Yoga originated in India and is historically said to be at least 5000 years old. It brings about mental, physical and spiritual peace to those who practice it. By definition, the word yoga means to “unite or integrate” oneself to their body and consciousness.
Historically, people believed that in order for humans to be in a state of peace, they had to intertwine their mind, body and spirit together which is what lead to the formation of yoga. This is done through several different exercises and poses, including a certain style of breathing and extreme meditation. It is said that yoga will improve our circulation, act as a stimulus to organs in the abdominal area and generally improve health.
Meditation during yoga also brings peace of mind, causes us to become aware of our body and relieves stress. However, although it can be seen that yoga is good for our physical and mental health, another common question is: does it burn fat? Is yoga a suitable form of cardio for someone on a fat loss program?
Yoga and cardiovascular fitness
According to a research team at the University of Wisconsin Human Performance Lab, yoga is not intense enough to burn a high rate of fat or increase cardiovascular fitness. Whereas it does have countless benefits to our flexibility, strength, balance and even endurance, it does not raise heart rate high enough or increase our VO2 (VO2 can be referred to as the rate of transferring oxygen into energy during exercise) to boost overall cardiovascular wellbeing.
According to John Porcari, the head of the research team, in order to increase your cardiovascular fitness, you need to increase your heart rate to a range of 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate which yoga does not achieve. He claims it can be done through vigorous activity such as running, biking or even intense walking. This indicates that although yoga is a good form of exercise, it is not intense enough to increase our metabolic rate.
Yoga and physical strength
According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, yoga improves arm and leg strength, greater coordination with the body, better overall balance and increased health of the nervous system through meditation and relaxation. However, according to Tom Venuto, author of Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle, although yoga increases our strength, it cannot be compared to a conventional weight training program that uses full range muscle contractions and is dynamic.
Bikram yoga and fat loss
Many people believe that Bikram yoga (doing yoga at high temperatures) burns a lot of calories because it takes place in a hot room. However, sweating in a hot room is not an indication of fat being burned but rather your body trying to regulate your body temperature.
Yoga and mental well-being
Yoga prevents depression and calms your mind
Performing yoga will help others feel better about themselves and make them less likely to overeat during times of stress.
Yoga makes you more conscious about a healthy lifestyle
Yoga is a lifestyle that entails consciousness and health. Embracing the yoga lifestyle will help you become aware of what you put in your body and make healthier food choices.
Yoga improves our muscular fitness, flexibility, relaxes us, connects us to our bodies and is an escape from stress.
If you are already in shape and merely want to maintain where you are, then yoga would serve as a a perfect technique for keeping fit and improving your health. However, if your primary goal is to lose fat want to lose fat, it is better to resort to alternative cardio methods that increase your heart rate with a weightlifting program to boost your metabolism and increase calorie expenditure.
Written by guest author N.P.Burggraaff
Flexibility means your body can stretch and utilize its maximum possible movements. These movements are often limited by our joints. For example, your back can bend far forward, but much less far backwards. Thumb and fingers bend way more than at the palm of your hand. However, there are some people, especially those of Eastern or African descent, who are incredibly flexible. And of course there are contortionists and acrobats, who can bend all the way backwards and place their head between their legs while standing!
Is it genetic?
Flexibility can be improved but heredity, race and individual predisposition play a major role.
What causes lack of flexibility?
Short muscles are generally responsible for a lack of flexibility. People who merely perform weight training often have short muscles. Though the muscles are very strong, they remain stiff and in a state of tension. In addition to weight training, you should always stretch the muscles with stretching exercises.
Stretching is also said to improve the muscle performance. For example, a javelin thrower who has powerful muscles but a rather stiff and slightly bent elbow will not throw the spear as far as an opponent who is equally strong, but with a fully extendable arm.
Flexibility and health
Lack of flexibility can create other physical problems. For example, someone with a stiff neck and head will suffer from cramped muscles which will result in headaches, dizziness and neck pain.
Stiff muscles also place an excessive load on our tendons which can increase the risks of a tendon rupture. Also, joints that do not move regularly tend to get "stuck" because the joints do not produce enough lubricating fluid. Those recovering from a broken arm will often complain about a stiff shoulder for weeks even after the cast has been removed.
Good coordination and flexibility
Flexibility and coordination is incredibly important and can even help you avoid dangerous or risky situations. For example, an experienced skier will smoothly descend down the slopes whereas an untrained beginner will end up wobbling at every turn on his or her ankles and knees. Beginners tend to get more injured as they have poorer flexibility and coordination.
How to stretch and improve your flexibility
A little stretching in the morning goes a long way. After waking up, you will often feel stiff as you have had very limited movement in your sleep. The stiffness will then disappear after you have moved around a little. Exercises that stretch your muscles will increase your blood circulation and will be a healthy start to your day.
Stand up straight with your feet slightly apart. Stretch your arms above your head and reach out as far as possible. Now bend your knees and rotate your arms with one arm moving backwards and the other arm moving forwards. Repeat ten times.
Stand up straight with your feet slightly apart and your arms alongside your body. Swing the right arm overhead and let your left hand slide down your leg reaching as low as possible. Repeat for both arms ten times.
Stand up straight with your feet slightly apart and arms alongside your body. Bend your right knee and pull it up with both hands as far as possible towards your chest. Repeat with the left knee and complete for both legs ten times.
The bottom line
Being flexible is good for your coordination and can prevent bodily aches that are discomforting. Flexibility is genetic but can always be improved by daily stretching. Start your day off right by performing some stretching exercises that will increase your blood flow and boost your energy levels.