Difference between Yoga Asana and Exercise

Difference between Yoga Asana and Exercise


Life has become body. We work, we enjoy, we earn, and we sleep and relax all for our body. Because of this body-centric life and the apparent involvement of body in asana, we often consider asana as an alternate form of exercise. In this article we have kept asana and exercise side-by-side to make you understand that asana is a feeling of inner comfort and not an outside accomplishment of body position. In other words life is not all body and asana is about forgetting the body.

Yogasanas are often mistaken as a form of exercise. They are not exercises, but techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. They allow us to reach our higher nature through different postures. You must have noticed that when we are happy we sit in a certain posture; if depressed, we sit in another posture. The converse of this is the science of asana, where we consciously get our body into certain postures to elevate our awareness and relaxation.

We must also understand that unlike exercise, asana is always comfortable and blissful. Without comfort we cannot forget our body and without forgetting our body we cannot proceed for inner journey.

Some of the key differences between asana and exercise are:

 Yoga AsanaNon-Yogic Physical Practices
1Parasympathetic nervous system predominantSympathetic nervous system predominant
2Static positions and slow relaxed movementsRapid forceful movements
3Normalization of muscle toneIncreased muscle tone
4Low risk of injuring bones, joints, muscle and ligamentsHigh risk of injury
5Low to very low caloric consumptionHigh caloric consumption
6Effort is minimized, relaxedEffort is maximized
7Respiration and metabolic rate slows downThe breath and metabolic rate speed up
8Promotes anabolismPromotes catabolism
9Energizing (breathing is natural or balanced)Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)
10Balanced activity of opposing muscle groupsUnbalanced activity of opposing muscle groups
11Non-competitive, process-oriented and more of feeling partCompetitive, goal oriented and more of doing part
12Limitless possibilities for growth in internally related self-awarenessScope of growth in externally related self-awareness

By looking at the two columns we can understand on which side there is more comfort, steadiness and relaxation. Thus, ‘steady and comfortable is asana’ (yogasutra 2.46). How do we achieve this steadiness and feeling of comfort? By witnessing our body. If you are lifting your hand in asana witness it, when you are dropping your hand witness it again. Similarly any body movement that is happening anywhere in the body i.e. arms, leg, spine, neck, wrist, fingers, abdomen, chest etc., make sure you are witnessing it. Witnessing implies that there is a conscious act.

Slowly you start feeling comfort within your body. There is deep rest, relaxation and ease surrounding your body and that is the stage of asana. Now you want to remain in that steadiness and ease. You don’t want to change or move your body and this is the beginning of yoga. The more you feel comfortable and stable in your body, the more you move closer to yourself.   

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