Yoga as main exercise?
June 4, 2010 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I started doing yoga on my own a couple months ago, using a book, and I love the way it makes me feel and look. I'm interested in it as a main form of exercise and would like to hear from people who practice yoga as their main exercise. What is your yoga routine like, what kind of yoga do you do, and do you feel fit from mainly doing yoga? Any particular recommendations? (classes, books, DVD's, etc). Thanks!

I like walking and swimming as well, but feel that if I can get a yoga routine going every morning (as I have been) it can be a great lifelong practice. It's something I can do on my own and in my room (though I know classes are helpful and I'd like to try them too) I am looking to hear from people's views on practicing yoga as a main (or sole) form of physical activity and whether it has helped you achieve your goals for health, fitness, relaxation, and/or weight loss/maintenance (all goals of mine, though I am not necessarily looking to lose lots of weight.)
posted by bearette to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I take an ashtanga class weekly. It's really the only excercise I do. I do some stretching on my own, but I would never do a 90+ minute routine on my own. Taking a class also allows for instruction on things like alignment, which muscles to be accessing to get the most out of the posture, and physical correction of your alignment, since you can't see your own body. (I'm often surprised how far off the mark I am when the instructor nudges my hip over, or moves my shoulders away from my ears.) I always feel like a million bucks after a class - all floaty and mellow and limber. I am not remotely athletically inclined, but I can do this. And I love it. Just love it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:15 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yoga is my main form of exercise: about 10-15 minutes every evening. One of the things I love about it is that there are no excuses (e.g., bad weather? so what! on vacation? so what!). I have used bits and pieces of everything: library yoga books, YouTube, yoga videos through Netflix... The scientist in me also loves Anatomy of Hatha Yoga; I find myself going to this book over and over again.

I can't comment on the efficacy of yoga for weight loss/weight maintenance, since I've always hovered around a scrawny 112-115lbs. But let me tell you: with yoga, those are some sinewy, lean, strong 112-115lbs!
posted by onepot at 6:17 PM on June 4, 2010

I did bikrams for about 2 years and I'm pretty sure thats one of the reasons I re-herniated my back. For me, its no substitute for long walks and sunshine.
posted by H. Roark at 6:51 PM on June 4, 2010

Seconding Ashtanga. GREAT exercise. I used to take classes three times a week. It was a workout like no other. I loved it. I just felt like there was an element of progression that I was able to follow - deeper poses, not falling over, being able to hold a warrior pose without faltering - things that made me feel like I was actually getting better and stronger.

After I was unable to attend classes for a while I relied on John Scott's Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga which was recommended to me by my yoga instructor.

I'm also particular to Rodney Yee. So if he's got an Ashtanga video out (and I'm pretty sure he does), I'd check that out too.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2010

It's pretty important to take at least a few classes. If you aren't doing the poses correctly you won't be getting the most out of your workout. Having an instructor who will actually move you into the right position is really helpful.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2010

I'm a yoga addict. I started on Bryan Kest's Power Yoga DVD and practiced those videos for around a year before I went to a real class. While I did get really fit and flexible, I have to say that an actual yoga class is much, much better, particularly if you can find a great teacher. I go anywhere between 2 and 5 times a week and always practice with one teacher--if you live in the New York City area, his name is Marco Rojas and he teaches at Pure Yoga--and I am in the best shape of my life. Most importantly, I feel really aligned. My posture has completely changed, and I know how to balance myself and breathe.

My teacher teaches a mix of Ashtanga and Iyengar, which basically means it's very athletic (as most Ashtanga is), includes a warmup of sun salutations (again, Ashtanga), focuses on alignment (Iyengar influence), and holds poses for a really long time (Iyengar). It's called a "Power Yoga" class, but every teacher has his/her own interpretation of that.

For reference, I didn't go into yoga to lose weight. I've always been skinny, but yoga has really toned my body. I started yoga because I wanted to get toned, and then I just found it addictive and calming. I started going to real yoga classes to learn about alignment because I started getting carpal tunnel after a year of practicing by myself (I wasn't aligned properly, though I thought I was). I have never regretted either decision and really advocate yoga as an exercise to stick with for life.
posted by melancholyplay at 7:51 PM on June 4, 2010

Oh--also for reference: the Bryan Kest DVD (which I highly recommend) contains three videos, each an hour long. The classes I go to now are each about an hour and a half long, though some are an hour and fifteen. Both are vigorous. If you're not already somewhat fit, you might have trouble sticking to either of them as they are rather athletic. However, there are plenty of good beginner yoga classes and videos out there, too, I'm just not familiar with them!
posted by melancholyplay at 7:54 PM on June 4, 2010

