Move over bench press, barbells, and bicycles, and make way for the yoga mats. These days, almost everybody is doin’ downward-facing dog— 15.8 million Americans, in fact. And though yoga improves toe-touching flexibility while bringing out that inner “om,” is it enough to burn fat, rev metabolism, or say sayonara to those excess pounds?

Breathe Deeply — Why It Matters

Searching for a great 2-for-1 deal? Yoga is believed to work both the body and the mind, helping alleviate stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Another perk to aligning those chakras: Yoga’s flexibility-focused movements might help reduce the risk of injury, while sun salutations, planks, and chair poses can increase overall strength A pragmatic randomised trial of stretching before and after physical activity to prevent injury and soreness. Jamtvedt G., Herbert R.D., Flottorp S., et al. Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Health Services, Oslo, Norway. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010 Nov;44(14):1002-9 . Yoga also joins the ranks with strawberries and red wine, acting as a natural antioxidant booster (no calories required), while potentially alleviating chronic and acute pain. But posing all the way to savasana (that’s the final relaxation pose) leaves yogis feeling mellow, rather than fatigued. Not the typical sweat session, right?

To measure the intensity of yoga compared to other activities, researchers turn to maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 (the rate at which the body carries oxygen to active muscles). And the higher that rate, the harder the body is believed to be pushed. One study found that the VO2 rate of 10 young adults increased by 7 percent when hitting the yoga mat for eight weeks, while another put the elderly to the test, finding a VO2 boost of 11 percent in just six weeks Effects of Hatha Yoga Practice on the Health-Related Aspects of Physical Fitness. Tran, M.D., Holly, R.G., Lashrook J., et al. Department of Exercise Science, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA. Preventive Cardiology, 2001 Autumn;4(4):165-170. Effect of aerobic exercise training and yoga on the baroreflex in healthy elderly persons. Bowman, A.J., Clayton, R.H., Murray, A., et al. Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1997 May; 27(5) 443-9. . Still, compared to aerobic training, participants in this last study saw a 24 percent increase in oxygen uptake, signifying it may be best to be a part-time yogi, mixing up the mat with other forms of high-intensity aerobic training.

Strike a Pose — The Answer/Debate

While rolling out that yoga mat can mean an increase in energy, concentration, and clear-mindedness, at the end of the day, research suggests we shouldn’t stick to just one workout to reach the top of our fitness game. The body adapts to exercise, so varying workouts can be the best way to whip that body into shape The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace. Hartfiel N., Havenhand J., Khalsa S.B., et al. Dru Education Centre, Snowdonia Mountain Lodge, Bethesda, United Kingdom. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 2011 Jan;37(1):70-6. .

But remember not all types of yoga are created equal. For those who like it hot (quite literally), try Bikram Yoga, or amp up the intensity with Power Yoga. Both styles are considered physically demanding, helping to break a sweat in no time. Just don’t forget that water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the session, and avoid forcing the body into uncomfortable poses, which could cause muscle strain.

Photo by Caitlin Covington

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