If you study classical yoga or consider yourself a traditional yogi, you know yoga is much more than a physical practice. You may even like to point that out to other yogis who seem to only do yoga for fitness.
Asana (the “exercise” part of yoga) is just one of the eight limbs mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We do the physical practice to calm the mind and prepare for meditation. At least, that’s the case for traditional yogis.
But what if you do yoga in a gym? Or what if you’re just drawn to the stretching and strength-building poses in your power yoga class? Is that enough?
Sure, it’s enough if it’s enough for you! While those of us who dive more deeply into the practice and all it offers wouldn’t give up the other seven limbs, we do recognize yoga’s benefits for physical health and fitness.
Yoga for Fitness May Be Enough
Yoga has evolved. In the West, many who practice yoga focus much more on the physical practice than yogis of the past. And there may be a reason for that. Ancient yogis didn’t spend hours at their desks or vegged out in front of a television screen.
Seriously, though, in the Yoga Sutras, asana was simply a comfortable posture for meditation. Now it is often chaturangas, twists, vinyasas, and lots of core work! All of that is noticeably good for things like weight loss, building strong bones and muscles, flexibility, and cardiovascular health.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum. Some of us are so stressed, tense, and wired, that we need to teach our muscles to relax. We need our hearts to stop racing and our blood pressure to decrease. For that, we can do a gentle or restorative yoga practice.
If becoming fitter is the only benefit you receive from yoga, you’re still better off than you were before. Some people practice yoga for fitness only, and that’s okay.
Benefits of Yoga for Fitness: Bringing the Body Back to the Mind
As I mentioned, the purpose of asana is get the body in good shape so it will be comfortable in meditation. Today, we learn many yoga postures. And they’re not always comfortable.
The ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutras addresses the relationship between mind and body in verse 2.47.
By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered.
Modern yogis often lead relatively sedentary lives and develop many stress-related physical problems that get in the way of the flow of life. We may suffer from chronic headaches, stiffness, digestive problems, anxiety, and other physical issues that keep us from living our best lives.
Yoga can help us manage these “side effects” of modern life. It reduces stress, calms the mind, and reduces pain. Yoga also helps us get in shape and lose weight, and it increases the flow of oxygen to our brains.
Maybe your only goal for your yoga practice is exercise, pain relief, or stress management. Maybe one day you’ll want more. As we like to say, it’s all good. Keep practicing yoga for fitness. It works!