How a Yoga Workout is Different than a Gym Workout

Last week, I saw a great article on the Yoga International blog. It was titled, “Yes, I Go To Yoga for a Workout.” Yes, sometimes I do too, I thought. Many yogis with a deep practice balk at the idea of a yoga workout. We put so much emphasis on the idea that yoga is more than physical exercise that we sometimes forget that physical exercise is part of yoga. We’ve even developed a sense of shame in admitting that we care about the workout.

The truth is, I love all eight of yoga’s limbs, including asana (the physical exercise). One thing that’s amazing about yoga as a lifestyle practice is that it includes physical activity. If you’re a person who can’t get enough of the spiritual connection, stress relief, and relaxation that your yoga practice provides, don’t forget that these things are easier in part because you are giving your body the care and exericise it needs.

A Recap on the Eighth Limbs of Yoga

As you probably know by now, there are eight limbs in yoga as described by the sage Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs are:

  1. The Yamas – moral principles
  2. The Niyamas – personal conduct
  3. Asana – the physical exercises
  4. Pranayama – breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara – control of the senses
  6. Dharana – one-pointed focus or meditation
  7. Dhyana – devotion
  8. Samadhai – union with a higher power

How Yoga Workouts are Different from Gym Workouts

You probably already know the difference between gym workouts and yoga workouts, especially if you’ve been to more than a few yoga classes. If those classes are held in a gym—many are these days—you may want to try a class at a dedicated yoga studio to really get a feel for the difference. Yoga asana (the third limb) can be a great physical workout, especially if you practice styles like Iyengar, Asthanga, or “power” yoga. But yoga also works out your mind and connects you something greater than yourself, at least it does if you devote your practice to those things as well. As you become a better version of yourself, the way you treat yourself and the world may change too.

Here a few things you’ll probably experience in a yoga class that you won’t experience in a gym workout:

  1. If you’re practicing with a teacher, the teacher may read from an inspirational text or give a brief dharma talk at the beginning of class. The dharma talk is a simple teaching and often fits with an overall theme the instructor has planned.
  2. You’ll spend some time resting, both during class (in child’s pose) and at the end (in sweet savasana).
  3. You may chant a mantra, such as “om” (the “universal sound”)
  4. There may be candles or incense burning while you do your yoga workout (though, these day, studios opt for LED candles or only burn incense in between classes).
  5. You’ll prepare your body for mediation. Even if you don’t actually spend time meditating at the end of class, the purpose of yoga asana is to make sitting in meditation easier. As strange as this may sound at first, connecting with a higher power is much easier when your body is fit and your mind is clear.

Yes, some days your only goal for going to class will be to get that yoga workout, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s so much more, and many yogis who think they’re only interested in the physical postures find the “more” eventually. Yoga can be a workout for your mind and spirit as well as your body.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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