Yin Yoga
posted by larry_darrell at 9:43 PM on June 4, 2010

If you're new to yoga, I'd highly recommend taking a class from a reputable yoga place in the city you live in. It'll help you with your form and that in the long run will make your yoga-ing more efficient and safe. There's nothing like an instructor correcting your poses so that you work your muscles at optimum levels while not hurting yourself. They are also incredibly useful at learning how to get into more advanced poses.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:49 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second what astapasta24 says. You should really take a class for a little bit to make sure you are doing it right. After you have the routine down, you can do it on your own safely and productively and maybe attend a class every month to make sure. If you aren't doing it right, there's not much point and it's hard to monitor yourself.
posted by Raichle at 2:14 AM on June 5, 2010

+1 on the advice to take some classes. I have found that doing yoga on my own is nice, but if you're like me you probably avoid the poses that you dislike when practicing solo. Furthermore, it is easier to immerse oneself in the practice much more deeply when you don't have to think of which asana comes next, or how long to stay in a particular pose. Lastly, if you want a physical workout, you're more likely to be challenged if you're being told what to do- pushed past the point where you would normally back off. (And esoterically speaking, it always seems to me much easier to tap into your power when in a room full of people focusing on the same thing.)

Do be careful. When I started practicing I was able put my body into poses that I should not have, which caused some injuries. Proper alignment is key, and hearing all the instruction that goes along with even the most simple poses is important to avoiding injuries.
posted by palacewalls at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2010

I've been doing Bikram (hot) yoga for 5 years now, and I love it. It's a 90-minute class, 26 hatha yoga postures, each done twice, always the same sequence, and each posture is complementary to the one that came before. It works everything: muscular strength, stretch, nervous system, spine, organs, blood circulation, breathing capacity, stamina, concentration, patience... And the fact that you sweat like a pig for an hour and a half means you're getting rid of toxins as well, so you come out feeling quite clean.
I try to take at least 3 classes a week. To me it's very important to practice with a group and with a teacher, so I don't do the sequence at home. Every once in a while I'll do a specific posture on my own, but not more than that.
It has certainly helped me to attain all the goals you mention, and more.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:02 AM on June 7, 2010

Paris Elk: "And the fact that you sweat like a pig for an hour and a half means you're getting rid of toxins as well, so you come out feeling quite clean"

I love hot yoga. It's a great workout and I feel refreshed after, but the "getting rid of toxins" thing is something I've heard repeated and, as far as I know, it has no real basis in medical science, at least not to the degree that many claim.

LA Times: You Sweat, but toxins likely stay
The bottom line: Sweat does contain trace amounts of toxins, says Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, a professor of dermatology at St. Louis University and founding member of the International Hyperhidrosis Society, a medical group dedicated to the study and treatment of heavy sweating.

But, Glaser, adds, in the big picture, sweat has only one function: Cooling you down when you overheat. "Sweating for the sake of sweating has no benefits," she says. "Sweating heavily is not going to release a lot of toxins."

Still, it's a great workout.
posted by sharkfu at 7:57 PM on June 7, 2010

My understanding is that the point of the "hot" in Bikram yoga is that you can get deeper into the poses faster since you "warm up" faster.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:40 PM on June 8, 2010

Don't mean to get off-topic about hot yoga, but to answer sharkfu:
I'm not a scientist, but the article you quote is referring to hanging out in an infrared sauna, as opposed to intensely working your body through hatha yoga postures for 90 minutes. All I can say is, if you take a Bikram class next to someone who smokes (tobacco or anything else) or drinks alcohol, you know that stuff is coming out of the person's pores, because you can smell it. Here are some other ideas about the health benefits of sweating.

And yes, as ThatCanadianGirl says, the heat also helps you go deeper into the postures.
(Disclaimer: I am not a Bikram teacher, nor do I have any vested interest in hot yoga, except what it does for my body!)
posted by Paris Elk at 11:30 PM on June 8, 2010

@Paris Elk. I think a more likely scenario is the person who smokes is covered in tobacco smoke (as are their clothes and everything they own) and heavy sweat mixes with the stinky tobacco particles. Nicotine isn't being flushed out of their system. With the drunk, the sweat may have the scent of the water from the beer they were drinking, but they're not sweating out alcohol and they're just as drunk as before until the kidneys filter it from their blood. The systems that detoxify are kidneys, liver, and the GI tract and most toxins are eliminated through urine & feces. Like I said, I still think it's a great workout, I just think hot yoga should stand on all the great things it provides (flexibility, concentration, relaxation, etc) and not make false claims about eliminating toxins. It's arguably a dangerous message for yoga studios to project, one that people could certainly misinterpret ("I can smoke and drink and do drugs and mistreat my body all I want and just sweat it all out in one 90 minute session!")

Anyway, we're both still pro-hot yoga so it's not like we're really disagreeing...
posted by sharkfu at 1:26 AM on June 9, 2010

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