Uh oh, studies suggest yoga not that good for you

Bear with me for a minute, angry Ashtangis who know better. I will address your concerns in about the amount of time it takes to get through a couple Surya Namaskara A.

I’ve just seen a story in Britain’s Daily Mail paper that wraps together a few studies with a few expert quotes to suggest that yoga isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Here is the key reason why: It isn’t doing enough for your heart.

In other words — doing three sessions of yoga a week led to no significant improvement in aerobic capacity. An additional study by Porcari and his colleagues monitored the exercise intensity of a group of intermediate-level yogis as they took part in two sessions: one hatha yoga, and one power yoga, which is said to be more aerobically-challenging.

They found that 50-minutes of hatha burned just 144 calories, no better than a slow walk. Even the 50-minute power yoga class burned only 237 calories (half the amount of a circuit class) and boosted heart rate to only 62 per cent of its maximum, meaning it provided only a mild workout for the heart and lungs. But Brewer stresses that yoga does have its place in a fitness programme if you want to improve flexibility.

‘There’s some evidence it can be very good at achieving this,’ he says. ‘And good mobility can have a positive effect on other things such as injury prevention in sport and posture.’

Now, here’s where we get to you Ashtangis. We laugh at even power yoga, right? It all may as well be an Iyengar class.  If you are moving with your breath, you are building up that heart rate and getting your lungs pumping.

I know my heart feels like it is racing, and I sweat like mad during my Primary Series practice. And there is zero — less than zero — chance I’m only burning 200-odd calories per hour. (But, should I be working a higher aerobic activity in? Something like wind-sprints? Maybe… but it would interfere with me practice. Heck, surfing interferes too much!)

Here are a few more bits from the Mail piece that lead me to believe Ashtanga isn’t part of the “not so good for you” mix they are talking about here. This, from “one of Britain’s leading fitness experts, celebrity personal trainer Matt Roberts:”

“You may feel that you are keeping fit by doing a weekly yoga class, but you aren’t. The reason why everyone likes yoga is that it isn’t very hard.

“Yes, there are individual parts of your body that are being worked hard, but with every form of exercise you should ask yourself is it intensive enough? Is my heartbeat raised? Am I out of breath and sweating for at least 25 to 30 minutes at a time? The answer when you’re doing yoga is, I suspect, no.”

Did you catch that? I’m sure you did: “yoga … isn’t very hard.”

Well, Mr. Roberts, I certainly would encourage you to try an Ashtanga class before you say that. You might think differently, even if your regular exercise is crossfit, x-fat, burn-up, zumba… etc.

Ashtanga, by the way, does get mentioned in this story; and on this point, I have to admit to being in agreement: “But, worryingly, Dr Sherman also found that more vigorous types of yoga, such as ashtanga, and classes led by poorly qualified instructors, could make problems worse.”

That’s definitely an issue; but it is an issue with personal trainers, with dumb people lifting weights, with running, with cycling, etc.

One final thought, not to get too mushy-gushy. What the story isn’t really touching on the non-physical benefits of the practice. I know that, done with proper intention, anything can tap into the Atman (although they might not call what’s being tapped into by that name), but yoga — and I argue, Ashtanga especially — really seems to have a direct line.

And that might be worth a few calories an hour.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Uh oh, studies suggest yoga not that good for you”

  1. I tried Yoga for about 1 year in Manhattan. With hindsight I find it even sillier than chiropractory. But if people enjoy it I don’t see the harm (until you have to visit the orthopedist then maybe scale it back a little).

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