The most devout yoga practitioners might tell you that yoga is all they do to maintain their fitness and they may even claim to get a cardiovascular benefit from a vinyasa flow practice. Is it true? Is yoga enough exercise to lose weight and improve health?
Can you get everything you need from yoga and yoga alone? Yes and no. A well-rounded workout routine should include strength-training, cardiovascular exercise and flexibility work and yoga can usually provide two of the three.
One vigorous vinyasa flow class probably feels like all the exercise you’ll need for a week and if you’ve ever practiced hot yoga, the labored breathing probably makes your lungs think they just went for a run but don’t let the heat fool you. A lot of that sweat is actually water weight and any immediate weight loss is actually one of the effects of that water weight loss and dehydration. However, there are pros and cons to every form of exercise, including hot yoga, and the added heat can assist with flexibility and the prevention of injury. No surprise but most yoga classes provide a wonderful opportunity to stretch.
Depending on the class and the frequency of practice some yoga classes offer an adequate amount of strength training but it’s virtually impossible to meet the minimum cardio requirements with yoga alone.
Take the average class length of 75 minutes, factor in time for a warm-up, balance postures stretches and final savasana and that leaves approximately 45 minutes of fast-paced movement. Now, take into account that the only time your body is ‘doing cardio’ is when you transition from pose to pose. In the end, this might account for 15-20 minutes of your 75-minute class. Wait, is hot yoga cardio? Unfortunately, no. The increased heart rate you experience is due to the heat, not your exercise intensity.
To maintain fitness levels, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise so even if you practiced 7 days per week, with yoga alone, you would fall just shy of these guidelines.
Is yoga enough exercise when it comes to flexibility training? Yes! Both the AHA and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition simply recommend that adults complete some strength-based exercise twice per week (without any specifications on length of workout) so aside from gentle, restorative or yin yoga classes, you could easily meet or exceed these expectations with at least two classes per week. Neither of these organizations list specific flexibility recommendations. The American College of Sports and Medicine includes two to three days of flexibility training in their guidelines and this is another area where yoga meets or even jumps over the bar, as long as you practice at least two days per week or more.
So, is yoga enough for weight loss? Yoga alone likely is not. But don’t roll up your mat just yet! Consider adding a few brisk walks or a cardio-based class to your routine each week to maintain your fitness from all angles and keep your strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance up to par.