A popularized form of quasi-yoga is yoga done for the purpose of getting physically stronger, to lose weight and look a certain way. None of these motivators are wrong, so much as they are somewhat inappropriate reasons for going to a yoga class. When a teacher is diligently constructing classes to help their students reach deeper levels of personal awareness and understanding there is one question that is most annoying/almost offensive:
How many calories does this posture/class burn?
Cringe, Cringe, Cringe, Cringe: No!
You might be asking why we would feel agitated by such a seemingly innocuous question. Here’s why: Yoga may have many physical benefits that can attribute to you reaching a certain aesthetic or performance ideal. That being said, those benefits are secondary to the main objective (note: using language that is goal-oriented while speaking about a yoga practice is already inherently controversial), which is spiritually-oriented self exploration. To be clear, “spiritual” is not used to imply “religious.” Be critical thinkers; the two words are not necessarily synonymous. We are not giving this information to dissuade you from using yoga as a physical practice, but rather to make sure that you are clear about your intentions.
Here are 3 reasons people usually take up a physical practice. Which one resonates most with you?
1.) We move to meet an aesthetic ideal – this motivation usually leads us to workouts that we hope will help us burn calories (oh wait… except that not all calories are created equal and calorie deficit formulas are not as simple as it would seem since that is not how our bodies work…anyway…), reduce body fat, rev up metabolism or insert-words-here that the fitness industry sells to us in order to sell products that support reaching a particular physical shape.
2.) We move to reach a certain level of performance – perhaps you are looking to increase your strength. Well, this is different from “looking” stronger. In other words, six-pack abs don’t always mean reliable performance (unless you are a stripper and then that totally helps). This motivation will often lead to training that follows a specific regimen to increase your performance success, whether the goal is to lift more weight, have a better golf swing (Kim knows all about this, btw, she does work at Golf and Body), create a more sweeping arabesque, run faster, etc. How we look and how well we do something physical is often surprisingly not predictable.
3.) We move to feel better – you feel uncomfortable in your body, you feel achy or “tight,” you feel stressed, not-grounded, not good. One can definitely feel “better” after an intense workout, but soon enough we find one particular form of movement that makes us feel good. For some it is running, yoga or weight lifting. If someone’s primary driving need for movement is simply to feel better, however uniquely we each define that feeling, then we will stick to that one primary practice. Just be aware, this may not help you to meet performance or aesthetic goals.
If you are like most human beings, you probably have a mix of the 3 reasons to move with varying priority. Even that order of priority may change at different stages of your life. You may start out moving, because you want to lose weight, but then realize you really want to be able to do a pull-up, so that may change how you engage in any kind of workout. This is normal. If you can understand why exactly you are choosing to participate in something then that can help you to reach whatever goal you set for yourself in terms of physical well-being. Which brings us full circle to our main argument. If you want to lose weight or burn a bunch of calories go to an intense boot camp class or do some interval training, but don’t go to a yoga class and expect the same results. Sure, there are yoga classes that are heated and involve a lot of movement, but if burning calories is your primary goal, you may be barking up the wrong tree. To be completely clear, taking a yoga class will burn more calories than doing NOTHING, however there are faster ways to attain this goal. Sedentary people often feel like yoga is a safe alternative to those other “injury inducing” activities, but as we have learned recently, yoga is no safer than any other physical activity.
The 3 reasons to move are not always mutually exclusive. But there is NOT one particular method that will meet your expectations in these three different ways equally. Be wary of anyone who tells otherwise. There is no magical-movement pill that will make you look the way you want, do everything you want to do physically and help you to be more spiritually/emotionally/self-actualized. But those lies are out there! You could just do a million sun salutations really really fast to get your body to feel like you had a tough workout, but you’ve now crossed the boundary from Yoga to yoga-inspired fitness and you are prone to all the same repetitive stress on your body as those other activities (nothing wrong with that).
Know what your intentions are and you won’t be duped by false information or fitness trends that will waste your time.