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Yoga is becoming popular but is commonly misunderstood as a form of physical exercise. 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.

Patanjali said- स्थिरसुखम् आसनम्
  • स्थिर- एक ही स्थिति विशेष में बिना हिले डुले स्थिर रहना

  • सुखम् - सुखमय अर्थात आरामदायक स्थिति या अवस्था को

  • आसनम् - आसन कहते हैं ।

शरीर की स्थिति विशेष जिसमें शरीर बिना हिले- डुले स्थिर व सुखपूर्वक देर तक बैठा रह सकता है, उस अवस्था को आसन कहते हैं

  • sthira - steady, firm

  • sukham - pleasant

  • asanam - posture

Patanjali defines an asana as, “a steady and comfortable state.” The movements are slow and controlled; the breathing is synchronized. In regular exercise, the emphasis is on movement and stress on the muscles.

Exercise usually involves repetitive movement where synchronized breathing is absent, even though we may try to control the breathing pattern. The ultimate aim of exercise is to improve overall physical fitness level and health by practicing aerobic activity, which elevates the heart rate. Exercise can strengthen muscles and the cardiovascular system, improve athletic skills and aid weight loss. Regular exercise can boost the immune system and also improve mental health e.g. prevent depression and promote/maintain positive self-esteem.

  • Yoga stimulates parasympathetic nervous system (hence relaxing)

  • Exercise stimulates sympathetic nervous system (hence tiring)

Yoga practices slow dynamic movements

Exercise involves rapid forceful movements

  • Yoga practices reduced muscle tension, progressive movements. t helps develop muscles evenly over the bone surface, thereby increasing flexibility. Yoga is also an energy efficient activity.

  • Exercise involves increased muscle tension. Exercise usually focuses on increasing muscle mass. As a result, the length of the muscle shortens and flexibility decreases. When we exercise, we use a lot of energy.

Yoga: In yoga, once the asana has been attained, the body is relaxed and blood requirement is reduced. This relieves the stress on the heart.

Exercise: In exercise, the effect is the opposite. Ordinary exercise puts a strain on the muscles. This increases the speed of blood circulation and blood pressure, which in turn increases the workload on the heart as it needs to pump faster.

  • Yoga leads to relatively low caloric consumption

  • Exercise leads to moderate to high caloric consumption

In yoga, energizing (breathing is natural or controlled) . In yoga, the body is in a relaxed state, so the workload on the respiratory system is reduced.

Exercise fatiguing (breathing is taxed). The constant movement in regular exercise increases the oxygen requirement in the muscles. This increases the speed of breathing, causing the lungs to work harder.

  • Yoga boosts the immune system by increasing the number and functioning ability of immune cells.

  • While this is true for exercise as well, it usually depends on the nature, intensity and duration of exercise.

In yoga, awareness is internal (focus is on breath and the infinite)

In exercise, awareness is external (focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)

When we say Yoga we have all these other limbs of it-

  1. Shat karma (purifying practices)

  2. Asana (postures)

  3. Mudra (finger and hand positions)

  4. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal / non-attachment)

  5. Pranayama (breath exercises)

  6. Dhyana (meditation)

  7. Samadhi (realisation of the true self)

Exercise too has variety, weightlifting, HIIT, Kickboxing, Pilates, Zumba, Cardio etc.. is However, all these are limited to focussing on the maintenance and improvement of the physical body as the sole aim. Muscle building, strength, endurance, heart health and body aesthetics stay top motives of exercise!

I personally practice both and teach both. I love to run, to lift weights, challenge myself with HIITs and rock to tunes of dance workouts! And then, I allow the by now tight muscles to stretch and relax through yoga. Furthermore, putting myself into laps of meditation and pranayama and embracing the life within me.

What do you like to do and practice?

Would love to know! :]

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