Is yoga ‘enough’ to keep you fit?
Everyone has their own idea of what fitness looks, or feels, like. Perhaps it’s having a six-pack, being able to lift your kids, touch your toes, or run for the bus without feeling breathless. For me, fitness is the ability to live life at your optimal health – both physically and mentally. And this is ever changing.
There’s no doubt that yoga is healthy for both body and mind – reducing stress and anxiety, improving muscle function and tone, and increasing mobility and flexibility. And many yogis say that yoga is all they need to stay fit. For some – those who practice a number of styles of yoga for extended periods each day – perhaps yoga is ‘enough’ to keep them fit.
But, as a general rule, I don’t believe yoga alone is enough. Here’s why:
A few yogis make it to the mat every day. But most are lucky to make it to a couple of classes a week. And in most cases, that’s simply not enough to make noticeable, lasting changes to your fitness levels. It might be boring, but there’s a reason 45 minutes of aerobic activity at least 5 days a week is widely recommended. Doing more classes may help, but then there’s the next hurdle…
Most of us find a style of yoga, a particular class, or a teacher we love and stick with it. And although a yoga routine can keep you motivated, it could mean you’re missing out. For instance, if you’re only practicing yin yoga, you’re not huffing and puffing and sweating enough to improve your cardiovascular fitness. If you’re into power flow, you’re getting more of a cardio workout but you’re probably not working as hard on building strength as you would if you were doing a more static slow flow or Iyengar class.
Even if you mix up your yoga styles, you’re often doing the same asanas, so certain muscles are getting used frequently, and others less so. Fast and flowing yoga, can be quite repetitive, a little like running. Mix up your exercise so that the whole body gets a varied workout.
For total fitness, you also need strength training that works muscles against resistance. This is particularly important as you get older – resistance strength training can help prevent osteoporosis, maintain mobility and even prevent falls. Yoga doesn’t offer anything that requires you to pull on your upper body strength, so add in free weights, weight machines or reformer Pilates a couple of times a week to enhance your practice.
Where yoga shines is in the fitness of the mind
While other forms of exercise do give our mental or emotional health a boost (you may have heard of a ‘runner’s high’ or ‘gym junkie’), yoga is a science of the body and mind. Its holistic health benefits are undeniable. So keep practicing yoga, but mix it up. Break with routine and choose a variety of styles of yoga to work the whole body and mind. Then sub in exercise that complements your yoga practice, such as weights or high-intensity training. Go for a run, swim, cycle, dance or a brisk walk. Move your body in a variety of ways.
There is no single fitness solution that works for everybody. Whatever unique combo of exercise you choose, just remember to check in with yourself. If your body, mind and soul feel fit and healthy, keep doing what you’re doing for awhile….then mix it up.