Exercise and Yoga

In the Western world, people often exercise for two main reasons: to have better overall physical health or to achieve weight loss. Of course, there are also other reasons, such as enhancing blood circulation, developing athletic skills or toning various muscle groups. In other words, the goal of a person who exercises is to stimulate radical wellbeing.

While most people who do yoga can also strengthen physiologically, the ultimate goal of yoga is to reach a higher state of consciousness. Yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life and mind. In last week's discussion with Ira Trivedi, we sorted through the differences between asanas, gymnastics, cardio and other physical exercise practices. Where exercise and yoga differ the most, is the purpose and sophistication behind yogic practice.

Yoga also focuses more on steady postures and relaxation of muscles. 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.

Yoga has several benefits which are apparent, but also are things that we can contemplate as we practice:

Yoga is an energy efficient activity, which creates strength and flexibility

Yoga works towards a relaxed effort, thus reducing stress while still strengthening our physiology

Yoga improves the respiratory system and can improve oxygen uptake

Yoga can in some cases improve immune system function

Yoga can reduce stress, thus lowering levels of cortisol in the body