capacity of lungs is utilized.
This leads to the availability of more oxygen to our body, with each breath. As our breath is the only way we get our oxygen supply, you can guess how much this thing alone can improve your stamina.
The fun part!? This happens without feeling out of breath in the class. The gentle approach of yoga makes sure that this process is not taxing on your body.
Delivering properly oxygenated blood to muscles
Simply having more oxygen in lungs is not sufficient. It needs to be transported to body organs and muscles too.
In normal lifestyle, due to limited use of most of the muscles, they tend to tighten up and shorten in length. This causes the usual stiffness. Now the issue is that this stiffness affects blood circulation. Which in turn affects the supply of oxygenated blood to body parts (& organs).
With regular practice of yoga, your blood circulation improves. Also, the muscles start to become supple and smooth. Stiffness is removed.
Which directly improves your stamina. Besides, it takes less effort to move supple muscles as compared to stiff muscle.
Increasing the capacity of muscles to stay relaxed while being endured
This is one of the most important benefits of asana practice. The very holding of asana is based on the premise of being comfortable while being stable.
This requires muscles to engage to the required level only. And to consciously relax other muscles. This approach trains your body to avoid unnecessary stress. In absence of stress and with proper focus, the effort required for any physical activity is hugely improved.
For example, think about being able to run while keeping your shoulders relaxed (as professional long distance runners are able to do but difficult for casual runners).
These simple activities, in itself, over a period of time, increase the endurance/stamina of every practitioner of yoga.
Without any exception.
You can look around and see any practitioner, who is practising for more than a couple of months regularly. Regardless of age or previous health condition of the practitioner, you will notice a change in their practice and stamina about the class.
Please share your thoughts in comment section below. It is a huge help in improving the quality of articles on the site.
Also published on Medium.