Yoga Exercise is Real Exercise

It’s amusing to me that while yoga is becoming increasing popular, even mainstream, the perception of it as a serene practice of stretching and chanting “Om” persists. Sure there is a level of spirituality to yoga, and parts of the practice are very relaxing, but it can also be hard work. Yoga exercise is exercise.

You only have to look at the toned physiques of celebrity yogis like Jennifer Aniston, Madonna, and Sting to see that the physical benefits of regular Soul-searching exercise can be substantial. Do people think that the poses shown on the cover of Yoga Journal can be achieved through peaceful contemplation alone, with no physical effort at all? I don’t see how or why but many people still don’t see yoga as exercise.

There are many types of yoga exercise and many levels of classes. Admittedly, there are Gentle Yoga and Restorative Yoga classes that keep the practice on the light side with limited exertion and an emphasis on stretches and relaxation. At the opposite end of the spectrum though are Ashtanga, Hot Yoga, and other advanced classes that can offer a good workout to people of any fitness level.

From personal experience I can tell you that some of my most intense feats of physical exertion, some of the sweatiest moments in my life, have been on a yoga mat. A yoga practice may require flexibility, but it also requires strength. You only have to hold a plank or a warrior pose for a minute or two to realize that. Think about it. Plank pose can also be called top-of-a-push-up pose it is a great upper body and core strengthener. And the Warrior 1 and 2 poses are deep lunges with different arm postures. I assure you that when you hold a Warrior pose for 5 to 10 breaths, and the instructor reminds you to bring your front thigh parallel with the ground, your leg muscles are getting a work out and it is a challenge to maintain a sense of peace. Yoga exercise is not for the faint of heart.

Still, I can’t tell you how often I hear comments from friends, family, and fitness professionals that indicate yoga is just good for a nice stretch. The kinds of comments I hear most often center around yoga not providing the benefits of a cariovascular or weight-bearing workout. I beg to differ. Yoga exercise, in almost any intermediate or advanced class, or even a beginners class that includes Sun Salutations and a series of the standing postures, is going to provide a cardio workout. The breathing exercises alone can increase the heart rate of a fairly sedentary person, and coupled with the challenging standing postures and flows even a fit person will find their heart rate increasing and their breathing becoming labored. As far as weight bearing exercise is concerned, yoga fits that description as well, but instead of lead weights and barbells, yoga uses the weight of your own body. Downward Facing Dog pose requires that the arms bear half the weight of the body as you balance in a triangle shape with your hands and feet providing the base and your hips being the point. Single leg balances like tree pose and Warrior 3 strengthen the standing leg, which is carrying more than its usual share of body weight.

 

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