Iron Yoga: A Passion For Extreme Fitness.
A Yoga Teacher since 2000 and two years into teaching, I got this great (and I thought unique) idea that using light dumbbells along with yoga postures would add variety to my routines and greatly enhance the benefits of the practice. The key for me was using light weights (2 kilos or 4.4 pounds) so that the postures became more challenging but the aim was definitely not to “bulk up”, instead to work on building internal muscle strength.
To this end, I am greatly successful. Students instantly responded, saying they loved the challenge. I choreographed many interesting routines with weights and added 30 odd dumbbell sets to my studio equipment. Today, come 2016, another sixteen years later I am so happy to have filmed a video of yoga with weights with my 26-year old son.
Around the same time, in 2002, while I, a simple Yoga Teacher in Gurgaon, India, running her own studio, adding this creative exercise routine in my class, at the opposite end of the world, after the Ironman USA triathlon ended in Lake Placid, New York, Anthony Carillo was practising yoga in his living room. While performing the standing pose Warrior II, the triathlete felt a muscle burn in his legs. This made him wonder how he could experience a burn with the same level of intensity in his upper body as well.
Noticing a pair of dumbbells in a corner of his room, he chanced upon the same idea I had and Iron Yoga, the union of upper body weight training exercises with favorite yoga poses, was born. The term “Iron” refers not only to dumbbells used while performing the poses but also to Anthony’s passion for the Ironman triathlon and combining yoga with extreme physical fitness.
Iron Yoga: The Vitruvian Man Comes Alive
The Iron Yoga logo was inspired by Da Vinci’s sketch , the Vitruvian Man. The sketch depicts the balance and proportions of the human body as an analogy for the same in the universe. Iron Yoga forces a person to be more present in the moment. When performing postures with weights, one has to be fully present and attentive, to prevent any mishap or injury. Consequently, this allows the practitioner to deepen their mental, physical, and spiritual practice as well.
Yoga with weights also has an amazing impact on one’s breathing. It becomes imperative to breathe deep and long to sustain the arm movements while holding the dumbbells. So, we don’t have to remind ourselves to continue to breathe deeply along with the body movements; it happens naturally. This is a great automatic Pranayama training.
Our sense of balance is wonderfully honed as we do postures with weights. There is no scope for short cuts. Because we are challenged with holding weights, the relevant muscles have to engage strongly and remain working while we execute our movements.
A time-saving workout, it combines yoga with weight training to create a perfect combination. While the yoga postures add more flexibility and strengthen the lower body, the dumbbells add power to the arms, back, and shoulders. Stronger bones and improved upper-body strength makes this a challenging, yet fulfilling practice for those seeking access to physical vigor along with mental stability. Don’t be intimidated by the rigorous practice.
Iron Yoga allows the workout to be modified to different levels. I advise my students to practice poses without weights when they are beginners, then graduate to light weights (1 kilo or two point two pounds in each hand) and slowly progress to 2 kilos or 4.4 pounds. I allow only a few students to advance to heavier weights.
With Power Yoga as its base, Iron Yoga synergizes weight training and the steady, focused practice of yoga. Practicing standing and leg-balancing yoga asanas with light to moderate weight dumbbells helps to work our arms and upper body. We can build our chest, back, shoulders, and core with this body shaping and sculpting routine that gives us an energy boost as well. Weight training combines mind and muscle power.
While performing the pose, we hold weights so muscle contraction couples with an adequate flow of oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the muscles. This helps the muscles to strengthen and grow rapidly.
Iron Yoga is an intense practice with a complete range of motions designed to boost health and fitness levels, build concentration and focus and a thirst to strive for and experience a stronger will, and a toned physique.
Iron Yoga: The Benefits
Iron Yoga combines the best of both practices to yield the following benefits:
- Enhances lean muscle mass
- Improves mental concentration and focus
- Boosts the metabolism
- Initiates the practitioner into automatic pranayama or breathing
- Helps in managing weight
- Strengthens the core, and increases stamina
- Initiates balance and symmetry
- Calms the body, mind, and spirit
- Strengthens and lubricates muscles to enhance strength
- Improves the functioning of the joints
- Increases coordination and functional independence
Iron Yoga: The Fire Within and the Four Connections
Iron Yoga taps the fiery strength of the physical body and integrates it with stabilizing mind and breath. It is founded the below basic principles:
- Connecting Mind With Breath
- Connecting Mind and Breath with Muscle movement.
