When it comes to intense workouts, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is HIIT, cardio or strength training. Yoga rarely makes the list since it’s viewed as a relaxing practice to calm your mind (which it very much is).
However, yoga can be so much more than that. In terms of your fitness goals, the physical aspect of yoga can be just as rewarding.
Read on for a list of five key ways that you can use yoga for your fitness needs, along with the overall physical benefits of a consistent yoga practice.
1. Increase Flexibility
With all the stretching and elongated movement involved, flexibility is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think about yoga’s benefits. But do you know how yoga accomplishes this, exactly?
Yoga increases your flexibility, agility, and overall range of motion. In a 10-week study on male college athletes, researchers found “significant gains in the YG (yoga group) for flexibility.”
But yoga does more than keep us limber. It also keeps us strong, which brings us to the next way yoga can help you reach your fitness goals . . .
2. Strengthen and Tone Full Body
Yoga sculpts your body by not only lengthening your muscles, but strengthening them as well.
Yoga fitness comes in the effective form of bodyweight conditioning (holding Plank Pose for example), which can be just as effective as lifting weights – if you practice the right poses.
The Mayo Clinic explains, “The resistance training effect you get from using your bodyweight can be as effective as training with free weights.”
3. Aid In Weight Loss
When people think of weight loss, yoga is not typically the first exercise that comes to mind. However, there are certain styles of yoga that can help you lose weight – especially when paired with healthy lifestyle habits.
According to a study by the The American Journal of Managed Care, restorative yoga helped overweight women burn subcutaneous fat and lose weight.
“One explanation for the difference may be that restorative yoga reduces levels of cortisol, which rises during times of stress and is known to increase abdominal fat,” The journal reports.
4. Increase Lung Capacity
Many people underestimate the importance of how you breathe during a workout. Research shows yoga can increase vital capacity – the maximum amount of air you can expel from your lungs after a maximum inhalation.
In a 15-week study, researchers looked at the effect of yoga poses and breathing exercises on college students. At the end of 15 weeks, the participant’s vital capacity increased.
When you improve your breathing, it has a positive ripple effect on other aspects of your physical fitness, including endurance and cardiovascular health – both important benefits to help you reach your fitness goals.
5. Variety and Motivation
Mixing things up in your fitness routine is important to staying engaged and mentally strong. If you do the same workout every day, you will eventually become bored.
The beauty of yoga is that you can make it your own. Looking for a fun challenge? Include a few inversions. Seeking focus? Incorporate more balancing yoga poses. Or if you want a calmer mind, try Restorative Yoga to relax your body and mind.
The other amazing benefit of a consistent yoga practice is the empowering mindstate shift it creates. Through this positive shift, you are motivated to maintain your yoga fitness regimen – and you enjoy the process along the way!
Yoga and Your Fitness Goals: The Takeaway
Most forms of exercise can help you reach your fitness goals. Will yoga help you reach your fitness goals as fast as other types of workouts? It depends on how intense and long your session is.
For example, you’ll burn more calories in a 60-minute HIIT class compared to 60 minutes of Restorative Yoga. But if you compare a 30-minute Vinyasa Yoga session to a 30-minute power walk, yoga wins.
At the end of the day, you have to choose the yoga practice or other form of exercise that is best for you, your body, and your specific needs and goals. There are so many great options out there, so get out and try them for yourself!
Yoga for your fitness needs is a great option because it offers so many benefits physically, mentally, and beyond.
This article originally appeared on YogiApproved.