A Yoga Expert’s Advice on Targeting Muscles for Toning

Augusta Falletta
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We’ve been fans of yoga for quite some time. Whether we need a relaxation break from our busy lifestyles or we use certain poses to de-stress, practicing yoga is a beautiful way to center yourself. The only thing better? When we can also use yoga to target exactly how we want to improve our bodies, too.

Chrissy Carter, a senior yoga instructor for Yoga Works, has spent years teaching yoga classing (plus training and mentoring instructors), and recently put her yoga know-how to an incredible use by creating a Yoga for Belly, Butt, and Thighs DVD . The DVD focuses on four key areas — belly, butt, thighs, and total body tone — to target specific problem areas through the practice of yoga. We were immediately intrigued, and needed to know more about the practice, so we caught up with Chrissy to learn how to have a successful, effective yoga practice, and how to make the most of your body. Read on below!

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Beauty High: For women who are just starting out with yoga, what are a few key things to know about the practice? 
Chrissy Carter: Yoga is the perfect compliment to your life right now; it meets you exactly where you are. Yoga postures work with the physical body — the tangible parts of ourselves that we can see, feel, and touch—in order to teach us how to access the parts of ourselves that are less concrete, like our emotions, mental patterns, and beliefs. We first learn how to focus our attention on our body, but then we learn how to translate that attention into an awareness of our life off the yoga mat.

Yoga postures work to simultaneously strengthen the body and release tension. We use our body weight in different relationships to gravity to not only build strength, but to apply that strength and integrate the body as a cohesive whole. Rather than moving as a bunch of disorganized parts, we learn to work as a sensitive, highly-receptive instrument. In the bigger picture of life, this teaches us how to respond with mindfulness and intelligence to the moment at hand.

When targeting certain areas for toning, is there any specific program to follow (i.e. skip a day between zones, pair different zones together on similar days, etc.)?
Varying your practice daily can help prevent the over-working of muscle groups and the over-use of specific joint mechanics when there may or may not be enough strength yet to support those movements. Balancing dedication with patience is important, both on and off the mat.

How often would you recommend practicing yoga to achieve and keep results? 
Yoga can be practiced daily, however it’s important to listen to your body and choose a program that reflects what you need on any given day. For example, challenge your body with a more vigorous practice a few days a week, but then use the other days to relax deeply in restorative postures, or address tension with myofascial release work. The body responds quickly when you honor rest as an integral part of the process. The body can’t perform optimally if it’s exhausted or over-worked.

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What are your best tips for transforming your space at home into a yoga practice room? 
You don’t need a lot of space to create a sanctuary in your home — just enough to fit your yoga mat and a few props. Finding a spot near a wall is useful because the wall can be a fantastic prop. I like to keep my mat unrolled; it feels inviting and always accessible (even to my golden retriever, Ellie, who loves to nap on my mat)! If everything is ready to go, you’ll be more likely to make your practice a part of your everyday life.

How would you best recommend meditating beforehand to get into the mindset of yoga? 
Getting your mind on board can be a challenge. The mind needs a clear task, otherwise it will drag you all over the place. Often it’s the practice of the postures themselves that helps us to focus and steady the mind. The best way to clear your mind before you practice yoga is to focus on your breathing. You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down. Close your eyes and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Observe what’s happening underneath your hands. Connecting to the repetitive, rhythmic quality of the breath will help you transition from a busy, agitated mind into a calmer, more focused mindset.

Should toning yoga be paired with cardio or any other type of exercise to get the best results? 
I think it’s important to vary what you do. Challenge your body and your attention by switching it up. Cardio fosters cardiovascular health and burns calories, and it’s another great way to channel your energy. A good sweat is detoxifying for the body and mind.