Yoga is the full meal deal when it comes to exercise.
It incorporates four key elements of fitness: strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. Five, I suppose, if you count mind-body connection. Which you should. So okay, five.
First, let me say that there are approximately 147 different kinds of yoga. (I’m exaggerating. I do that.) They’re all good. (On this I am not exaggerating.) They are quite different however and you may need to experiment to find one that suits your needs and your “fitness personality.” Yes, you have one.
The reason I know that you may have to keep searching for just the right fit is that I didn’t find mine right away. I tried several different forms of yoga before coming to Bikram yoga, which is what I practice. Side note: we “yogis” (students of yoga) refer to it as a “practice” because you’re never perfect at it!
My previous attempts left me yawning and bored. I didn’t feel challenged and it seemed like a waste of time. It’s possible I might have grown to love one of those others if I’d stuck with it, but that’s kind of the point. I didn’t stick with any of those because they didn’t suit my “fitness personality.”
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So now I practice Bikram – or “hot” – yoga several times a week as a complement to my other workouts. Simply because I know it best, I’ll use Bikram as an example of how yoga meets the four (okay, five) key elements of fitness.
Strength: Yoga requires you to hold an asana (pose) for a given period of time, which usually feels like an eternity but is generally not more than 60 seconds. Those muscles are fired up and burning, with nowhere to hide. Think your quads are strong? They will be after you do “Awkward Pose” (yes, it’s really called that):
Stamina: Bikram yoga is a cardiovascular workout by virtue of its 105 degree room temperature. Holding challenging poses in that heat will get your heart beating faster than a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Other forms of yoga rely on moves that flow continuously, or incorporate weights, or some combination of each of those. My favorite is when the teacher says, “Now we’re really gonna get your heart rate up!” after I already feel like I’m gonna pass out, such as when I do “Standing Bow”:
Balance: Obviously many yoga poses require balance, but the beauty of yoga is that you don’t really realize the magnitude of what you’re accomplishing while you’re doing it. Balance is achieved through the strengthening of dozens of small muscles in your feet, ankles and everywhere else. You’re not going to get this lifting weights. Yet having good balance can make the difference between needing a cane someday and walking without one. “Standing Head to Knee” pose requires laser-like focus and spot-on balance.
Flexibility: This is not my strong suit. There are a few souls in my yoga class who I refer to as “Gumby girls” because they appear to have no bones. They bend every which way; none of those ways is intended by nature. But I keep working at it because improving my flexibility helps me stay limber. I may never get my forehead to my feet in “Hands to Feet” pose, but I’ll die trying!
Mind-Body Connection: There are so many ways we detach from our physical bodies in our daily lives. We don’t notice until discomfort becomes pain. One of the many lessons I learn from yoga is to tune in to what’s going on with my body. Whether I’m in a pose or lying on my mat, I’ve learned to always come back to my breath and just be. It sounds so simple – and truthfully, it is. We just don’t practice it very often and yoga is a great reminder to do so. At least for a hour, a couple of times a week.
Losing weight is hard, but it gets easier when you get your zen on. And you’re so damn worth it!
Let’s go get it!