A few days ago I went for a late afternoon walk on the beach with my two dogs. As I reached the car-park at the end of our walk, I was drawn over to the grassy area by the voice of a fitness instructor talking to his class. I was interested to see what he was getting his class to do. I gasped as I heard his say, and then repeat, “one hundred squats!!” Now, they weren’t full squats, nor did the crew keep their backs straight, as in yoga squats, but each person was squatting while holding a weight!
I wondered if I could do a hundred of those – or if I’d want to! So that got me thinking – for the zillionth time – about the benefits of yoga compared with other fitness or health regimes. I feel that a hundred of anything is overdoing it! While I know that the gym instructor is emphasising the purposeful reshaping of the body based on muscle production, it is such a different approach to exercising the body than yoga.
This then, is the main difference between ‘gym’ and yoga – the purpose behind the exercise.
I own two “Health and Fitness” type text books. They talk about the benefits of gym-type programs in terms of cardio-vascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance, body mass and flexibility (minimally). Personal trainers/fitness instructors often get good results in these areas. Interestingly, yoga achieves all of those things, however, these results are a by-product of yoga.
The different intentions becomes obvious when you consider how gym and yoga view the importance of muscles. While gym-type exercises emphasise strenuously using the MUSCLES, which diverts blood TO the muscles FROM the vital organs, yoga asanas emphasise enhancing blood flow TO other parts of the body. From this you can see that yoga focuses on the whole body (and whole being).
While I am a strong proponent of yoga, I do believe there is a place for gyms and fitness instructors for people whose concern is muscle tone, body mass and increased cardiovascular health
- A means of low-impact strengthening
- A focus on the spine – not just the structural bits, but the spine as being a major part of the central nervous system
- The practice of asanas (the physical postures/exercises) which often reduce, rather than increase respiration rate
- A balancing of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic responses in the nervous system
- A balanced blood pressure during most asanas
- Specific effects on glands and internal organs
Some common examples of asanas and their benefits are:
KANDHARASANA (Shoulder pose): As well as realigning the spine and relieving backache, this pose improves digestion by massaging and stretching the colon and abdominal organs.
TADASANA (Palm tree pose): Develops physical and mental balance while clearing up congestion of spinal nerves and stretching and toning abdominal muscles.
SUPTA UDARAKARSHANASANA (Sleeping abdominal stretch pose): A favourite with most people, this asana helps to improve digestion and eliminate constipation by stretching abdominal muscles and organs. The twisting stretch of the spinal muscles relieves the strain and stiffness caused by prolonged sitting.
So when I hear that yoga is ‘easy’ and doesn’t have any of the same benefits of the gym, I have to disagree. A yoga class can increase your heart rate and thus offer a cardio workout; the muscle strengthening that occurs during yoga will mean a change in muscle tone and density; as a result of pursuing a constant yoga practice, the body will change, thus decreasing body mass and redistributing it. And all of these benefits are before we start to talk about breath-work, relaxation or the mind (we’ll get to those in later blogs).
Without the 100 squats.