This isn’t to establish what is better out: a yoga asana or exercise. Nor is it an attempt to glorify one over the other. They both are different and have their unique benefits. But, these two get confused as one! We want to highlight the difference between the two so that when you are practicing either yoga asana or exercise, you know exactly what purpose it is serving you.
The definition of ‘asana’ as mentioned in the Sutra 2.46 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is ‘Sthira-sukham asanam’; which means an asana should be steady and comfortable. Whereas, exercise is a form of activity aimed to build muscle strength, physical strength & endurance.
Yoga asana activates the parasympathetic nervous system; which is the rest, relax, reset & digest mode. Hence, it feels so rejuvenating. Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight, flight and freeze mode and hence, it feels exhaustive.
Yoga asana is a very process-oriented practice and non-competitive in nature. Exercise is a very goal-oriented practice and gets competitive in nature.
Yoga asana type is anabolic consisting of slow dynamic movements with a lot of focus on holding the poses and it is capable of conserving and building energy. Exercise type is catabolic consisting of rapid forceful movements and it is capable of breaking down energy.
Yoga asana practice has therapeutic healing benefits and can be practiced by sick or unhealthy people also with a proper approach. Normally, if someone is sick or unhealthy, they can’t exercise until they recover and get back to their normal health.
The practice of yoga asana reduces the metabolism and does not require any extra food supplement. In fact, one may reduce the intake of unnecessary food to maintain lightness of the body. In exercise a high amount of strength is required so the person’s appetite increases consequently requiring larger quantities of food and nutrition. Pre-workout meals are a thing!
The purpose of yoga asana is to eventually go beyond the physical body by developing higher awareness and consciousness. The purpose of exercise is to maintain good health and longevity.
During asana practice, the breathing becomes soft, long and deep and the consumption of oxygen is lowered down. During exercises, the breath becomes fast, short and shallow, which increases the consumption of oxygen.
Practicing yoga calms and relaxes the body leading to a cool down. Practicing exercises energizes the entire body, leading to increased body temperature and making it warm.
Asana alters the body’s physiology and there is a reduced respiratory rate, heart rate and pulse rate with continued practice. Exercise increases the respiratory rate, heart rate and pulse rate when workout is done regularly
Yoga asanas originated in the East and are inspired by nature, animals and birds, where we adapt a particular shape to gain maximum benefit out of the pose. Exercise focuses on isolated muscles.
So, no matter what you choose to practice, remember to always listen to your body, respect its limitations and practice under the guidance of an expert for a proper impact.