Often the misnomer is that yoga does not provide a “real workout”. Research is proving otherwise. * In one of the first studies done in the United States that examines the relationship between yoga and fitness, researchers at the University of California at Davis recently tested the muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and lung function of 10 college students before and after eight weeks of yoga training. Each week, the students attended four sessions that included 10 minutes of pranayama, 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas, and 10 minutes of meditation.
After eight weeks, the students' muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent—a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment. Study coauthor Ezra A. Amsterdam, M.D., and suspects that VO2max might have increased more had the study lasted longer than eight weeks. In fact, the ACSM recommends that exercise research last a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks, because it usually takes that long to see VO2max improvements.
"It was very surprising that we saw these changes in VO2max in such a short time," says Amsterdam, professor of internal medicine (cardiology) and director of the coronary care unit at the U. C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He is now considering a longer, larger study to authenticate these results.
A related study done at Ball State University offers further evidence for yoga's fitness benefits. This research looked at how 15 weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes affected the lung capacity of 287 college students. All of the students involved, including athletes, asthmatics, and smokers, significantly improved lung capacity by the end of the semester.
"The athletes were the ones who were the most surprised, because they thought their athletic training in swimming or football or basketball had already boosted their lung capacity to the maximum," says study author Dee Ann Birkel, an emeritus professor at Ball State's School of Physical Education.
If you want to become and stay physically and mentally fit, make sure your yoga practice includes a balance of poses that build strength, stamina, and flexibility, along with breath work and meditation to help develop body awareness. In particular, include a series of standing poses in your practice. As your practice expands, Schumacher suggests adding more challenging asanas such as balancing poses and inversions. "If you are just doing 15 minutes of gentle yoga stretches three to four times a week, you will also need to do some other form of exercise to stay fit," Schumacher readily admits. "I often tell my beginning students that they will need to do something in addition to yoga for a while until they can practice more vigorously."
"I have never found an exercise regimen that provides so many benefits to patients. It's great for the sedentary lifestyle, for stress, for a positive mental outlook and for overall strength and flexibility as we age."
Beyond fitness, yoga also offers many other gifts. It improves your health, reduces stress, improves sleep, and often acts like a powerful therapy to help heal relationships, improve your career, and boost your overall outlook on life. As a physician, I have never found an exercise regimen that provides so many benefits to patients. It's great for the sedentary lifestyle, for stress, for a positive mental outlook and for overall strength and flexibility as we age. I practice it myself!
If you are new to yoga, , try classes online or at your local yoga studio, to learn proper technique. If you have practiced yoga for a while, consider a daily practice at home. Adding simply one yoga class a week to your exercise regimen will increase flexibility, strength and lung capacity. It might make you a little happier too!
Excerpt from Yoga Journal: www.yogajournal.com/practice/739
Wishing You Peace and Good Health,