Yoga vs. Exercise
A couple weekends ago in my Yoga teacher training we had Kelsey Shaner, a yoga instructor, give a lecture on “Living to yogic Life”. In her handout was the following article she wrote. I loved it because of my back ground in personal training and my love for yoga. With her approval I had to post it. It is true that a lot of yoga in the western culture is looked at another form of exercise. Kelsey makes some key points in the article as to what is the difference between exercise and yoga. If you are in the San Diego area and would like to take one of Kelsey’s classes you can find her at Sol Yoga Studios. Read on…
Yoga vs. Exercise
By: Kelsey Shaner
What is the most important element of the human body? The answer does not exist. Every part of the body has it’s own importance and idiosyncrasy.
We have to keep in mind that Asana (yoga posture) is only one element of the lifestyle we call ‘Yoga’. Yoga is much more than simply Asana practice.
However, a large misunderstanding, provoked mostly by the western world, is that Yoga is a type of exercise. It is very true that exercise and Asana are related to the muscular system of body. But in exercise, more emphasis is given on movement and stress of the muscles whereas, in Asana, it is given on steadiness of muscles. Yoga Maharshi Patanjali has defined Yoga Asana as, “Asana means a steady and comfortable state.” Patanjali, who is the founder of eight-fold Hatha/Ashtanga Yoga, has said that to perfect a posture, one should be able to hold it comfortably for 3 hours.
In light of this definition, it can be noticed that exercise and Asana are two distinct concepts, i.e. they work in the exactly opposite directions to each other. In the state of Asana, stability and comfort of the body parts and muscles is to be achieved by practicing a specific movement, slowly with control. If the movements are fast, then it will be difficult to attain steadiness in later states of Asana. While practicing such movements, some muscles may get stressed. At this time, if you try to keep muscles relaxed, breathing and speaking to your body, then both the pressure and stress on the muscles will be relieved. Try to concentrate on your body movements. Muscles that take part in these movements will be pressed to the required extent only, and little to no stress or discomfort will be incurred. With the help of such movements, the expected results can be experienced, the Yoga practitioner can breathe deeply and freely, and the body will remember the position comfortably and positively.
It is helpful to know the impact of these movements on other systems of the body as well. In exercise, if we increase the speed of movements, then muscles are under strain. The speed of blood circulation and blood pressure increases, and the heart has to perform extra work. Exactly opposite results are obtained due to Asana. Once you have undergone any particular state in an Asana, blood requirement is reduced as the body is relaxed, and stress on the heart is actually relieved. The same effect takes place on the respiratory system during exercise. Due to rapid movements, the lungs have to perform extra tasks. The muscles need an increase of oxygen, and breathing takes place rapidly. If the speed of the heartbeat increases, speed of breathing also increases. In Asana, the body’s requirement of oxygen and thus, the speed of respiration reduce so there is no overload on the respiratory system. the tortoise breathes once every 5 minutes; he requires little oxygen and is the longest living creature on earth. The second longest lifespan is that of the elephant, breathing once every 3 minutes. Reduction in the speed of respiration equals longevity.
While performing exercise, muscle strength is increased and through Asana muscle stamina is increased. Asana enables the muscles to work for a longer period of time without strain. This increased tolerance to strain lies in the manner of how you practice both Asana and exercise.
In some case, both heartbeat and speed of respiration may increase during Asana practice. Hence, provisions for breathing are also made while performing Asana. It is difficult to maintain the steadiness of muscles initially, but it is easy to practice the movements into the Asana steadily. In the study of yoga, all stages are important and easy to practice slowly with control.
The other seven stages of Yoga do not have any relation at all with exercise. Below is a description of the eight limbs of Patajali’s classic Hatha/Ashtanga Yoga from which most forms of yoga have developed.
Yama explains five virtues one must practice to achieve social discipline. Possession of these virtues will govern our relationships with others.
Niyama tells of self discipline. Five customs that govern our relationship with ourselves.
Asana are postures for creating an optimal body of firmness, mind of steadiness, and spirit of comport.
Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques designed to master our life-force, our prana, our breathe.
Pratyahara teaches sense-withdrawl, and focusing inward on the self.
Dharana is focused concentration, only to be achieved once pratyahra is mastered.
Dhyana is meditation, withdrawing from the universe into the soul, creating union.
Samadi is complete merging with the divine. Self-realization is achived and one lives in truth, joy and peace.
Yoga is not an exercise, but a lifestyle.
Yoga is a revolutionary way to live a happy and healthy life.