- Connecting Mind-Breath-Muscle with Static Contraction
As we move from one step to the next, breathing deeply, we inhale fresh energy and exhale toxins from our body. Our movements need to be slow and measured – we need to keep our muscles engaged but very relaxed, so the muscles work effectively. We need to ensure that through the arm movements, as we bend and straighten our arms ( while holding weights) we keep our elbows a little bent and soft so that we don’t strain our elbow joint.
The Static Contraction is an advanced technique performed through the following steps:
- Standing straight, hold the dumbbell at the top of the lift
- Squeeze the muscles and contract them tighter while deeply breathing out and in
- On the final exhalation (breath 4), lower the dumbbell and commence with the next pose
Dumbbells are not the only weights used for performing yoga stretches. The poses these days are also practiced with kettle balls, gym balls, medicine balls and barbells. Iron Yoga uses the best of both disciplines to build muscle strength and boost overall health. Framed in accordance with the principles of biomechanics, Iron Yoga focuses on modifying and intensifying postures to suit your fitness level.
Five Poses To Strengthen Arms and Back
Precautions To Observe
While practicing the poses, here are a few essential principles to keep in mind:
- Ensure that the body and arm muscles are well warmed up before you pick up your weights.
- Always follow precise body mechanisms and move your body in the correct way- this minimizes injury and joint strain.
- Avoid using heavy weights, as this could injure you.
- Ensure that the working muscles are engaged but surrounding muscles are relaxed.
- Follow correct breathing patterns and don’t hold the breath while performing the pose.
- While performing dynamic stretches, 10-15 is the maximum number of repetitions you should do.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana) With Weights
- Assume the tree posture with one foot up on the inside of the opposite thigh. Ideally, the foot should be all the up with the heel touching the perineum. If this is not possible, then one can allow the foot to slip lower, anywhere along the inside of the leg. For people with no balancing ability – one can even have the big toe on the floor, with the heel up against the inside of the other leg.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bring the upper and lower arms into a 90-degree angle as shown in the picture.
- With an exhaling breath raise both arms overhead, the inner arms pressed into the ears and with an inhale back to starting position (arms 90 degrees). Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Proud Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) With Weights
- Assume the Virabhadrasana 3/Proud Warrior III position.
- With a dumbbell in each hand , hang the arms down, so that the dumbbells are just off the floor.
- With an exhale draw the dumbbells up to the armpits, bending the elbows backward.
- With an inhale, return to starting position.
- Toggle between these two steps – doing two sets with 8 to 10 repetitions in each set.
- Then for one final time – draw the dumbbells up to the armpits & hold this isometric contraction for 3 to 5 deep breaths.
- Slowly release the posture & stand up – shaking out the leg which was taking the weight all this time.
Boat Pose (Naukasana) With Weights
- Lie back, prone, with a dumbbell in each hand and arms overhead on the floor. With an exhale, raise the legs up 90 degrees.
- With the next exhale raise the arms up overhead, keeping the elbows a little bent and soft.
- And with another exhaling breath, lift the torso up and come into boat pose as shown in the picture, with the arms now on the outsides of the legs and parallel to the floor.
- Hold to a count of 8, the release by first lowering the body down, then the arms ( overhead to the floor) and finally the legs.
- Repeat the above routine 10 times.
Proud Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)- Biceps Curls
- Come into Vir Bhardrasana 2 position.
- With an exhale bend the elbows, bringing the dumbbells to the shoulders.
- Inhaling stretch the arms out again at shoulder level, as shown in the picture, keeping elbows just a bit bent and soft.
- Do two sets of 8 repetitions each time.
Wide-Angle Side-Stretch With a Dumbbell
- Stand with feet about 4 feet apart, keeping the feet parallel.
