by Rebecca James: Almost everyone goes to the gym or has an exercise regimen these days. Medical science has proven cardiovascular and physical fitness to be vital in stress reduction, longevity, and overall health…
That being said, yoga can do all of that and more! This ancient practice has promoted wellbeing for thousands of years by nourishing the body, mind, and spirit. These amazing benefits continue even when you leave the mat. Plus, you don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to practice. Here are 17 reasons why yoga is better than the gym, and why you should start today.
There is No Judgment
Patanjali’s eight-fold path consists of 2 ethical guidelines of yoga, separating them into 5 yamas and 5 niyamas, which are translated into restraints and observances. The yamas are non-violence, non-stealing, non-grasping, truthfulness, and non-excess. The niyamas are self-discipline, cleanliness, self-study, contentment, and surrender.
What is love? Love is the absence of judgement.Dalai Lama
Through these ten ethical pathways, yoga helps us realize our oneness and sameness. No matter where or who we are in life, we all experience this human existence. Yoga encourages us to come to a place of non-judgement and compassion inside of ourselves and towards others.
Yoga is Adaptable
This practice can be gentle, soft, and relaxing, or it can be rigorous, active, and fiery, with anything in between. A restorative style will allow the body to rest and recover through easy to do postures, while getting all the benefits of stress reduction. If you are looking for more of a workout, try vinyasa, ashtanga or hot yoga. Anyone of any size, age, ability, or experience can perform yoga postures and variations of these asanas. You don’t have to be the strongest or most flexible person to take a yoga class or explore sequences on your own. You make the posture, the posture doesn’t make you!
Improves Flexibility, Pliability and Strength
No matter what variation of practice you choose, yoga is a dynamic exercise that lengthens and tones, yet also builds muscle and a strong core foundation. Any athlete will tell you that flexibility is a key component of their performance. making yoga the perfect complement to any athletic regimine. With strength comes muscle density, but that muscle is useless unless it is also pliable. Pliability accounts for the length and softness in the muscle, while flexibility refers to the mobility of the joint. These three, flexibility, pliability, and strength, are crucial for perfecting your body’s performance, and yoga offers it all!
Cardio and Weight Resistance in One
If you opt for a vinyasa, power, or hot yoga class, you will definitely be sweating and increasing your heart rate. Adding heat (whether internal or external) to your yoga practice makes it a deeper cardiovascular workout. Because you are engaging in postures that require you to hold and move your body weight, you also get the benefits of weight resistance training. Both a strong cardio routine and weight resistance workout aid in weight loss and improved body composition. With just cardio, you may lack the type of muscle tone you are seeking, even if you lose weight. A combination of both is the sweet spot, and yoga can offer you two for the price of one!
Calms the Mind
Working out releases endorphins and many say they feel quite relaxed after going hard in the gym. Yoga offers an even more sustainable “high”, and this relaxation achieved after a yoga class can reach far beyond the mat. Because yoga incorporates meditation, every posture is a mindful movement rather than a means to an end. Your mind is hyper focused on the small details of the body and breath, allowing you to connect deeply to your physical reality rather than the world inside your mind. Doing yoga will help you in your non-yoga life, too. The more you practice, the more the habit will follow!
Creates Breath Awareness
Often times in the gym we breathe heavily, but not necessarily fully or efficiently. In yoga, the combination of pranayama (breath) techniques and posture sequence allows you to connect deeper into your body. Becoming aware of your breath can help you achieve a meditative state, where your focus becomes only on the five senses. Your breath can tell you a lot about your state of being, where you are holding emotions, and what in your body might be tense. Breath awareness through yoga can help you off the mat, too. You may recognize patterns of breathing that can tell you a lot about yourself.
In yoga, balancing exercises are important for both the body and the mind. Balancing postures are challenging; they are trying to work with physics and against it at the same time! In finding your own center of gravity, you must concentrate on stabilizing yourself. Your eyes must be fixed on a point, your head must be clear, and your foundation must be stable. Focus is a key facet of meditation, and one that will help you perform postures and function better as a whole. During balancing sequences, we need to compartmentalize to concentrate.
Do it Anywhere, Anytime
While you can certainly take a yoga class in a studio, you can really do yoga in any place at any time of the day. You may want a mat, but this is also optional. Your body is the only requirement for most postures, and you don’t have to rely on heavy equipment to use it. If you have 40 minutes for a workout, do yoga outside or in an open space at your house. Incorporate heat building postures and flow sequences to increase your heart rate and build muscle. Add in stretching postures to loosen your muscles and joints. Really, it is what you want it to be. No membership or start up fees required!
