As I mentioned earlier in my post on yoga and aging, I’ve been reading “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards” by William J. Broad. Broad is a science journalist who has practiced yoga since 1970 and wrote this book to uncover which yoga claims are scientifically supported, and which are not. What he found about yoga and fitness was surprising to me. He found that yoga, while improving aerobic fitness somewhat, is not nearly as beneficial to your heart as running, biking or swimming. Many studies setting out to study the effectiveness of yoga as a aerobic exercise found time and time again that aerobically, it just doesn’t compare. However, one of the first major studies conducted by Duke University (pg. 56-57) found that the individuals in their yoga group reported feeling better about themselves with enhanced social benefits, better sex and social lives, and improved family relationships. The yoga subjects reported “enhanced sleep, energy, health, endurance and flexibility” and also described “better moods, self-confidence and life satisfaction”. These individuals felt that they looked better. The researchers were surprised, because although they measured that this yoga group hadn’t really gained any aerobic benefits, their perceived and felt benefits far outweighed the aerobic group or control group (pgs. 56-57)
In 2010 a literature review was published that compared the benefits of yoga with those gained from other aerobic activities. While yoga still doesn’t measure up aerobically to other forms of exercise (e.g. running, swimming) it excels past other forms of exercise with the benefits of improved balance, improved mood and sleep, decreased fatigue, decreased anxiety, and many more. For a complete list of how yoga crushes other exercises flip to page 73 in this book.
The take home message for me is that I may want to really pay attention to my body for the next few weeks during yoga to see if I feel like I am getting an aerobic workout. There are many types of yoga classes offered, and some may be more aerobic than others. For example, during a Bikram class, I feel like I am getting an aerobic workout but I took a vinyasa (super mellow) class one summer which did not feel like an aerobic workout at all, and I found myself craving a run after class. I used to run and really enjoyed being outside, listening to music, and using only my legs and feet as transportation, but since beginning yoga, I’ve noticed how much harder running is on my own body….joints, muscles, etc and then how tight my hamstrings feel afterwards.
In the end, every individual has to find what exercise is right for them because if it’s not enjoyable, it’s not sustainable.