I am often asked this question.
For many years, the only “exercise” I’ve done has been a daily practice of Svaroopa Yoga, along with about 20 minutes of Ujjayi Pranayama (our basic breathing practice). I have not worked out at a gym for a long time. Recently, I joined a gym because my husband and I will be going on a very active trip to the mountains of Peru this summer, where we will be doing some hiking and biking at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. While I have felt like I am in pretty good shape physically, I don’t want to get there and find out that I am unable to do all the things we want to do! So, I joined a new gym in town in order to be prepared physically for that trip.
I admit that I was a bit nervous before the first class. Was I really in okay shape? Has the Yoga and the breathing practices that I’ve done for the past 25 plus years really done anything for me? Or have I just been fooling myself? I figured this would be a good test.
I actually enjoyed the gym more than I anticipated. While it was work to keep my heart rate up, it wasn’t torture – not nearly as much as I expected. I did struggle a little with some of the weight-lifting parts of the workout, but that didn’t really surprise me as I was using muscles that I don’t normally use in my daily life. Overall, I felt that the Yoga I have done has helped me to maintain a healthy body. And after the first class, I felt pretty good physically. The gym experience was and will continue to be a confidence builder for me. I figure that if I go to the gym twice a week for the next few months, I will feel a lot more confident about my ability to navigate our trip to Peru.
So, how is Yoga different from a workout at a gym? The difference lies in Yoga’s effect on the mind. The true purpose of Yoga is to quiet the mind and to prepare the body for Meditation. Yoga uses breathing practices and asana (physical poses) to do this, so a healthier body is actually just a side effect of the Yoga, not the goal. When you go to a gym, the goal is a healthier body. I experienced this firsthand when I went to my second gym class. Before the class, I left my house in a very bad mood. My kids were fighting with each other, and there was a lot of tension at home, and I was feeling the effects of that. I was hoping that the workout would ease some of that stress. I worked hard at the gym, and after the class, I felt good physically, but the thing that struck me was that the workout didn’t really quiet my mind. I was still churning from the turmoil of the morning, and that mental chatter was not stopping. I thought about how I usually feel after a typical yoga class. Even when I go into the class with a lot of inner turmoil, I can count on all that disappearing by the time the class ends.
If you are trying to decide whether to work out at a gym regularly, or go to a weekly Yoga class, consider that it doesn’t need to be an “either/or” choice. Think about what your goals are, and you may find that the two activities can be quite complementary. And if you are getting your exercise elsewhere, than a Svaroopa® Yoga class is the perfect way to balance out that energy and give you a quieter mind.