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

Yoga as a system of ‘health management’

You might be shocked to hear this, but yoga is a big fitness craze in Kenya.

Well, it is according to a column by a fitness consultant at allAfrica.com.

I highlight it because it seems to capture some of the best and worst preconceptions of yoga.

First, here are some of the best (all direct quotes):

  • Several scientific research papers have been published by some of the world’s leading universities, affirming the positive effects of regular yoga in the alleviation of the symptoms and severity of a wide range of medical conditions including asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, gastro-intestinal issues, varicose veins and depression.
  • These two [asana and pranayama] are combined in sequence to create a flowing series of physical postures, each of which individually targets, stretches, opens and improves muscle tone in specific parts or organs of the body.
  • The heat you build doing sun salutations, for instance, is what allows your muscles and joints to open up and stretch safely without too much resistance.
  • At the same time, it is one of the most demanding physical tasks you will ever accomplish in your life. No wonder pop stars like Madonna and Sting swear by yoga as the key to a great physique!
  • There are vigorous and dynamic styles of yoga such as Power Yoga, Ashtanga and Vinyansa, where there is a strong emphasis on strength and fluidity of movement, and which can prove very challenging for the uninitiated.
  • But there are also calm restorative forms of yoga, such as Iyengar Yoga and Hatha Yoga, in which poses are held for a considerable length of time and emphasis is on breathing and relaxation in order to promote healing of old injuries and imbalances and to strengthen the mind body connection.
  • For as long as you live in your body, you have to maintain it, and nothing does that more simply and comprehensively than the regular practice of yoga.
And now, a few of the worst:
  • Of course, there is no truth in that myth, because far from being a religious practice, yoga is actually a system of health management that seeks to guarantee good health on several different levels, including mental health and physical health.
  • You will burn calories, become flexible and simultaneously tone every single muscle in your body in half the time it takes to squeeze a regular gym session into your busy schedule. The only thing left to do is to find a class that suits you.

Now, that’s not too bad a ratio. The fitness consultant, not surprisingly, seems to get the physical aspects and benefits of yoga — and I think explains them pretty well. Of course, if you’re like me, your alarm bells are going off at the idea that yoga is merely — that’s my takeaway — a “system of health management.”

But, if you think about it, that’s one way — back in the 1970s and ’80s as yoga began to spread with abandon here in America — that yoga gets its foot in the door, so to speak. All that scary Indian and Hindu stuff has to be pushed aside; the practice has to be made safe.

What I then anticipate happening, to some people, is all that scary stuff wells up and becomes part of the practice. At least, that’s my experience.

But what of those people for whom yoga just remains a “system of health management?” Is that enough? Is it better than nothing? Is it preparation for their next time around, when maybe yoga will be something more?

Posted by Steve