Updated: Jan 31
Yoga is seen as any other form of exercise available to aspirants of a fit and healthy body. It is rather considered more elite as it comes with a dash of spirituality tagged along with it. The worst is when we look at Yoga as one of the swap able options with myriads of other forms of exercises manufactured by the modern western world today.
The physical part of Yoga, the asanas as we know them, was cultivated as a intermittent step on the way to a higher purpose, and thus is not an end in itself like any other form of exercise. Asanas comprise only one of the eight steps forming the edifice of the larger system called Classical Yoga, originally composed by sage Patanjali. It was meant to be one of the links in a chain of concepts, steps to be sequentially adhered to in order to achieve the highest goal of Yoga or Samadhi.
Yoga as a term is taken as interchangeable with asanas by many, because the Mind which is a grosser entity for the majority of us can only comprehend the grosser and the palpable concepts like asanas, the other seven concepts being subtle in nature. Moreover the construct of the Mind is by default tuned to restlessness than steadiness, as a result it takes comfort in physical activity as both share common temperament.
Yoga is not just exercise, it is a "mindful exercise" in case the meaning of exercise is taken literally. All the benefits accrued to Yoga are just the side affects of choosing to tread this path originally meant to lead the practitioner to the realisation of higher self. Presented below are six aspects which differentiate Yoga from any other form of exercise in general.
Impact on the muscle mass
Controlled, rhythmic movements in Yoga lengthens and evenly spreads the muscle mass nearer to the bone's surface. The #Yoga movements are designed to impact the entire length of a muscle evenly, creating leaner, longer, toned and stronger muscle fibre. Since the over all impact on multiple parts of the muscles is even, it creates balance in strength and shape of the body. As a result the skeleton system receives better support from the muscular system. Yoga works in multiple ways on human bodies.
The jerky movements of other exercises mostly target smaller pockets over the entire muscle length creating larger, dispersed muscle chunks away from the bones. The muscle portions which are targeted more than others develop into shorter, heavier and bigger masses creating imbalance in strength and shape of the body. This leads to the overall instability of the skeletal system.
Impact on the flow of energy
The flow of energy ( #Prana) is channelled through a web of nerve fibres, entwining into nerves, woven across the whole body. The localised impact of general exercises creates tension and stiffness in the affected segments of nerves blocking the free flow of energy through the entire body. This may lead to ill performance of the vital organs, to where the energy was supposed to reach for their normal functioning. Its similar to blocking the flow of water in a long hose by constricting it at several points across it's length using plastic bands. The points of constriction are analogous to the stressed area on a nerve fibre. The over stressed areas hold on to excess energy where as the organs in need of the same get deficient in it, creating an energy imbalance inside the body. This destabilises the nervous system as a whole.
Yogic techniques on the other hand demand alternating effort with conscious relaxation, importance of which is missing in all the other forms of established exercise systems. As the nerves relax, the energy held up in the over stressed regions gets released and again begin to flow freely in the system. This equalises the distribution of energy across the entire body boosting the nervous coordination among all the vital systems: Digestive system, Circulatory system, Endocrine system, Lymphatic system, Excretory system etc. This coordination is vital to the over all health of the body as all these systems are functionally interdependent.
Impact on the metabolic rate
Exercises other than Yoga lack a fluid chain of movements facilitating coordinated full and steady breathing, which leads to lesser intake of oxygen than required for the extra load of work on the muscles during exercise. This shoots up the rate of #metabolism of the body in order to compensate for this lack of oxygen so that energy can be generated from other sources inside the body, mainly from breaking down the body mass. Thus these exercises are #catabolic in nature in the sense that they break down the building blocks of the body leading to related malfunctions.
Intake of more than required amount of food is necessitated for supplying the extra fuel needed to keep the body going. Free radicals ( destructive ions) are released in the system as a by product of the metabolic process. Free radicals are largely responsible for accelerating the ageing process in the body as they collide with the body tissues and kill them. More is the quantity of the food that needs to be broken down to energy, greater is the amount of free radicals released in the system causing more destruction. Also increased amount of lactic acid is released in the muscles cells which are deprived of oxygen leading to general fatigue.
On the other hand the fluidly sequenced yoga movements coordinated with deep and steady breathing ( Steady breathing is not possible with jerky movements as in other exercises) facilitates decreased metabolic rate of the body as surplus fuel in the form of oxygen gets ingested here . More oxygen means lesser lactic acid released in the muscle cells leading to lesser fatigued muscles requiring less intake of food, aiding lesser release of free radicals and promoting body healing or #anabolic processes. Thus Yoga paves the way for a lower metabolic rate boosting the overall health of the individual.
Region of the Brain impacted
Research has demonstrated that general exercises impact the #cortical region, surface, of the brain, where as the Yoga movements impact the sub cortical regions of the brain, the centre of the brain mass. The cortical region governs the spatial awareness, planning, memory, hearing, vision, perception and understanding and expressing language functions in our body.
The sub cortical region on the other hand controls functions like breathing, heart rate, blood circulation, endocrine system, alertness along with coordination of voluntary movements and balance, which are pivotal to the longevity and overall health of an individual. Yoga reinvigorates the more crucial functions which are otherwise left unaffected by general exercise systems.
Parasympathetic and Sympathetic response
The main two divisions of the nervous system, #Parasympathetic and #Sympathetic, are affected differently by Yogic exercises and the non Yogic ones. The Sympathetic nervous system is programmed for a fight or flight response in the face of an external threat. The abrupt and jerky movements of a non yogic exercise are read as an external threat to the system by the brain which triggers the Sympathetic response; shutting down of the vital body functions and directing the entire resources available toward the muscles in order to get in the flight or fight mode.
In case a person remains in this mode for longer due to any reason, vital functions remain suspended for too long decreasing the chances of their healthy bounce back. This also impacts the life of these systems negatively. Yogic exercises on the other hand create conditions for a relaxed Mind and body which triggers the Parasympathetic nervous system
Parasympathetic system gets into action in the times of peace, absence of any external threat: more energy devoted to the vital systems, relaxed muscles, calmer & concentrated Mind, reduced heart rate etc. The actual maintenance and development of the physical health is facilitated during a Parasympathetic response.
Additionally Yoga being grounding , relaxing in essence is non competitive in nature. Each one works out as per individual capacities and level of endurance giving positive results to all in different measures. Non Yogic exercises, emphasis being on results, hold the potential for fanning the competitive spirit among the practitioners which may lead to destructive tendencies in case left unchecked.
The difference can be seen clearly looming large on the faces of both the kind of practitioners after they are done with their respective sessions: Yoga practitioner would display a calmer and radiant face where as the non yogic practitioner appears more of drained and distressed.