Yoga vs. Weight-lifting

The weight machines have always been my go-to, for strength and muscle-building, and I’ve been using them since my teens. However, doing low-carb over the past few years has unfortunately landed me with multiple injuries and left my body in a weaker state, overall, than before I started down that road.

The other day, I saw my physical therapist and broached the subject of weight-lifting with her. I want to get stronger, but every time I use the weights, I end up with major pain in my knee, ankle, hip, low back, etc. I asked if maybe weight-lifting wasn’t the best thing for me, anymore, and if there was something else I could do, instead?

She asked me what my goals were. I said that they were to get stronger, without hurting myself further, and to avoid the obnoxious teens and tweens that seem to have taken over the weights room. She said, “What about bodyweight exercises, like yoga?”

“Want a tighter core, solid arms and sculpted legs? Not only can yoga make you more flexible and reduce stress, it can also make your body strong.

By starting with poses like dolphin push-ups and half handstand, you can build and tone muscles throughout the body, and your mind will get a workout too.”

– Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, New York Times

Yoga is a Bodyweight Exercise?

That took me a second and I had to ask if I could really build the kind of strength and muscle that I was after with yoga? I hadn’t really thought of it as a strength-building exercise, before. I mean, isn’t it something that people do on their recovery days, to keep things light?

Then again, think about how much strength it takes to do a handstand (which I cannot currently do and don’t know if I will ever be able to do, in this body, though people like Lucy Lismore give me hope) or some of those other really cool moves where the person is supporting all of their bodyweight on just their arms. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of yoga as being a muscle and strength building kind of exercise.

I’d been looking up calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, for a while. Push-ups, burpees, squats, and other such exercises are the ones that are usually focused on. But, yoga? My mind was kind of blown by the idea that at least some of the moves could make me stronger, without any extra equipment. 

Sara said that the muscles don’t know whether you’re using a kettleball or doing the downward dog. That’s mostly just for us, because we get bored, LOL. As long as the muscles are getting stressed beyond their current capacity, they are going to tear and build and you will get stronger, no matter what your doing or what kind of equipment you’re using.

Now, it has to be said that unless you’re continuously upping your game with harder and harder yoga poses (crow, flying crow, handstand, etc.), there’s probably a limit to how much muscle you can build. Still, even if it’s never going to make you bulk up like The Hulk, yoga has a decided advantage over weight-lifting.

According to JKFitness (and my physical therapist), “Instead of focusing on the larger muscle groups, yoga requires you to use the smaller stabilizing muscles. This allows you to find and eliminate any muscle imbalances and helps you prevent injuries. Working larger muscles groups can sometimes cause tightness or muscle imbalances on one side of the body over the other.” 

The point is that even if you do max out on how much strength and muscle you can build with yoga, it might still be beneficial to keep it as part of your routine. 

Purple Yoga Props

Ramping Up the Intensity

I have to admit that while I’d been doing some yoga moves, for a few years, they were really tame gentle ones like the cat/cow sequence and the child pose. And the longest I held anything for was about twenty seconds.

I’d also take a handful of yoga classes at my local rec center, but that was restorative yoga, where most of the poses involved us being laid out on the ground, in some fashion. 

There were all kinds of straps and props to help us out, too, and we would drape ourselves over conveniently-placed cushions and blocks. That was NOT the kind of yoga that Sara was referring to.

I figured it was worth a shot to try some of the more intense beginner yoga poses, as long as it meant staying away from the teens and being able to do them at home, where I had more control over my environment, as well as privacy. I do NOT need to be taking this amateur fat girl yoga show public, thanks! LOL. Overall, I’m more of a cat person, but if getting acquainted with the downward dog could make me stronger, then I figured it was worth a try.

Planning My Approach

My basic philosophy on life is that I can conquer any challenge, as long as I’m organized about it. So, it was time to get organized.

I looked up some yoga poses on the interwebs that I wanted to try and I wrote them down, along with very basic stick figure drawings. At first, it was just a handful of poses. There are some articles, out there, but most of them just have four or five poses that they highlight, so I had to paw through a bunch of those to find enough exercises to actually make up a routine that I would like and would be able to do for about thirty minutes.

The other day, I decided to try the poses out and mix them in with my physical therapy exercises. There’s a lot of crossover, so that wasn’t hard. What was hard was holding the poses for a minute each. Whew!

I was sweating before I knew it. And it was a stinky sweat because I’d forgotten to put on some of my homemade deodorant, before starting out. That just goes to show how much I underestimated this yoga stuff. I repeated the routine before deciding that I’d had enough (of smelling my own stink) for one day. I looked at the clock and 45 minutes had slipped by. Huh!

