Here’s what 60 minutes of yoga is equal to, according to ‘science’

Building off our Saturday post about the New York Times “Ask Well” feature that found yoga is too gentle to be a person’s sole exercise, I thought I’d compare some other activities to how the NYT — via one study in particular — measured the physical intensity of 60 minutes of yoga.

And I’ll put my point right up front: It is pretty obvious that some yoga’s are greater than others, at least when it comes to their sheer physical intensity.

I’ll also note that if you check back on the “Ask Well” feature, Eddie Stern has added his voice. Among other points, he wrote:

[W]ill yoga make you stronger? Of course it will. But a lot of it depends on which type of practice you do, what your needs are, and who is teaching you.

I’ll pipe up and say that if Eddie is your teacher, your yoga will make you stronger. (And I’m still not sure what the 60 minutes of Ashtanga the people in that study did. Well, for one thing — only twice a week during the study. But beyond that, what would 60 minutes of Ashtanga include, since I’m guessing they weren’t doing the Ashtanga express and getting in all of Primary. The standing poses with a few of the seated, plus some modified closing? Any vinyasa? Who knows.)

But back to the comparison. Remember, the study the Times references claimed yoga was equal to walking 2 mph.

I want to break that down a bit. That’s a mile every 30 minutes — or about 7:30 to go once around a track. I’d say 7:30 isn’t too bad a time for the mile. But it is a pretty slow walk. And that, I suppose, is why the blanket answer by the Times has rubbed some people the wrong way (as the Times tends to do with yoga, huh?). Maybe yoga as the gentlest stretching is about the same. Anyway, to force this point home more, here are some equivalent exercises to the Times’ (and that one study’s) version of 60 minutes of “yoga” (based, by the way, on this info from Harvard):

  • Light gardening for an hour
  • About 40 minutes of house work
  • Walking briskly for 35 minutes or so (at 3 mph, which still is fairly slow)
  • 30 minutes of heavy yard work
  • 30 minutes of climbing stairs
  • 30 minutes of light bicycling
  • 25 minutes or so of ballet or modern dance
  • 20 minutes of shoveling snow
  • 18-20 minutes of serious hiking
  • 15-20 minutes of kayaking or downhill skiing
  • 12-20 minutes of faster biking
  • 10 minutes or so of running at about that 7:30 mph I mentioned above

OK, so what’s the point to this? Well, again, to suggest that the yoga the Times is talking about ain’t the Ashtanga that we know. And that the Times’ answer is pretty limited and therefore pretty incomplete. (The ultimate problem with the answer is that it doesn’t acknowledge any other possibility, any other answer — even that some yoga might — and that is, of course, a problem with journalism: the need to appear authoritative, when one isn’t. That may be a problem with science, too.) But also that comparing yoga to any of these other “exercises” is like comparing jack fruit to coconuts.

And also that what they are measuring is just one little thing — an important one, to be sure. But not the most important.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Here’s what 60 minutes of yoga is equal to, according to ‘science’”

  1. If you read the full study, which is linked in the comments of your original post, you will see the exact (progression of) sequences over the course of the study. Am I misinterpreting your opinion as being that these study participants should have practiced Full Primary throughout the study for it to be legit? And preferably 6-7 days per week for 2 hours or more a pop?Remember, one of the participant qualifications was NO resistance training or “yoga exercise” for at least one year prior to the study.

    Why the outrage? I am certainly missing something here.

  2. Ah, I see now. The NYT “article” — if we can call it that– is the problem (and, IMO, it IS a problematic piece of sloppy writing. And, yes, I liked Eddie’s comment.

  3. I can only get to the abstract, but this seems to be the description of the Ashtanga:

    “Participants in YE group performed 60 minutes of an Ashtanga Yoga series 2 times/week with one day between sessions for 8 months. Each Yoga session consisted of 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 35 minutes of Ashtanga Yoga postures and 10 minutes of cool-down with relaxation; and the session intensity was progressively increased during the 8 months.”

    I guess if we want to be outraged (I don’t really) it is that scientists and readers of the NYT piece will just glean “Ashtanga” out of this — which is a far cry from 35 minutes of “postures” twice a week. It’s just pretty imprecise — but we have to take the negative science with the occasional positive we get.

    Plus, I also just think it is funny to think of Ashtanga the way they define it. It’s just soooo not Ashtanga.


  4. Hello, i read about the same thing in Mr Broad’s book The science of yoga but he was then giving very good explanation on this tricky subject.
    The “force” of an exercise is calculated in most cases on V02max wich is the maximal oxygen consumption.

    This is where Yoga do not fit: unless running, yoga do not cause the body to use that much more oxygen: the deep breathing do not produce the same affect as the fast breahing we experience when we are running or jumping or doing any other purely cardiovacular exercice.

    Also, i believe that the V02max is also linked to the acceleration of the heartbeat that one will experience in cardiovascular exercice but not in Yoga (the little pounding we may experince when doing Surya Namaskara B really doesn’t count 😉 )

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