What is the basic difference between yoga and exercise? As a yoga teacher, this is the question I’m asked most. To begin with, Yoga and Exercise are two different things with different approaches and practice methods.
With increasing health awareness more and more people are opting for physical fitness classes like yoga, gym, cycling, running, zumba, etc. However, most of them are confused about which one to choose and which is better. So I’m not here to tell you which to choose. I’m just here to tell you about the benefits of yoga and how it is different from other physical activities. And why yoga should be an important part of your life.
What is yoga?
To begin with, Yoga is a disciplined practice, which is concerned with integrating the physical, spiritual, as well as mental well-being of a person. In fact, yoga is a term that loosely translates to “unite”. It unites mind, soul, and body, and the union of these three are most essential for the functioning of a healthy body.
In fact, the physical aspects of yoga, the asanas, are an auxiliary part of the practice. Moreover, these asanas differ greatly from regular physical exercises both in their mode of performance and in the results.
What is exercise?
Exercise, on the other hand, is a physical activity that is done to improve or maintain overall fitness. It can be anything from running and weightlifting to playing tennis and hiking. Exercise is typically goal-oriented: people exercise in order to achieve specific outcomes such as losing weight, gaining muscle, improving cardiovascular health, etc.
Are there any similarities between yoga, the gym workout and other exercises?
In a sense, both Exercise and yoga are similar as both of them are health activities. They both involve practicing physical activity which can improve health in many aspects including body shape and mental condition/well-being.
Both involve physical movement. Both have an element of training. There is a specific goal to be achieved in performing either activity.
However, there are a few distinctions which set Yoga apart from Exercise. The first is that Yoga is not about competing with or outperforming others. Rather, it is an individual journey in which each student progresses at their own pace and according to their own abilities. This creates a much more supportive and nurturing environment than what one typically finds at the gym.
The second distinction is that Yoga is not about physical fitness alone. While it’s true that improved flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health are all benefits of regular yoga practice, the ultimate goal of Yoga is to unify the mind, body, and spirit. This includes achieving a sense of peace and calmness that can be difficult to attain through exercise alone.
Third, Yoga is a lifelong practice that can be adapted to any age or ability. Unlike Exercise, which typically peaks in intensity in one’s twenties and thirties, Yoga can be practiced at any age and is beneficial for people of all abilities.
Fourth, Yoga is a mind-body practice. This means that it involves not just the physical body, but also the mind and emotions. In contrast, Exercise is typically limited to the physical body.
Let's see the effect of yoga and exercise on different bodily functions
So, are the effect of the gym, other exercises, and yoga the same on our body? No. Yoga is a practice that incorporates spiritual and mental well-being, while exercise is simply physical activity done to improve fitness.
The main difference is that Yoga is a holistic practice that also includes the mind and spirit, while Exercise typically focuses on just the physical body.
Here you can see the effect of them on different bodily functions.
Exercise: When we do the gym or any exercise, they usually focus on increasing muscle mass, as a result of which the muscles shorten and gradually flexibility decreases.
Yoga: The practice of asanas helps to develop muscles evenly over the bone surface and thereby increasing flexibility.
Exercise: The effect of exercises on the heart is strenuous as well. The constant irregular movement of the body increases heart rate and breathing. The heart starts beating faster to pump more blood and lungs work at double the rate to meet the requirement of oxygen in the body.
Yoga: It is an energy-efficient activity. In yoga, every asana is done in a flow with regulated breathing and pausing in asanas for a few breaths thereby giving the body time and space to relax. This reduces stress on heart.
Exercise: The constant rapid movements during exercise increases the workload on lungs and respiratory system.
Yoga: The lungs don’t have to work fast as the body is relaxed and there is no stress on the heart.
In yoga main focus is on the breath. there is controlled breathing in every asanas and pausing to hold and relax. There are many yoga asanas which directly affect the lungs and increases its capacity.
Exercise: The effect of exercises on the nervous system is stimulating. When we do any physical activity, our brain starts releasing endorphins- hormones that block pain signals . This is why we feel good after a workout.
Yoga: After yoga, the body experiences relaxation due to the soothing effect on the nervous system. Yoga also increases pain tolerance, control over impulsive behavior, and resetting of the biological rhythm.
Exercise: When we exercise, cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase which can have negative effects on cognitive function.
Yoga: The practice of Yoga has been found to decrease cortisol levels, improve cognitive function and help with conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Let's see what stats say about yoga.
The worldwide yoga industry is worth $80 billion. There are 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide. Moreover, almost 50 percent of the practitioners are from India, though the younger generations seem to be showing less enthusiasm for the discipline.
In just 4 years, the number of men practicing yoga increased by 150%.
About 22% of Indian adults say they practice yoga.
According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 70 percent of adults living in the United States reported that doing yoga and meditation is a very effective method to manage stress.
Around 44% of yoga practitioners practice yoga 2-3 times a week.
An average yoga practitioner spends around $90 a month on yoga.
Over 55 million people started practicing yoga by 2020. 37% of yoga enthusiasts have children who also enjoy practicing.
Why should you make yoga an important part of your life?
So, now that we know the difference between Yoga and Exercise, are you ready to give Yoga a try? There are many different types of yoga styles to choose from- hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga, vinyasa flow , power yoga. If you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend finding a beginners class at your local studio.
Here are some of the manifold benefits of yoga.
It helps manage stress and anxiety
Improves balance and coordination
Can help with weight loss
Boosts energy levels
Promotes better sleep quality
Improves cognitive function
Increases pain tolerance
Yoga is not just a physical activity it’s a way of life. When you make yoga an important part of your life, you’re committing to a lifetime of health and well-being. So what are you waiting for? Give Yoga a try today!