If you think yoga is only about closing your eyes and relaxing, think again.
Most of us already know that regular yoga sessions can not only reduce stress, but also increase physical strength and flexibility, and improve our mental health.
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Yoga is also often a safer way to exercise compared to any other forms of physical fitness, due to it’s gentle and low-impact movements. As an added bonus, practicing yoga can also make you more aware of your own body, with many yogis consciously choosing to live a healthier lifestyle than their non-yogi counterparts. (Ever notice that most yogis are slim and lean, even if they don’t do any other forms of physical activity?)
But can regular yoga sessions be enough to keep you physically fit overall?
The answer to this question depends not only on your lifestyle, but what your particular goals are. Here, we’ll outline some of the ways in which yoga can keep you physically fit — and some of the drawbacks of focusing on yoga as your sole form of fitness.
Can Help You Lose Weight, If That’s Your Goal
We all know that carrying too much excess weight around can lead to an array of health issues. Yet grueling gym sessions with fast-paced exercises can wear out your joints and muscles, especially if you have limited endurance or joint issues to begin with.
With yoga, however, you’ll burn some calories while building lean muscle and toning. (Sounds good to us!)
Combining yoga sessions with other forms of exercise, and of course — most importantly — a healthy diet, is the best way to achieve a healthy body weight. Plus, certain asanas or postures like bhujangasana (cobra posture) and dhanurasana (bow posture) help strengthen abdominal and thigh muscles and are proven to burn fat in these regions.
In order to lose weight with yoga, however, you’ll need to practice these postures four to five times a week, and you’ll want to merge this with cardio workouts and possibly strength training as well.
More importantly, diet is key — you can do yoga seven days a week, twice a day, and never lose weight if you’re diet is all out of whack.
Adds Muscle Tone
Certain yoga poses are akin to bodyweight exercises, since you’re working your muscles as you try to hold poses for a certain amount of time.
For instance, the paripurna navasana (boat posture) works on your abdominal muscles, hips, and vertebra to strengthen and tone them. Similarly, trikonasana (triangle pose) targets the thigh muscles and shapes them. You can also try other muscle-toning yoga poses like balasana (child’s posture), adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog posture), and chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff posture).
Instead of lifting weights or doing crunches, certain poses can help sculpt your muscles just as effectively as if you were strength-training in the gym. Keep in mind, however, that practicing yoga will never result in major muscle growth or bulging biceps. If big gains are what you’re after, you’ll have to pick up some heavy weights and put in time at the gym.
Is Excellent For Cross-Training
Practicing yoga poses not increases muscle strength, but it also increases your agility and can even improve your cardio performance. A six-week study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that yoga techniques improve the body’s work capacity and flexibility overall, and sometimes in unexpected ways.
Another study found that the regular practice of surya namaskar (sun salutation) improved participants’ ability to do push-ups and sit-ups. By increasing muscle strength, yoga allows you to perform other, more vigorous exercises with greater ease.
Several other scientific studies have recognized that yoga can help combat certain lifestyle-related illnesses and improve health by keeping sickness at bay.
Of course, it goes without saying that sculpting your body is merely one aspect of yoga. There are many psychological benefits that yoga offers, including a sense of centredness, calm and relaxation.
Won’t Get You In Shape Instantly
Sculpting your body and improving muscle tone takes time, whether you’re practicing yoga or any other form of physical fitness. However, because it’s a relatively gentle, low-impact form of exercise, it may take longer to see the difference in your body makeup. Additionally, more challenging yoga poses require time and effort to learn — and the more challenging the pose, the greater benefit to your muscles. If you’re looking to get in shape with yoga, be prepared to be patient. A yogi is not born overnight.
Does Not Offer High-Intensity Cardio Benefits
The biggest drawback with yoga is that unless you’re doing some fusion form of aerobic-yoga, it doesn’t offer a huge cardio boost, and can’t replace your standard cardio exercise. Your heart rate will stay pretty stable during a yoga session. On the plus side, you may find that your cardio workouts become easier if you cross-train with yoga.
Will Not Help You Add Muscle Mass
Yoga will help you sculpt long, lean muscles, but generally speaking, these postures alone are not enough to gain mass. If big gains are what you’re after, you’ll have to come up with a solid weight-training routine as well as a diet plan that’s tailored for muscle growth.
That’s not to say yoga isn’t great for your rest days — in fact, incorporating yoga into a bodybuilding routine may help with muscle recovery and promote faster gains — but you won’t become the Hulk with asana alone.
Overall, yoga is an excellent, well-rounded form of exercise that can increase muscle strength and endurance, improve agility, help you lose body-fat and make your other workouts more effective.
And for some people, yoga alone is enough to keep them feeling fit and working towards their fitness goals. For others, a cardio boost and heavier muscle training is needed in order to achieve their desired results.
But whatever it is you’re looking to get with yoga, there’s no denying that this ancient practice can do a body good.