Sore Muscles Are a Good Sign

Did it work? Well, I will tell you that in all my years of weight-lifting, my forearm has never been so sore that it hurt to use a pencil. I noticed that, when I went to revise my cheat sheet for the next time, so I could focus on the poses, rather than straining my brain. Also, when I went to take a bath, today, it hurt to lower myself into the tub, because my hamstrings were burning. That was probably from the warrior poses, which I really made sure to sink into…once I got my balance that is. Those things look easy, but they are no joke!

Overall, I’m pretty sure I used muscles that I didn’t even know I had. I was really sore, that night, and stiff when I went to get out of bed, the next morning. Though, I did sleep really well and didn’t even have a hint of restless leg syndrome going on (that I was aware of, anyway).

Will yoga make me stronger? It’s a little too soon to tell, but I have faith, considering how sore my muscles were today, as well as how hard it was to hold some of the poses.

More Grace is Always Welcome

Here’s something else that I noticed. I was moving better (even just going around my apartment), because my core was more engaged. Now, that’s saying something because I have some major structural issues going on, with knock knees, as well as this huge belly which makes my back unnaturally curved, etc. Anything that helps me move more normally and gracefully is kind of a miracle.

A Balance of Flexibility and Stability

I am extremely flexible. I like to joke that I must have been a contortionist in a past lifetime. I’m always trying to get out of tight spaces, metaphorically, LOL. And if I didn’t have this belly in the way, I could do amazing things!! As it is, I have no problem touching my toes or even putting my palms flat on the ground, without cheating.

You might think that super flexibility would be a good thing and it is in the sense that I can dance like nobody’s business and get into these yoga poses more easily than some. However, it can also lead to issues like lack of stability, which can cause injuries, etc. My physical therapist calls it “hyper mobility” and she’s always trying to get me to stabilize stuff, by working the small stabilizing muscles in my body.

Here’s what I noticed about yoga: the reason it’s challenging for me to hold those moves is NOT because I can’t bend my body that way (that’s the easy part). It’s because I have a hard time HOLDING some of them, which requires stability. That hasn’t been my strong suit, but let’s say it’s something I’m working on in all areas of my life, LOL. Anyway, I can tell that I’m on the right track with my desire to be able to hold the poses for at least a minute. It’s challenging, but I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what I need.

”Yoga is the fountain of youth. 

You’re only as young as your spine is flexible.

― Bob Harper

Increased Energy and Well-Being

I also noticed that I had more energy, afterwards. I did my yoga from about 7-8 p.m. and I would normally go to bed around 10 p.m. I felt kind of euphoric and energized, afterwards, though. I wanted to squeeze every last drop out of that feeling, so I held off on going to bed until 3 a.m. Fortunately, I didn’t have anything planned for early in the morning, as it was a Sunday, so that worked for me.

Something that I struggle with, in general, is stress levels. That makes it really hard to lose weight, because excess cortisol translates to belly fat. That is another argument for staying away from HIIT and weight-lifting, because they both tend to make me a bit of a stress ball. If yoga can make me stronger AND calmer, then that would be a huge win-win for me.

Prana, mana, chi, qi, life force energy…whatever you want to call it, I feel that I have more of it after doing yoga. And I just did my second session, tonight. So far, that’s consistent. I feel that my chi is activated in a balanced way. I don’t feel overly aggressive (yang) or overly passive (yin). I just feel balanced. Some of the energetic and mental barriers that I normally deal with, on-the-daily, seem to be dissolving, as well. Because I’m really concentrating on my own energy, I think it’s getting stronger.

Also, you know how you come across something that just feels like it’s in alignment for you, like there’s a sense of rightness about it? That’s how I feel about this yoga stuff. Now, I will say that someone told me a long time ago that I should do yoga, but I suspected that he told that to EVERYBODY and whether it actually applied to me, or not, was questionable. The Universe told me, again, through Sara. This time, I listened, because she knows my body, as well as anyone other than me can, and I trusted her judgement about such things. Anyway, it happens when it happens, right? Maybe I wasn’t ready, before, but I am, now.

Hungry Muscles?

Another thing is that I was hungry. Not ravenously so, like with weight-training, but my body let me know that it needed some extra calories, carbs, and protein, to repair my muscles. I definitely went over what I had anticipated for my daily calorie allotment. That’s okay, though. I’m sure the extra went to good use.

Relief from Pain

I hate to say it, but though I look twenty years younger than I am (45), I sometimes feel twenty years older, due to my spinal condition, other injuries, and obesity. I was trying to lose weight with the low-carb diet, but I ended up with multiple new injuries and it worsened the ones in my low back and neck. I’ve been having pain in my right arm fairly consistently, lately, and both my knee and hip have been really acting up, in the last week.

