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Why Yoga Works

For those of us who have an existing yoga practice, whether yoga works rarely enters our mind, because the fact that yoga works is a matter of experience. Yet, it is a worthwhile question both for practitioners and those steeped in traditional forms of exercise or considering a yoga practice. Yoga works on the body, mind and emotions in positive, life-changing ways. Many people will enter a yoga room with the goal of becoming slimmer, or changing their physical abilities in some manner, and months later find they are not only physically changed, but their lives have changed. These life changes will have occurred solely through practicing yoga postures.

Starting with weight loss, let’s look at why yoga works successfully as a path to fitness. Muscles metabolize calories when they are stimulated. One pound of muscle metabolizes 35 – 50 calories every 24 hours. However, the more muscle used, the greater the stimulation, and in turn the more calories required. In running, you use approximately 25% of the body’s muscles. That 25% is only put through about 15% of its range of motion. That is: 15% X 25% = 3.75% of the body’s muscle cells being stimulated by running. Calories are burned because of the duration and repetition of that exercise. In contrast, a typical yoga practice uses the muscle’s full range of motion, and the muscle is almost completely stimulated.

With practice, a yogi or yogini is contracting, stretching and putting resistance on a large percentage of the body’s muscles, through nearly 100% of their range of motion. Therefore, the typical yoga practice is a more efficient use of muscle tissue and higher caloric expenditure results. Intense forms of yoga, such as hot yoga, work to stimulate the cardiovascular system in the same way. The more muscle cells involved in the activity, the more oxygen required, and in turn the greater the effectiveness of the exercise. In general, oxygen consumption over time depends on 4 things:

  1. Muscle mass involved in the exercise;
  2. Percentage of muscle cells involved in the exercise, or the range of motion the muscle mass is put through;
  3. The number of times the muscle must make the movement;
  4. The resistance on the muscles during the movement.