Yoga is catching the world by storm. We know that yoga can help us sleep better, live happier, reduce stress, eliminate toxins and loosen up those tightly wound muscles. Clearly, there is no doubt that yoga deserves a consistent spot in our weekly wellness routine, but can we also count it as a full-body workout?
In one study that examines the relationship between yoga and fitness, researchers at the University of California at Davis tested the muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and lung function of 10 college students before and after eight weeks of yoga training. Each week, the students attended four sessions that included 10 minutes of pranayama (breathing exercises), 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas (yoga poses), and 10 minutes of meditation.
After eight weeks, the students’ muscular strength had increased by 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent. VO2max is is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that the body can use. Typically it takes about 15 to 20 weeks of consistent exercise to see improvements in VO2max, so a 7 percent increase if eight weeks shouldn’t be taken lightly. These results show us that, yes, we can label yoga as our “workout” for the day.
Of course, the level of workout depends on which style and level class you decide to take. A hot power vinyasa class is going to be much more physically rigorous than a yin class. Don’t discount yin classes though – they are magical in their own way! Sun Salutations and other continuously linked poses will increase your heart rate, strengthening your aerobic system and counting as cardio. Keep a good, steady pace, matching your breath to your movement, for best results. Many yoga poses, think standing poses, balancing poses, and inversions, build strength because they require sustained isometric contractions of different large and small muscles.
When going through a yoga flow, your whole body is involved. You aren’t simply performing bicep curls, isolating those bicep muscles. You are moving from one pose to another, with your arms, legs and core engaged the entire time. The core is engaged for full body stabilization, along with protection of your lower back. Specific poses, like boat pose and handstand, truly work the core. In many yoga poses, you are carrying all of your body weight on your arms – that takes strength! Inversions and arm balances allow you to raise your heartbeat and strengthen the body, all while elongating the muscles.
With every movement, your mind is present and engaged. You breathe into each pose and mindfully melt into proper alignment. The body and breath move as one. You can do a million crunches, but if you aren’t performing them mindfully and efficiently, you aren’t going to achieve the desired result. It is always better to do fewer repetitions properly than it is to do a hundred repetitions with bad form. Proper muscle engagement must be there for proper sculpting. Yoga encourages this way of thinking and being, making it arguably more effective than many other forms of exercise.
Try including the following five yoga asanas in your practice to increase your heart rate and really break a mindful sweat:
1. Phalakasana (Plank pose) – abs, arms, spine, quadriceps, mind
2. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) – arms, core, courage muscles
3. Navasana (Boat pose) – core, spine, hip flexors, intuition, purpose
4. Dekasana (Airplane) – legs, core, ankles, arms, courage
5. Chaturanga Dandasana (Tricep pushup) – arms, triceps, shoulders, core, determination
Written by Hannah Aylward
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