Is yoga enough to keep me “fit?”

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One of our students recently replaced her gym membership with a yoga membership. She naturally asked the question, “Is it enough?”

From a sales perspective, I should of course say, “Yes! Spend all your money and time here!” But, there is a lot more to the story. A big part of the answer depends on how you define “fit.” To me, fitness can be broken down into several categories: strength, balance/coordination, functional mobility, cardiovascular fitness, stress management/sleep. Let’s see how yoga stacks up in these categories. My scores are entirely arbitrary but are based on years of research and reading on this question.

  • Strength: 5/10
    A yoga practice is a weight-bearing exercise, which means it will provide some benefits in muscular strength and bone density. If you haven’t done any strength training, yoga will probably start to increase your strength from the get-go. Specifically, yoga builds shoulder stability and hip stability. This may be enough for you. On the whole, though, you’d have to practice a heck-of-a-lot of yoga to significantly enhance your strength. I am old school on this one, and I still recommend 2-3 weight training sessions every week. For me, this is 30 minutes with some free weights. When I’m regular with my weight training sessions, I feel significantly stronger on my yoga mat.
  • Balance & coordination: 8/10
    Especially as we age, balance becomes an essential part of fitness. I include coordination here, because part of being balanced is the ability to move your body in complicated, often unpredictable ways while maintaining functional integrity … and staying on your feet! Yoga is excellent in this category. In addition to strengthening fast-twitch muscles, it involves a number of single-sided and cross-bodied movements that enhance coordination.
  • Functional mobility: 10/10 (with a qualified teacher)
    I use this term over “flexibility,” because being flexible alone is not part of fitness. Having functional mobility means being able to take your joints through their designated range of motion. It doesn’t mean touching your toes or doing a split. We regularly see newbies who have limited shoulder flexibility and limited spinal flexibility. On our mats, we can restore functional mobility to these areas while also decreasing the range of motion (i.e., stabilizing) joints in the pelvis and knees. I clarify the need for a qualified teacher here, because many less experienced or less knowledgeable yoga teachers do strictly teach “stretching” and flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular fitness: 3/10
    Yoga scores lowest when it comes to heart health. It does provide some benefits to blood pressure, which is why it earns a few points in this category. But, in terms of actually tipping the numbers on your annual physical (glucose, cholesterol, resting pulse, etc.), you’ll need to add in some targeted cardiovascular fitness. For me, on the days I weight train, I also include a 15-30 minute cardio session. Yep, that’s it! I run a sprints mixed with light jogging, head out stand up paddling, or – as has become more common with my pregnancy – maybe just set a fast walking pace to achieve a targeted heart rate for 20 minutes or more. I’m not trying to be the fittest woman on Earth. I just want my doctor to say, “Good job!”And, it should go without saying, your doctor will see the biggest changes to your health based on your food choices. Cardiovascular health is made in the kitchen.
  • Stress management & sleep: 10/10
    If this isn’t on your list when it comes to fitness, then I’m here to tell you your list needs updated. Our bodies cannot thrive unless we are regularly clearing out stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, etc.) and regularly giving our brain a chance to sleep. Studies routinely conclude that yoga is one of the single best practices for managing your stress levels. This alone is reason to come practice yoga. It’s cheaper than therapy.

With these things considered, here is what a healthy and fit week looks like for me:

  • Yoga, 1-2 hours, 2-3 days a week
  • Cardiovascular and strength training, 1 hour, 2-3 days a week
  • Home cooked meals and lots of sleep

The key component here, though, is consistency. If you love yoga and will come to your mat regularly, then it will benefit your health far more than the gym membership you never use. Find the activities you love and can commit to. Find the meals you enjoy and find it easy to cook. Find the meditation practice that speaks to your mind and heart. There is no rush; do this right. It is your life on the line.

*Photo: Dave Getzschman Photography … pre-pregnancy 🙂