Watching an experienced yogi flow between poses, floating from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) to Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Fold) with ease, can give the deceiving impression that yoga is an easy or gentle practice.
Yin yoga can be gentle, but other styles of practice require tremendous amounts of strength and control to maneuver the body with grace.
The practice of yoga asana or poses presents a physical and mental challenge.
By challenging participants to calm their mind while energizing their body, the mental and physical strength developed in poses is impressive.
While yoga asana practice is intended to be practiced in connection with the other limbs of yoga, a sole asana practice can be used to tone and strengthen the body through isometric movements and resistance.
- 1 Is Yoga a Workout?
- 2 Is Yoga or the Gym Better?
- 3 How Does Yoga Provide a Full Body Workout?
- 4 How Does Holding a Pose Build Strength?
- 5 Can Yoga Replace Strength Training?
- 6 Is Yoga a Good Way to Lose Weight?
- 7 What Are the Best Yoga Poses for Toning the Whole Body?
- 8 Should I Incorporate Yoga into My Workout Routine?
Is Yoga a Workout?
Yoga asana focuses on connecting movement, balance and strength with mental focus in a unique way. Yoga provides mental clarity as well as full body toning, so is yoga considered a workout?
It depends on your practice, but by practicing challenging poses that place an emphasis on strength, yoga can provide a sufficient body weight workout so you can skip the gym.
Yoga presents a sequence of asanas or poses that when performed, in connection with the breath, target specific areas of the body.
Take Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) for instance. This critical component of Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) engages muscles in a manner very similar to a traditional push-up.
It typically begins from a plank position which is also recognized as a great way to tone and strengthen your core.
While poses such as these strengthen muscles by engaging them through a determined range of motion, muscles are also strengthened through sustained stretching in a yoga class.
Poses such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) engage muscles, like your hamstrings, by lengthening rather than contracting.
Though the movements may be different in style and require different equipment, the muscular engagements required to execute yoga poses ensure your body is getting a workout.
The movement of yoga strengthens and stretches the body. Since through this movement your muscles are contracting and lengthening in response to loads and pulling, you are working them out.
Whether yoga is considered a workout or not is largely determined by your understanding or definition of a workout.
Is Yoga or the Gym Better?
In picking a workout, it is important to select an activity that you enjoy. Physical fitness is most easily achieved if you are participating in an activity you take pleasure in or that brings benefits to an activity you enjoy.
For many people, the concurrent relaxation and challenge of yoga provides that activity. For some people, the exertion and repetition of weightlifting are preferred.
To select your ideal work out, shop around, try different classes, and participate in different activities. Through this exposure, you’ll learn more about your physical preferences and the style of activity you most enjoy.
While both are different, yoga and gym workouts are similar in that your workout doing each is variable dependent upon the activity.
Unlike, running, cycling, or swimming in which the activity is constant and other variables, such as distance, duration, and form, influence the number of calories burned or muscles worked, yoga and gym workouts have quite a lot of variety.
Two yoga practices of the same duration and style can have dramatically different impacts on the body based on the poses completed and the duration that each of those poses is sustained.
Similarly, a workout in the gym can target different muscle groups with different exercises or use of different machines. When you run every day is leg day, but your yoga or gym routine may intentionally target your legs, arms, or core depending on the routine and desired effect.
Gyms provide a wealth of resources, from equipment to personal trainers so many gym workouts require a number of machines or external factors.
Though props are available to improve alignment and assist in yoga poses, less equipment is required for a yoga practice.
A yoga mat adds additional cushion and comfort to support joints on hard floors, but a sequence flowing through a standing sequence may not even bring you in contact with the floor.
If you don’t have or don’t care to pay for access to a gym, yoga is a great way to get a full body workout without the need for any external equipment.
How Does Yoga Provide a Full Body Workout?
While a long holding yin yoga class may aid with flexibility, the focus on removing load from the muscles doesn’t provide much in the way of strengthening.
Vinyasa or hot yoga classes, with their emphasis on static holds, maximize the loads on various muscle groups. This strengthens your muscles and is why you may feel sore the next day following a class.
For a better understanding of the full body work a vinyasa yoga class can provide, let’s take a look at the poses of a common yoga sequence, Surya Namaskar, and the muscular engagements in this sequence:
1. Standing Mountain Pose – Tadasana
Though it seems like you’re just standing still, Tadasana or Mountain Pose, is actually an active asana. Almost every muscle in the body is engaged when this poses is performed with proper alignment and focus.
Grounding through the feet brings balance and strengthens the thighs, abdomen, and glutes. Active arms firm the triceps, engage the rhomboids and lengthen the pectoralis.
2. Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana
As another very natural asana, Urdhva Hastasana may seem to be the same gentle stretch you do when you get out of bed in the morning and in many ways it is. When performed with full alignment and engagement you can begin to see and feel the full benefits of the pose.
As arms are brought overhead, they are stretched while the abdomen is engaged to keep hips, shoulders, and ankles in the same line. As the thighs are rotated inward and upward, the lower body is toned.
