Sometimes people want to know whether Yoga in itself is enough to keep you physically fit or whether you need to do other activities as well.
To answer the question I looked for a definition of physical fitness and found out that, to stay fit, experts generally agree that your exercise routine should include three elements: cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching.
Everyone knows that Yoga develops flexibility, but what about strength and cardiovascular health?
Some years ago the Yoga Journal published an article “Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?” which tells the story of John Schumacher, a 52-year-old yoga teacher who was confident that yoga is enough to keep you fit and to prove his point agreed to have physiological testing. The results found him to be near the top of his age group for a range of fitness tests, including maximum heart and exercise recovery rates. Yoga Journal found similar results in the case of three other yogis.
A balanced yoga practice should develop strength as well as flexibility. Poses such as the Plank and the Bridge, standing poses such as Virabhadrasana (Warrior Poses), balancing poses and inversions all build quite a bit of strength especially if they are held for longer.
Linked flowing postures such as Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) can make yoga aerobatic and beneficial for cardiovascular health, especially if you step up the pace.
For complete physical fitness a yoga practice should be practised several times a week for a reasonable amount of time and include poses that build strength, stamina and flexibility. If yoga is the only activity you practise and you are concerned about your levels of fitness, you could combine it with something aerobic such as dancing or brisk walking or some weight training for strength.
However Yoga is definitely a holistic practice which helps physical and emotional health. It reduces levels of stress and anxiety, combats insomnia, increases energy, and helps your state of mind so you feel more positive, capable and confident. Breath work boosts lung capacity. Meditation and practising mindfully helps you become more aware of the body and reduce injury.
Unlike many practices it can be very suitable for people who are recovering from injuries or operations or who have health conditions which rule out many other forms of activity. Importantly people can develop it gradually and safely.
Personally, through practising yoga I feel much healthier and stronger than I did twenty years ago. In my view though, it is a pity to reduce yoga solely to a form of physical fitness as it offers such a wealth of other benefits.
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net