The Yoga as Exercise Debate

by Melissa West on September 19, 2011

A lot of people take up yoga to get in shape. Yoga styles such as ashtanga, bikram and power promise to give you a work out. Celebrities practicing yoga tout the physical benefit of the practice. Titles such as: “Yoga Meltdown, Slim Calm Sexy Yoga: 210 Proven Yoga Moves for Mind/Body Bliss and The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks take advantage of selling yoga as part of the multi-billion diet/weight loss/exercise industry. In the West, marketers love to sell yoga as a exercise and a great way to lose weight. 

This article, suggests otherwise. Research shows that while yoga does increase strength, flexibility and balance (3/5 components of physical fitness) it does not adequately improve cardio-vascular health.

I would argue that this Western mindset of yoga as exercise is something that I as a yoga teacher often have to overcome. According to the yogic philosophy of koshas (layers of the body), the physical body is only one aspect of your being, and the most dense layer of your being at that. You are not merely a physical being, there are other aspects of yourself that need attention as well – your minds, your spirits, your emotions, all of these parts of you are touched in yoga.

When I studied with Dr. David Frawley at the Yoga Festival in Toronto this summer he spent a lot of time setting this yoga as exercise broken record straight. In fact Dr. Frawley said, “I like to say that yoga is not about working out, it is about working in.”

I think the reasons we come to yoga are far greater than a good sweat.  For me yoga is a process of cultivating a deeper spiritual practice. Through the practice of yoga you can calm your minds and bodies so that you can come to know your true self. According to Dr. David Frawley, “yoga sadhana (practice) is not an exercise system.”

In our culture more people suffer from depletion and burn out. Therefore the healing qualities of yoga come through a gentle, restorative practice, not a twenty-minute workout. This type of yoga practice is much less concerned with getting you out of breath than exercising breath practice (pranayama). Yoga is a way of undoing, of slowing down and turning within to the magic and beauty that is always there. 

Previous post:

Next post: