No. Yoga does not count as fitness. Every time I have a conversation with anyone about yoga, I feel like I also have to have this conversation about yoga as fitness.
Yoga is not fitness.
You will see many yoga studios offering yoga as a workout. Yoga is not a workout.
Now, I know to some people, this position will seem controversial, but it’s really not.
It does not have to be, anyway.
You can do yoga and call it a workout all you want, but logic and science are not on your side, and you are better off separating the two.
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What Is Yoga?
Yoga comes from India and has likely been around since the very first people in India were around. The oldest spiritual texts in the Hindu religion, from about 5000 years ago, refer to yoga as a spiritual practice to connect the mind to the body through breathwork.
Indeed, the word yoga means “to join” or “to unite.”
The goal of yoga is to join the mind and the body, to bring you fully into the present.
I like to say that yoga helps me be mindful of my breath and running (what I do for fitness) reminds me to breathe.
Because true fitness demands exertion in physically demanding ways that often take your breath away.
Yoga should not take your breath away, it should bring it back to you.
The whole entire point of yoga is to breathe.
Look, I have been practicing yoga for about 7 years now, and I will tell you just recently I walked into a studio to try a class for the first time.
The class was described on the website as “upbeat.”
Little did I know “upbeat” means it will kick your ass.
The first ten minutes of the class were a nice warm up, sun salutations, the music was low and slow, and then all of sudden the music became fast paced, the teacher turned the volume up, and I was in an aerobics class.
I could not catch my breath.
Everyone was struggling and pushing and grunting and groaning.
And at the end of the class, the students were all so happy like “yay! That was a great yoga class!”
That was not yoga!
That was aerobics.
It was fitness.
It was not yoga.
And the only reason I am such a stickler about this point is that both yoga and fitness are so important, and we do a huge disservice to people by telling them that they are getting a two for one deal.
There are no shortcuts in life and yoga is not fitness and fitness is not yoga.
Take a fitness class – pilates, spin, aerobics – you name it, and do yoga.
Because the benefits you get from one are not the same as those you get from the other.
Yoga is slow and steady movement, either holding poses or flowing through them gently and rhythmically.
Yoga is breath, breath, and come back to breath again.
Yoga is meditative, it gently urges you back into your body, back into your mind, connects you with your soul, through breath.
Yoga brings you peace and tranquility, it opens you up, it leads you to spiritual alignment and enlightenment.
That’s a lot.
Don’t try to add fitness to its description on top of all that.
What Is Fitness?
Fitness is critical for our health, wellness, and longevity. It can also have tremendous benefits on our mental health, but it cannot replace yoga.
Fitness is encouraged by most experts for one hour a day.
Current guidelines say 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, but we all know that is not enough, and you have to factor in strength training as well, which everyone should be doing.
You should be getting your heart rate up, moving your body, and breathing fast for an hour a day for your total wellness.
The goal of fitness exercise is to get physically fit, strong, agile, to avoid disease and reduce the severity of any illness you might contract.
Fitness is a whole other game from yoga, and you are kidding yourself if your only form of exercise is yoga.
And you don’t have to do strenuous workouts and kill yourself to get fit. I hate aerobics classes, spin classes, and pilates classes, which is likely another reason I am so adamant about this point that yoga is not fitness.
But I run, I take long walks, I lift weights in the gym, and I ride my bike. These are all forms of fitness that will keep your heart, mind, and body healthy.
When we do fitness exercises, we are aiming for longevity. The more fit you are, the more likely you are to live long and live well as long as you live.
The average life expectancy for an American female is 80, for men it is even less at 74.
And, today, most Americans have at least one chronic condition by the time they are in their 60s. More than 80% of people over 65 have at least one chronic illness.
That means you are likely to spend at least the last decade of your life chronically ill.
The good news is it does not have to be that way.
Diet and exercise are tremendous indicators of disease, so you can stave off chronic illness by eating whole foods and doing fitness exercises.
This is why it is so important to distinguish yoga from fitness.
If your goal is to live long and prosper, you must do actual fitness exercise.
And if the yoga or fitness industry is telling you that yoga is fitness, they are doing you a disservice.
Yoga Is a Spiritual Practice
Now, this is not to say to ditch yoga. No way.
In fact, one of the largest predictors of longevity, people who live, and live well, into their 90s had faith or spirituality as a primary factor.
So yoga is great for longevity! Just not for the purposes of fitness.
If you are convinced, it is time to make the switch.
Do yoga for spirituality and do fitness exercise for your physical and mental health.
After years of taking classes, I now take a class once a month just to join the community, but otherwise I do yoga as soon as I wake up in the morning.
I “meet God on my yoga mat” so to speak.
It is a great way to wake up and prepare for the day.
Now that I am familiar with which poses I love, I cycle through a 15 to 20 minute yoga routine that gets to all the parts of my body, allows me to stretch awake, and prepares me for meditation.
When I finish, I lie in corpse pose and meditate for 15 to 20 minutes, “sinking into myself” as author Michael Singer calls it in the Untethered Soul.
Do you need yoga in your life? I would argue that yes, you do.
Is yoga fitness? Nope. It’s not. And even the New York Times agrees with me.
5 Fitness Facts
If you love your yoga, and now you’re realizing you also need to do fitness exercise, or if you were looking into yoga because you were hoping it would count as fitness exercise, do the yoga!
But if you are trying to figure out what to do for fitness, here are things to know:
- Get your heart rate up
The number one goal of exercise should be heart health. Cardiovascular exercise like running or even brisk walking improves your heart. Just take a 30 minute walk every day to start and you’ll be better off than if you do nothing. Remember heart disease is the number one killer of women in America. Get your heart rate up.
- Build muscle
The second most important aspect of exercise is to build muscle. The primary cause of death among the elderly is falling. Why do we fall? Because we are not strong. We have to get strong now.
Get some hand weights and start there. Build muscle.
- Improve endurance
Endurance is a big part of longevity. Start with 30 minutes of walking every day. Work up to 45 minutes. Then an hour.
Lift 5-pound weights, then 10 pounds, then 20.
You want to not only move and lift, but you want to be able to sustain that practice for longer and longer, which will make you stronger and stronger.
- Improve lung capacity
Aerobic exercise, like riding your bike or running, is great for lung capacity, and lung capacity is more and more important as you age.
Your lung capacity relates directly to how much oxygen you are sending through your body, which circulates your blood and your tissues in your body, not just your lungs.
- Do something every day
When you do something every day, anything aerobic or cardiovascular, and many exercises qualify as both, you begin to build a routine.
Take a walk after lunch every day. Ride your bike before dinner every night.
Take a spin class first thing in the morning.
When you establish a daily routine, you are less likely to break routine.
And when you establish that routine, you are more likely to live longer, live well, have a healthier mentality, and be happier.
And as a bonus, you can do yoga!