Understanding the Difference between Yoga Asana and Exercise

Yogāsanas have often been thought of 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. For example, 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 āsana where we consciously get our body into certain postures to elevate our consciousness.

Some of the key differences between asana and exercise are:

 Yoga Asana

Non-Yogic Physical Practices

1Parasympathetic nervous system predominant


Sympathetic nervous system predominant

2Static positions and slow relaxed movements


Rapid forceful movements

3Normalization of muscle tone


Increased muscle tone

4Low risk of injuring bones, joints, muscle and ligaments


High risk of injury

5Low to very low caloric consumption


High caloric consumption

6Effort is minimized, relaxed


Effort is maximized

7Respiration and metabolic rate slows down


The breath and metabolic rate speed up

8Promotes anabolism


Promotes catabolism

9Energizing (breathing is natural or controlled)


Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)

10Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups


Unbalanced activity of opposing muscle groups

11Non-competitive, process-oriented and more of feeling part


Competitive, goal oriented and more of doing part

12Limitless possibilities for growth in internally related self-awareness


Scope of growth in externally related self-awareness


Thus, Asanas are psycho-physiological in nature as compared to the exercise which is purely physiological in nature. In Asana gradual training is given to the whole body as well as the mind through particular neuromuscular mechanism involved in different postural patterns. This brings about specific changes gradually in the total personality of the individual, including behavioral changes. Therefore, it is the pattern of the posture involved in asana. And which is important and responsible to achieve stillness and health of body and mind.

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