I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:
- opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
- a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
- brings me into the now
- makes me want to take better care of myself
- seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
- supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth
Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.
No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.