It is About the Inside
Do you ever get tired of going to the gym and seeing your reflection in the mirror? Maybe you wish you looked different. You might be so caught up on what the outside looks like that you don’t really see the inside. In yoga, how you feel is your reflection. What you look like in your leggings doesn’t matter one bit! You are your only judge, and your intention in class is what matters the most. With your appearance out of the equation, life becomes simple. Yoga is not a fitness competition. There is no one to compare yourself to except your internal self.
Improves Spinal Health
Yoga improves spinal health by conditioning the muscles and tissue around the back, and by increasing joint mobility in the spine. It also drastically improves posture, which is a key component to overall health and wellness. Instead of putting pressure on your back and joints by running or lifting heavy weights, yoga works within the body’s natural limits. Through dynamic stretching and asana practice, you lengthen and strengthen to reduce future injury. Yoga can also improve back pain, and you can use specific postures to target problem areas. Plus, you may even gain an inch just from a straighter spine!
Gut health is a key factor in overall wellness. But sometimes, we just don’t digest certain foods all that well. While going to the gym after a big meal can certainly make you feel like you’re burning off those calories, digestion is a bigger part of the story. If you aren’t digesting food properly, this can lead to gas, bloating, constipation, and other unpleasant issues that a treadmill may not solve. Certain yoga postures, such as twists, stimulate the abdominal organs to speed up digestion. Deep breathing also increases blood flow to these areas, aiding in a happier gut.
Connects the Mind, Body and Spirit
The combination of meditation, pranayama, asana, and savasana integrates our mind, body, and soul. You will feel more in line with your truest self during yoga, helping you channel your intention through practice. Sometimes at the gym, we can be overwhelmed by the “ego” self. The ego may convince us of who we need to become rather than honoring who we are in the moment. Yoga can help you gain greater confidence about your body because of how you feel, perhaps pushing you towards a greater purpose for wellbeing.
It is Safe
Before you begin any new routine, talk with a trusted medical advisor. That being said, yoga is often prescribed for those of any age and ability. Because of the variation in intensity, yoga’s adaptability is key in bodily wellness. During a workout at the gym, it can be challenging to know your own limits when using machines. We want to go hard and fast, surrounded and motivated by others who may not have the same constitution as us. If you aren’t careful, this can lead to injury. Certainly in yoga you can stretch too far, but yoga fosters body awareness beforehand to avoid this as much as possible.
Yoga is a Way of Life
Yoga teaches us about the lessons of life on the mat. When you encounter a challenging posture, you must reconcile with your fears. On a smaller scale, feeling this inside your own body can help you in situations where you are challenged and feel afraid. Yoga also teaches us about compassion. In order to succeed, we must be kind on ourselves. This process of evolving can be gentle and nurturing, whereas a gym routine might not be. Whether you take your practice consciously or unconsciously off the mat, the benefits will follow you.
Teaches Body Consciousness
At the gym, you might feel great running on the treadmill or lifting weights, but do you ever feel way too sore afterwards? Sometimes during a workout routine, we get so caught up in the goal that we fail to pay attention to our bodies. Yoga primarily focuses on the integrity of the body during the asana rather than at the end of a posture. Teachers will encourage you to check in with your joints, muscles, and spine to ensure proper alignment to keep the body safe. By teaching body consciousness, yoga can help prevent injury and encourage you to be more mindful about how you move off the mat.
Pacifies the Nervous System
Many of us have overactive nervous systems; i.e., we are stressed out. There are so many events during the day that trigger our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response), whether we are dodging traffic, being woken up by loud alarms, or even watching a dramatic TV show. The parasympathetic nervous system, relaxation response, is the one we really need to turn on here. Yoga turns down the dial on the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system through breath and asana. Yoga can take you from a hot stress-mess to a zen goddess in less than an hour!
Connects You with Others
It is natural to find and focus on the differences between ourselves. We are all individuals, and no two people are alike. While uniqueness can define us, we are all truly the same where it counts. We are all living a human experience as a soul being. The universal experience of being human can be felt most intensely during yoga practice, as we challenge our physical bodies and minds. Many of us share the same afflictions, fears, and growing pains. We also connect through love and kindness. Through yoga, you become more compassionate with yourself, and in turn, also towards others.
Yoga is an amazing way to get fit and stay healthy, and you certainly don’t need to go to a gym to do it. It can help you shed extra pounds, make you more relaxed, and improve your overall wellbeing. Yoga is a safe practice that is adaptable at any age or with any ability level. It offers a more holistic and sustainable approach to health and philosophy. Find a yoga class or program that feels right for your needs. You are the author of your own story. Begin writing your next chapter today!