Yoga Is More Than Just Stretching: Here’s Why You Should Take It Seriously

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In the latest season of Perfect Match, an unexpected argument between a couple highlighted a surprisingly contentious topic: is yoga a real workout? The drama kicked off when Dominique declared her love for yoga, only for Bryton to dismiss it as mere stretching and asked if she did Pilates instead (which he also then went on to diss – but that’s a discussion for another day). She stood her ground, defending yoga as a legitimate workout, sparking a full-blown scene that left viewers buzzing. Honestly, yes girl STAND UP – but also this was such a real debate. I felt deja vu because I had been in the middle of these debates between my gym-loving friends and yoga-loving friends.

Many people who love yoga swear by its holistic benefits, claiming it rivals traditional strength training in effectiveness. Yet, there’s a fraction that sees it as just stretching and relaxation, not a ‘real’ workout. So, who’s right?

To clear things up, let’s hear from some experts who live and breathe yoga.

 

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Anshuka Parwani, Celebrity Wellness Expert and Founder of Anshuka Yoga, explains, “Yoga goes beyond stretching and relaxation. Styles like Ashtanga or Power Yoga incorporate dynamic movements and sequences linking breath and movement. This continuous flow builds internal fire, or Agni Sara, creating a challenging workout that elevates heart rate and provides cardiovascular benefits.” Ashtanga Yoga, for instance, involves a set sequence of postures that intensify over time, challenging both the cardiovascular system and muscle endurance. And let’s not forget the body-weight resistance involved in many asanas, like Chaturanga (think yoga’s version of a push-up), which significantly enhances strength and flexibility.

Ira Trivedi Mantena, Author and Yoga Acharya, shares her journey from scepticism to admiration. “I grew up thinking yoga was for relaxation, not fitness. As a national-level squash player and marathon runner, I was shocked at how challenging a proper yoga class was. Styles like Ashtanga are extremely intensive and offer a full-body workout, requiring immense physical fitness.” She emphasises that yoga isn’t just about physical exertion but also benefits the endocrine and neurological systems, providing a holistic approach to health.

So, what makes yoga so effective for physical fitness compared to Pilates or weight training? Parwani highlights, “Yoga promotes strength, flexibility, stamina, and endurance holistically. Practices like Chaturanga and the Warrior series require significant muscle strength. The continuous flow of breath and movement builds mental and respiratory endurance, enhancing lung capacity.” Trivedi adds, “Sun Salutations and other sequences provide cardiovascular activity. Postures like Chaturanga Dandasana and Boat Pose work the core and engage multiple muscle groups, offering body-weight exercise and cardiovascular benefits.”

For those who feel yoga doesn’t meet their workout needs, both experts agree it’s likely about finding the right style or teacher. Parwani suggests incorporating external weights or hybrid forms like aerial yoga for added resistance. Trivedi advises exploring different styles and teachers, as yoga isn’t one-size-fits-all. “If yoga feels slow, try more active forms like Ashtanga or Vinyasa. The variety in yoga means there’s something for everyone,” she says.

Starting a yoga practice is simpler than you might think. Parwani recommends beginning on any mat, finding a teacher you resonate with, and starting with the basics. “Don’t compete with others; enjoy your journey and be consistent,” she advises. Trivedi suggests trying online or offline classes and possibly beginning with a private teacher to learn the fundamentals. “There are many online options now, making it easier to start,” she notes.

Personally, I recall my first yoga class vividly. The people I went with and I underestimated yoga’s intensity. That session left me more sore than any weight training ever did, and it was a humbling experience. Now, yoga is a crucial part of my routine, offering not just physical strength but mental clarity and peace.

On International Yoga Day, let’s shift our perspective and embrace yoga for what it truly is: a serious, effective workout that nurtures the body and mind. Whether you’re a sceptic or a seasoned yogi, there’s always something new to discover on the mat. So, roll out your mat and experience the transformative power of yoga—it’s more than just stretching, and it sometimes has the after-effects that you would feel after a strenuous leg day, trust me.

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