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Is Yoga the only exercise you need?

The enthusiasts are convinced that Yoga is the beginning, the middle and the end. Others claim that far from being a good exercise, the only reason Yoga is popular is because it’s easy. What is the truth? After experimenting with different regimens myself, analyzing peer reviewed research studies and doing a Yoga Teacher’s Training myself, here is my recommendation for an ideal weekly workout:

  • 3 days of Yoga (1 hour moderate intensity class or your own practice).
  • 2 days of moderate intensity weight training (45 mins).
  • 1 day of cardio/running (30 mins).

Taking an hour or less out of your schedule six days a week for the above will galvanize your physical and mental performance. You’ll lose weight, become flexible, stand taller, feel calmer and look toned, not to say anything about the tremendous improvement in internal organs functioning—heart, digestive, kidney etc. Some thoughts on why this workout is better than any other combination:

1. Yoga is unsurpassed for flexibility, balance and bone strength.
All studies universally agree on this. From my own experience, my posture straightened and balance improved dramatically within months of beginning my Yoga practice in a way that didn’t happen in years of running and weight training. Yoga’s inordinate emphasis on strengthening the spine, whether it’s inversions, forward bends or backwards bends, improves flexibility and balances your center of gravity. Improved blood flow in the spine also relieves lower back pain and prevents the onset of herniated discs, osteoporosis and scoliosis. Soon you’ll live the maxim that one is only as young as the spine is flexible.

2. Yoga is great for weight loss.
Paradoxically, you burn far less calories with Yoga (250/hour) than running (900 calories/hour) or weight training (400 calories/hour) but you end up losing more weight. Why? Yoga’s metabolism benefits are yet unproven but study after study has proven unambiguously that Yoga transforms your psychological health. As your mental awareness improves, a cloud seems to lift from your brain forcing you to scrutinize unhealthy habits like comfort eating, drinking alcohol and mindless snacking. I lost twenty pounds after i began Yoga and meditation without even trying just because of my heightened awareness of what went into my body.

3. Yoga is good for muscle endurance but weight training is better.
Studies have proven the benefits of Yoga for muscle endurance and it’s not difficult to see how every aspect of Yoga from the warm-up routine of sun salutations to wonderful poses like the wheel, crow, plank, chaturanga and many others can strengthen your muscles. However, basic weight training like squats, bench press and standing press are far better for strengthening muscles since these target specific muscle groups with prolonged repetitive actions. When I stopped weight training and did only Yoga, I lost too much muscle weight and became skinnier than I wanted to be.

4. Yoga is good for cardiovascular workout but doesn’t hold a candle to running.
Yoga inversions like the headstand and shoulder-stand allow blood-flow to the body’s extremities without the heart needing to pump, giving the heart a much needed rest. But the opposite isn’t true. Yoga doesn’t get the heart pumping blood vigorously enough to strengthen the cardiac muscles like a good old fashioned run does. When I was a runner, I climbed Kilimanjaro and Macchu Picchu effortlessly. However, my stamina dropped when I did only Yoga and couldn’t even climb a mountain in South India without expending considerable effort. Adding running back to my routine has improved my cardiac endurance noticeably.

5. The proof is in everyday performance
While it’s hard to measure internal functions like metabolism, blood pressure, kidney or liver strength on a day to day basis, at the risk of hubris, I would say that the above exercise routine makes you just a little superhuman. Cold, headaches, fever, allergies, digestion problems, insomnia, anxiety, other modern day ailments, diminish, if not vanish. You vibrate with a light, good energy through the day—prana which can be directed to live a more creative, fulfilling life.

Does Yoga alone give you a complete workout? How do you balance your workout routine? I’d love to hear from you.

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