I’ve been doing some level of yoga for about seven years now. If you care about how I got from then until now, check out this post.
In no way do I consider myself a yoga expert. In fact, I’m lucky if I make it to two classes a week. I’m not someone who wakes up and does yoga every morning — or even once in awhile — at home. But, I am someone who gets a little antsy if I have to miss out on a class for more than a couple weeks at a time. I am someone who knows the meaning of — and craves — the yoga high. And I am someone who will proudly defend yoga to anyone who says it’s not a workout.
Last week, I was headed to yoga and stopped at the salon for a little brow wax action. Upon leaving, the waxer asked if I wanted a free make-up application and I politely refused, saying I was on my way to yoga and I’d just sweat it off anyway. She looked at me quizzically and said: You sweat in yoga?
This isn’t the first time someone has said that to me. Usually, I don’t think much of it and go on about my business. But, this particular time came on the heels of another incident.
A couple months ago, I had a routine doctor’s visit. He asked how much exercise I get and I told him that I try to do cardio a couple times a week and that I try to get to yoga once or twice a week.
He replied: Is yoga really considered working out?
It was all I could do not to launch into a tirade. How is it that a legitimate health professional doesn’t understand that yoga is indeed exercise?!
So, between the waxer and the doctor, I’m feeling a renewed sense of defending the sport I love. Most of my friends are cardio junkies — they love running and biking. I sometimes feel like they turn their noses up at yoga. After all, isn’t it just stretching?
Well, yes, it is. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a series of movements that require you to use your own body as resistance. In essence, for me, it’s 60-75 minutes of weight training with a 125 pound weight.
It’s a whole different kind of bench pressing. In 90+ degree heat.
After all, take this pose. It looks pretty simple, right? The model looks all calm and peaceful. But, what you’re not seeing is how this pose feels as you balance on one foot and throw the other one as high as you can in a fight against gravity. Sure, it’s a hamstring stretch. But, in addition to stretching, you’re using every leg, core, and arm muscle you own. And typically, you’re doing this pose midway through a yoga class that has already worked your glutes, quads and core to the max.
But, you’ve got to do it and you’ve got to hold it for more than a second or two. Most likely, you’ve got to hold it for 3-5 deep breaths, unless you’re in the middle of a Vinyasa flow, in which case you may get out of it after one breath, but you’ve got to transition to another pose, like this one. Which also looks relatively easy. But, again, you’re not seeing how it feels. And the alignment issues that you have to take into consideration while hoisting your arm and leg in the air. Or the sweat that’s pooling on your mat, making it nearly impossible to stay upright — much less balanced — without slipping. And those leg, core, and arm muscles that are literally screaming at you to stop what you’re doing and go have a brownie.
I may not be able to run a marathon or bike 100 miles, but I sweat when I work out. In fact, I sweat more while doing yoga than I ever have while doing cardio. I sweat to the point that it’s rolling off my face in buckets, dropping in puddles around my mat.
I also burn calories. In a one hour class, I burn the same amount or more calories than I do after 30 minutes on an elliptical. And of course, I tone muscle. I won’t lie, I’ve got a pretty sexy bum. If I could get to class with any regularity, I’d probably be able to find my six pack. And the definition in my arms continues to grow with every push up I do — because, yes, we do push-ups in yoga.
Now I’m not saying that yoga is superior to running or biking or any traditional exercise out there. But I am saying that yoga shouldn’t be dismissed as a legitimate form of exercise. I definitely believe that I need to work on endurance so that I can run longer than two minutes without wanting to die. But, I’d also tell my runner friends — and my waxer, and my doctor — that they’d be surprised by yoga. That not only would it stretch their weary legs, but it’d give their weary legs (and arms and abs) a kick in the glutes.