These days yoga is becoming more and more popular as a method of physical fitness. This isn’t really much of a surprise, seeing as it’s gyms and fitness centres that brought yoga to the forefront of Western life.
Because of this, I thought it would be fun to take a moment and compare yoga to other forms of physical exercise one might take part in for the sake of fitness. For the sake of argument, let’s talk about both ideas in their absolute most general forms and avoid getting all nit-picky about specific styles of yoga or exercise.
The obvious similarities:
-Your body is moving
-Classes often take place in fitness centres
-At least a part of the goal is a stronger, more flexible body
-Physical release of stress
Physical exercise: We breath to get oxygen to our muscles. Sometimes we work to control the breath in specific ways, employing techniques like breathing out on the toughest part of the exercise, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Yoga: There are a variety of breathing techniques, ujai breath being the most popular, that allow us to participate with our breath throughout the yoga practice. We listen to and observe the breath, as it lets us know how our bodies are doing and keeps our mind engaged. We move with the breath, letting it bring us deeper into a pose.
Physical exercise: We do whatever we can to distract our minds from what we’re doing with our bodies. We multi-task while we work out; watching TV, reading, listening to music, chatting with a friend, memorizing lines (for the actors out there), or just plain imagining we are somewhere else, doing something different.
Yoga: We keep our mind with our body. Sure, we can practice yoga in front of the TV, and sometimes I do, but then all I’ve really done is spent an hour stretching. To truly practice yoga, your mind stays with your body, observing and noting what’s going on, learning from it.
Physical exercise: The focus is usually on endurance, strength, and body appearance. We can run farther and faster, lift heavier things, and have less fat on our bodies. You will raise your heart rate and work up a sweat.
Yoga: The focus is on having a strong, flexible, healthy container for your prana (life energy). You are in control of how far you go in your yoga practice, so it really depends on you what happens to your body. You may or may not raise your heart rate and work up a sweat, depending on the style of class and how much you challenge yourself in the poses.