Is yoga really good for you?

In terms of relaxation, mindfulness, and socialising: yes. As exercise: almost.

Posted on 11/22/2019 3:43:21 PM

Yoga is the ultimate wellness activity. Decades ago, before the wellness trend started, yoga was already teaching us about mindfulness, clean eating, and finding balance in everyday life.

I discovered a book about yoga when I was growing up in the 90s, and it became my self-care compass. I still live by its lessons about reducing stress, eating well, noticing how my body feels, and practicing compassion.

Now that everybody is doing wellness and we have so many choices, from Pilates to Zumba, how does yoga stack up? Is it still worth your time? Or are there better options?

The hard truth is that, in terms of exercise, classic yoga is not enough.

To meet your body’s exercise needs, you should aim for a combination of cardio and strength training.

Cardio is dynamic exercise that raises your heart rate – for example, jogging, cycling, walking at a brisk pace, swimming, or dancing.

Cardio builds up endurance. The big bonus: if you do it for a sustained amount of time, your body releases endorphins that dramatically boost your mood and can lead to the so-called “runner’s high”. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Strength training is exercise that builds muscle. This may mean lifting weights, or exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and crunches, which use your body’s own weight to create resistance.

If you’d like to learn to lift, an instructor at the gym can show you the basics. It’s not as hard as it looks!

Pilates classes are also a great strength option. The intensity is moderate but, over time, Pilates can significantly improve your muscle tone via resistance exercises.

In an ideal world, we should be doing strength training at least twice a week, and cardio 2-3 times.

Where does yoga fit in?

The classic kinds of yoga mostly focus on flexibility, balance, focus, and relaxation.

Unfortunately, they cover neither strength, nor cardio training.

A more dynamic vinyasa session can function like cardio. But even the most energetic flow does not come close to spending an hour jogging or cycling at high speed.

As for strength, many yoga poses use your body’s weight to create resistance. But this is not the main focus of the class.

When you’re coming down from the candlestick pose, for example, you’re working your core. But how many times do you do that per class? Twice, maybe.

That is equivalent of two crunches – whereas a Pilates set or a gym routine would include at least 3x10 reps.

You would need to practice yoga tenaciously each day to get substantial strength benefits.

In short, yoga is not an optimal form of exercise, whether in terms of cardio or strength.

Yoga asanas are about discipline, patience, and learning to control and relax the body. They do wonders for body awareness and acceptance, which can help you try other sports, too.

Yoga is a place to move in a gentle, pleasurable way, and stretch any tight spots. It’s a mindfulness and even a spiritual practice. The guided meditation in savasana at the end of class is pure bliss.

Plus, yoga class is a place to make friends. I’ve never met people more relaxed, happy, and approachable than in the yoga studio.

Yoga is a wonderful gift to yourself – even if it’s not always a complete workout. You can start with yoga and gradually transition to more intensive forms of training.

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