Yoga is exercise. This myth and question is not so simple to answer. Its both Yes, and No.
Exercise could be defined as physical movement for the purpose of increasing health and fitness. We strengthen the cardiovascular system with exercise that increases heart rate, we strengthen the muscles with weight training, and then stretch to keep flexibility in the muscles and joints. Some exercises increase the body’s coordination and balance.
In its more traditional and ancient form, a yoga practice included none of this. However, now that yoga practice has been popularized in the West, it has also morphed into many different forms, and some of those forms could be considered exercise because of the health and fitness it provides. So yes, yoga is exercise sometimes.
To understand a clinical difference between yoga and exercise, here’s a quote from Swami Satyandanda Saraswati’s Book entitled Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha,
“There are several differences in the way asana and exercise affect body mechanisms. When yogasanas are performed, respiration and metabolic rates slow down, the consumption of oxygen and the body temperature drop. During exercise, however, the breath and metabolism speed up, oxygen consumption rises, and the body gets hot. Yoga postures tend to arrest catabolism whereas exercise promotes it. In addition, asanas are designed to have specific effects on the glands and internal organs, and to alter electrochemical activity in the nervous system.
Yogasanas are techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. Part of this process is the development of good physical health by stretching, massaging and stimulating the pranic channels and internal organs, so asana is complementary to exercise.”
The teachers at Rexburg yoga like to incorporate both of these options in our morning classes. So at times there will be flowing, challenging asana practice that does raise the heart rate and heat up the body. On other occasions we mindfully move the body and calm the nervous system. And still other times we learn a posture in a detailed manner, thus its an active class for both brain and body.