- Put one hand on the floor, between the feet (if it doesn’t reach – place one or two blocks under the hand to raise the floor level).
- Hold a dumbbell in the other hand and begin by placing the hand with dumbbell next to the other hand.
- Exhaling raise the dumbbell to the chest, pausing here just a moment, then continue exhaling the arm with dumbbell all the way up, in line with the shoulder, also twisting the torso simultaneously, looking up at the raised arm. Hold here up to a count of 5.
- Inhale on the way down, pausing again for a moment, with a dumbbell at the heart.
- Do two sets with 8 reps in each set.
Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) With Weights
- Sit in Vajrasana/ Hero pose, holding a dumbbell in each hand at the sides of the upper chest.
- With an exhale, extend the arms forward as you lean back.
- Inhaling, return to start position.
- Do two sets of 8 to 10 reps.
Table Top Pose (Goasana) With Weights
- Come down on all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Take a dumbbell in one hand and extend that arm forward parallel to the floor. Simultaneously extend the opposite leg back, parallel to the floor.
- Inhaling bring the dumbbell and opposite knee to touch, rounding up your back.
- Exhaling – stretch out into starting position. Now back should be flat.
- Do two sets of 8 repetitions.
Side Plank Pose (Vashishthasana) wWith Weights
- As shown in the pic, assume Vashishthasana, with one leg on the other, and a dumbbell in the raised hand. If this is challenging – one can modify by bending the upper leg and placing the foot in front.
- Slowly circle the arm and dumbbell down to the upper hip and leg and then raise up again with control, till the arms are in one line.
- Inhale the arm up and exhale on the way down.
- Movements should be controlled, at one steady pace. Do two sets of 8 reps each.
Prone Five-Pointed Star Pose
- Assume the starting position as shown, with legs in a “V ” shape and arms put in line with the shoulders.
Hold a dumbbell in any one hand.
- Exhaling, raise dumbbell and opposite leg to touch, overhead.
- Inhaling return to starting position, keeping elbow little bent and soft.
- Repeat 8 times and do two such sets.
- Repeat on the other side.
- For a variation, raise the head and upper chest every time you raise the dumbbell & opposite foot to touch.
Lunge Position (Anjaneyasana)
Do this exercise in 3 steps.
- Start in a Lunge position, with the back heel raised, front knee bent at a 90-degree angle between upper and lower leg. Bend down, holding a dumbbell in each hand, on either side of the foot.
- Exhaling, raise the dumbbells to the shoulders., straightening up the torso simultaneously.
- Inhale, as you hold a moment and with the next, exhale raise the arms up overhead, straight up from the shoulders. Pause a moment.
- Return back to starting position by circling the arms down. Do one set of 10 reps.
- Repeat on the other side.
Weights in Forearm Side Plank Pose
- Come into Forearm Side Plank Position, holding one dumbbell in the upper arm & raise that arm up in line with the shoulder.
- Bring the dumbbell to the shoulder. Pause here a moment.
- Swing the dumbbell under the body, turning the body downwards as well.
- On the way back, straighten the body bringing the dumbbell back to the shoulder, pausing a moment.
- Then raise the arm up again and continue to toggle between these 3 steps.
- Do 10 reps on one side and 10 on the other.
Shoulder strengthening in Proud Warrior-II Pose
- Assume Virabhadrasana position.
- Lean down to the side of the bent leg and rest the bent arm on the thigh, as shown.
- Hold two dumbbells in the upper hand and hold the hand at the shoulder.
- With an exhale, raise the dumbbells up, straightening the arm up in line with the shoulder. Pause a moment and return the dumbbells to the shoulder.
- Do 8 repetitions and two sets. Repeat the same on the other side.
Iron Yoga: A Journey Through Endurance
Iron Yoga is a strenuous and vigorous practice, but its inner core is the stability that yoga provides. Combining weight training with the ancient art of yoga, Iron Yoga is a sublime union of the traditional and the modern. But, then, yoga has a critical role to play in contemporary society. From strengthening the body to soothing the mind, Iron Yoga is an inner journey of awakening that tests your endurance and challenges it to grow.