3. Standing Forward Fold – Uttanasana
Transitioning between Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) to Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) is a practice in core engagement and balance. We engage our Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas for further stabilization as we draw our heart closer to our knees using our core.
Bandhas are energy locks used to control the flow of energy while practicing yoga asana. During your practice, the Mula Bandha (Root Lock), Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lock), and Jalandhara Bandha (Throat Lock) can be engaged to direct energy flow in specific poses.
A contraction of the perineum and abdomen engage the Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha respectively. Drawing the chin towards the chest engages the Jalandhara Bandha, as in Halasana.
4. Half Standing Forward Fold – Ardha Uttanasana
As we raise to a half lift (Arhda is Sanskrit for half), we maintain the lengthening of our hamstrings, as in Uttanasana, but also begin to engage the extensor muscles of the back, the erector spinae.
5. Four-Limbed Staff Pose – Chaturanga Dandasana
This pose and plank pose which it is closely linked to, provide an engaging challenge for the entire body. As a static hold, the direction of body weight through the arms, wrists, and abs is similar to performing a push-up. While the focus may seem to be in the arms, active engagement of the thighs helps keep hips high.
6. Upward-Facing Dog Pose – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Drawing the chest forward between the arms into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana requires a lot of strength in the arms and opens the chest. As the static hold in the arms is maintained, additional strength is built in the triceps.
7. Downward-Facing Dog Pose – Adho Mukha Svanasana
As a consistent part of many yoga classes, Adho Mukha Svanasana is another very involved pose. Entering the pose requires strength in the upper and lower body, as well as the core to draw the hips high.
When holding the poses, muscles are toned from the fingertips to the toes, as you push evenly into the hands and feet. The rotation of the arms and legs helps to target major muscles groups and minimize the unequal distribution of weight.
How Does Holding a Pose Build Strength?
These poses, which represent a significant core sequence of most yoga practices, show how even in simple standing poses, yoga requires the constant engagement of muscles in what is known as isometric, or static, exercise.
Static holds, in which a position is held fixed for an extended period of time, build strength and increase muscular endurance. While holding a position for an extended period, the muscle fibers are engaged.
Strength comes from their need to sustain engagement for a longer time. Muscular tones come from the enlargement of muscles, so as the muscular strength and size increases as a result of the static holds, you visibly appear more toned.
Can Yoga Replace Strength Training?
Strength training involves adding additional resistance to your muscles. Traditional images of strength training may depict that resistance coming from a barbell or other weight but your bodyweight adds a similar resistance.
When practicing yoga skillful positioning of the body allows distribution of weight similar to the various weight dependent exercises you may do with a traditional strength training plan.
The ability to replace strength training, increasingly recommended as a means of preventing bone loss, ultimately depends on your training goals.
If your bodyweight doesn’t provide enough load, resistance bands can be employed in various poses for even greater resistance.
Is Yoga a Good Way to Lose Weight?
Weight loss comes as a result of a caloric deficiency. The most important factor in this is nutrition but the activity in a yoga practice can provide an additional means of burning calories. Though the loss may be gradual, adopting a consistent yoga practice while maintaining your caloric intake will lead to weight loss.
What Are the Best Yoga Poses for Toning the Whole Body?
1. Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II
As you feel your feet firmly planted on the floor and externally rotate your front thigh, you begin to feel why this pose is great for the entire body. Finding stability in this pose requires lower body strength, holding the legs steady.
Drawing the belly towards the ribs keeps the spine aligned and abs engaged. Both arms reaching lengthens the shoulders away from the ears and activates the biceps.
2. Tree Pose – Vrksasana
The Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha are engaged again in this balancing pose. External rotation of the thigh helps lengthen the hamstrings and open the hips as the engagement of the Uddiyana Bandha tightens the core for stability.
3. Eagle Pose – Garudasana
While you may look more like a pretzel and less like an eagle in this pose, the engagement required strengthens you so you’re ready to fly, balanced on one leg. Drawing the legs and arms tightly in towards each other helps lengthen the back body while firming the front body.
Should I Incorporate Yoga into My Workout Routine?
Ongoing studies, tracking the impact of yoga on health, consistently demonstrate that yoga has a positive impact on the body.
The direct physical strength improvements and muscular toning is a great benefit but what distinguishes yoga from other practices and strength training is its incorporation of mental training and toning as well.
As your body becomes accustomed to the poses, you are able to focus more directly on the breath and connect it to the movement. This shift towards a more meditative practice brings even more benefits.
The added relaxation and concentration on the present moment can help reduce symptoms of depression and bring more mental ease. Added flexibility from sustained stretching also benefits the body by increasing mobility and minimizing the risk of injury.
Yoga presents a number of benefits and the impact of these benefits increases proportionate to the frequency of practice. If you’re looking for a well-balanced activity to strengthen your body as well as your mind, give yoga a try.
Additional strengthening through yoga often requires increased skill so it isn’t the easiest option, but the added challenges of body alignment make yoga an ever-evolving practice. Seek to find ease and lightness by building and controlling your strength with yoga.