Is yoga a sport? Exercise? Just what is it exactly?
- Yoga is many things to many people. Some people consider yoga a sport. For others, it’s an essential part of their religion.
- There are many different types and practices of yoga.
- Yoga may help you enjoy the benefits of stretching and has shown potential in improving mental wellbeing.
With your eyes gently closed while lying on your mat in savasana pose (also known as corpse pose), you might start to wonder whether yoga really is exercise?
Despite what you may have heard, exercise doesn't just mean high-intensity, box jumping, tyre-flipping sweat sessions. There’s so much more to it than that – yoga included.
Let’s take a look at what yoga involves and some of its potential benefits before exploring whether yoga is a sport, a form of exercise or a religion.
What is yoga?
The practice of yoga spans thousands of years and originated in India. The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means “to join”, representing the union of body, mind and spirit.
Originally, yoga was conceived as a way to journey towards spiritual enlightenment, which makes it different from other forms of exercise. While yoga itself is not a religion, it is a practice stemming from Hinduism as well as Buddhism and Jainism.
Moving into structured poses (or asanas) is only one part of traditional yoga that has become popular in many countries worldwide.
What are the different types of yoga?
The most common types of yoga practised in gyms, studios, schools, hospitals and community centres in Australia include:
- Hatha: in modern yoga, Hatha classes tend to be a slower-paced introduction to basic yoga poses
- Vinyasa: focuses on continuous movement or flowing from one pose into another
- Ashtanga: a more vigorous style where the same set of movements and postures are performed in the same order each time
- Iyengar: all about precise technique and body alignment – classes often feature yoga props such as blocks and straps to assist in holding poses
- Yin: a slower-paced style, often involving floor-based poses held for more extended periods
Exploring the benefits of yoga
There’s been research studies on the potential health benefits of yoga. But these studies tend to only involve a small number of participants. While not conclusively proven to help, some types of yoga have shown potential in:
- improving mental wellbeing
- increasing deadlift strength
- increasing lower back/hamstring and shoulder flexibility
- helping to relieve chronic non-specific neck pain
Despite maybe not having the same benefits of running or walking, yoga may help you enjoy the benefits of stretching. For example, it may assist joints in moving through their full range of motion to foster greater mobility.
Wondering how yoga fits into how much exercise per day we need to do? According to Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, adults aged 18-64 should “include muscle-strengthening activities as part of your daily physical activity on at least 2 days each week.”
A government report on these guidelines states that some types of yoga are considered to be strength-based activities. It also highlights that a recent study showed that “participating in strength-based activities can improve longevity by as much as 23%.”
Yoga is many things to many people
Some people consider yoga a sport (yoga competitions are a thing, who knew?!). For others, it’s an essential part of their religion. And for many people, yoga is a form of enjoyable exercise.
Ultimately, ‘sport’ and ‘exercise’ come in many different forms – even those that aren’t aerobic or competitive.
Yoga may be a great thing to practice for many reasons, such as the potential health benefits discussed above. And for those, like busy parents, who may simply benefit from some ‘quiet time’.
So, unroll that mat, take a deep breath and notice how good it feels to streeeeeetch.
- 10 ways to increase your incidental exercise: how to keep moving without hitting the gym
- How to get your kids to exercise
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board October 2021.