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Is Yoga Good Exercise?

Updated: Jan 22

Is Yoga even meant to be exercise?


Isn’t it energy work and spiritual practice?


I’ve held some very inflexible opinions in answer to these questions!

During my time practicing yoga I have spent time being very sure that yoga is definitely exercise. At other times I’ve been totally sure that yoga is definitely NOT exercise, and can only be pigeonholed as a spiritual practice that works with the body’s energy (Prana). Now my opinions are more flexible and I know now that there is validity in both of these opinions!

If we are simply making yoga poses while the mind is totally checked out, drifting down every rabbit hole of thought, then it can surely be said that there is not much yoga happening. Before being a yoga teacher, I used to turn up for yoga classes in the hope of ‘nailing’ the yoga poses. I wanted to flow through the perfect chaturanga (flowing movement from plank pose down to the belly and into lifting one’s chest up). But my mind would be ricocheting all over the place:

Sh*t, I never sent THAT email.

Hmmm, what to eat for dinner?

I’m crap at yoga, I’m never going to be strong enough for these poses.

There is nothing wrong, zero, nada with having these thoughts. There is nothing wrong with mostly all our thoughts**. To paraphrase psychologist Dr Ramani Durvasula, our thoughts are our very personal, private space where we try to make sense of life’s experiences.

There is nothing wrong with having distracting thoughts during a yoga class.

What sets the mind situation apart in yoga, compared with many other movement classes which do not include a meditative aspect, such as Zumba, HIIT, Legs Bums and Tums, is that in yoga part of the practice is to cultivate our attention on what is going on from moment to moment with our breath, body, our emotions, our mental state, our whole selves. At the heart of yoga, for me, and others would disagree, is cultivating a friendly attitude to ourselves which can blossom into self compassion.

In the physical aspect of yoga which is called asana, which has many different forms now in modern yoga styles, we attempt to stay focused and relaxed enough to notice when we have become unfocused and rigid or unfocused and absent. What happens upon noticing we’ve become unfocused? You can choose to guide yourself back to your breath, or your body sensations or to your intention for your practice on that day.

These days I have loosened my fixed opinions that yoga is 100% one thing or another. There is no denying that incorporated into the system of yoga is some bloody good exercise!

We exercise our minds by noticing our breath to support our focus.

We flex our inner capacity for self-compassion, patience, acceptance of what our body is able to accomplish from day to day.

We can calm the mind which helps us loosen our grip on some very fixed, sticky beliefs.

We can glimpse the meaning of the term Yoga, which means union in Sanskrit.

We can enjoy some stretch and hydration of our muscles and connective tissues.

We build strength in lunges and balances.

We can unblock our energy circuitry so we can remedy stagnancy.

So…Perhaps yoga is all of it, both a physical practice and a spiritual path in which we get to know our true selves.

**Thoughts are just thoughts, it doesn’t mean we are going to act on them. But if you are having distressing thoughts or intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or others, do seek help from a therapist or call emergency services if you are in crisis.

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