When I did my yoga moves, the other day, I did feel sore, but none of my injuries were activated any my neck and arm felt better than it had, in a while. I was able to dance for an hour and a half, the next day, with no pain.

Now, two days later, I am feeling really sore, but that’s probably from the hip hop, because I really busted it out, yesterday, LOL. I think some yoga would be a good idea, because it would help to stretch everything out, including my spine. Overall, I’m probably going to need some regular stretching out, like this, because my spine has been having some major trouble, lately, and it’s been really concerning. So, if yoga can provide relief from pain, as well as relief from the fear of future pain, hey, that’s gold.


A Well-Rounded Routine

Also, because I’m a super geeky organizer type, I came up with a new routine of about thirty poses. They are divided into four types of poses that have me:

1) on my hands and knees

2) in a seated position

3) standing and bent over at the waist

4) standing upright

The Plan

I imagine I will get a really well-rounded workout with that mix. BTW, I tried the dolphin pose (per the quote above) and decided it’s not a good idea for my spine, so I’m leaving that out.

Also, I’m not a yoga teacher. I’m just a person who’s trying to get stronger, by looking up and trying some moves. So, if you need some pro instruction, to make sure that you’re using proper form, I advise that you find a way to get it.

That being said, here’s what I’ve been doing:

Hands & Knees

  • Cat
  • Cow
  • Tiger (R, L)
  • Balancing Table
  • Child
  • Cobra
  • Lizard (R, L)


On the Ground

  • Supine Twist (R, L)
  • Happy Baby
  • Windshield Wiper (R, L – repeat x 30)
  • Clam Shell (60 on each side)
  • Butterfly
  • Revolved Cross-legged Twist (R, L)

Standing & Bending

  • Downward Dog
  • Standing Forward Bend
  • Standing Forward Bend + Spine Rotation (R, L)
  • Triangle (R, L)

Standing Upright

  • Warrior (R, L)
  • Warrior 2 (R, L)
  • Chair
  • Standing Sidebend (R, L)
  • Haka

Some of these yoga poses are a little harder and require more balance, control, and flexibility than others.

If you can’t do the full 60 seconds, that’s okay! Just do what you can, for now (even if it’s just 10 seconds) and work up to that. It will take some effort and it may feel super awkward, at first, but your body will thank you for it, later. 

Remember that stability and balance are forms of strength. Even though you may not get super ripped with yoga, you can strengthen your whole entire body doing it, as well as relieve everyday aches and pain.

Beginner’s Tips

If you’re a newb to yoga, like me, here are a couple things that I have discovered, in my research and trials:

1. Measured Breathing Makes to Time Slip By

A minute can seem like a long time, especially when you’re trying to hold a more intense pose, like the triangle. That’s 60 long seconds. Ugh. So long!! But, if you focus on your breathing, like you always hear about (sorry to bleat on about that, but I do have a point), you can break that down into six long breaths. Inhale: 1,2,3,4,5  Exhale: 6,7,8,9,10. Then it doesn’t seem so long and drawn out and your focus is on making that as smooth as possible. Filling your lungs and then expelling air in a measured and paced sort of way. I don’t know if this is how the yogis do it, but when I figured this out, it helped me sort of sink into the poses, rather than just wishing they were OVER.

2. Always Do Right, Then Left

If you’re doing an exercise that requires doing one side first, and then the other, start with your right side and then do your left. I think I kind of intuitively knew this, but I was able to confirm that with a quick search of the interwebs.

According to, “You start on the right side to stimulate the Pingala energy, which helps to heat you up and energize you in your practice. You then repeat that pose starting with the left side, and in turn stimulate the more cooling, relaxing Ida energy, which is a more appropriate way to end an asana or your practice.”

3. Play Some Music or Listen to a Guided Meditation

According to MomoYoga, Music used during any type of physical activity will stimulate people to work harder and longer. In other words, playing music during your yoga practice can help you to get into the flow more easily and can give you that extra push to fully go for itI recommend something soothing and relatively slow. I’ve been listening to my Snatam Kaur CD, the past couple times, and it really helps to get me into the groove. Some mellow jazz or classical music could also work. 

I also enjoy listening to this radiant health meditation, by Steve Nobel. Listening to that WHILE doing yoga is really powerful, because it’s like you’re actively downloading the message into your body. 


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I would love to hear from you. Have you used yoga to build strength or would you consider doing so? Did you like this post and find it to be helpful? Do you have questions that weren’t answered, here? Feel free to leave a comment, below. 

Love and Blessings!

Claire Amber, Fired Up Diva

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