Yoga PracticePeople always ask me if I do any other workouts besides yoga. If you know me personally, have watched my videos or seen pictures of me, you’ll know that I’m a pretty petite figure. Part of that is just my body frame, part of it has to do with the way I eat and the other part has to do with the movement and exercise I include in my regular routine. For the most part it’s all about yoga.

I don’t belong to a gym – haven’t since I was in high school. Even when I did belong, I didn’t go. Personally, I’ve had more success with DVD programs like P90X. But I haven’t stuck to a program in about 5 years. The thing is, once I started practicing yoga consistently it became my workout routine. There are several reasons why yoga can be a really effective workout, but first let’s talk about yoga cardio.

Can Yoga Replace Your Cardio Workout?

There has been a lot of debate in the past as to whether or not yoga can actually be considered a “workout.” Scientists and fitness experts agree that getting enough cardio exercise will help you live a healthier lifestyle. For a workout to be considered cardio though, you must hit and maintain a heart rate in a particular zone based on your age, weight, etc., for a certain amount of time. Those of you who have been to my classes are probably already on the “it absolutely is” side of the issue. A Vinyasa style flow yoga class will get your heart rate up, but it might not be in the same zone as a 3-mile run. Practice in a non-air conditioned or heated classroom and you’re guaranteed to sweat. This will make you feel like you’ve gotten a great workout, but the question remains as to whether or not you are actually benefiting on the physiological level.

The research isn’t conclusive here either. There are plenty of studies that show yoga will not give you any cardiovascular benefits whatsoever and there are others that state you can indeed increase your heart rate in a yoga class, although it’s still won’t reach the levels you’ll reach in a long run. What is important to remember, though, is that few academic studies have been conducted using Vinyasa style yoga. Obviously, a restorative class is not going to help you gain cardiovascular health – and yes, there have been plenty of studies done using a gentler Hatha style of yoga to determine whether yoga offers any cardio benefit. Any laymen can tell you it won’t.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you’re trying to lose weight. This will help you determine if yoga is enough.

So Will Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

Yoga will help you lose weight, no doubt about it, but it’s not necessarily the exercise itself that’s helping you shed the pounds, according to popular Huffington Post blogger, fitness and triathlon expert, and Get Fit podcast host Ben Greenfield.

“If yoga gives you less stress, greater mental discipline and enhanced body awareness, and you use those benefits to motivate yourself to exercise, eat healthy or stay active, then yoga may indirectly work toward your weight loss goals — which is why a few studies have shown that people who self-report doing yoga on a regular basis are thinner than people who do not.”

My own personal experience with yoga and the experience my students have had affirms the above. There is something magical about the practice of yoga that helps you become more aware of how important health and wellness is in your life. From that new awareness you start to make different daily decisions that can affect your weight and overall wellbeing.

For yoginis like you and me who want to do nothing more than yoga and call it a day, recent research from the American College of Sports Medicine has a pretty good solution. The research suggests the overall volume of exercise is more important than the intensity levels hit during your workouts. According to Dr. Carol Gamber, an associate professor of movement sciences from Columbia University, “There’s more and more evidence that mixing high and low intensities is beneficial.”

This means if you practice yoga, which is a lower intensity workout, more frequently, you can achieve the same fitness standards as someone who works out less at higher intensities.

So How Often Do You Need To Practice Yoga To Be Healthy?

This brings us to the whole CrossFit vs. group fitness debate. A CrossFit workout might not take that long, but you’re working at really high intensity. On the other hand, a yoga class, at a lower intensity for 60-90 minutes will still get you results when practiced consistently over time (as long as you’re practicing a vigorous flow style).

And finally, there’s the whole intensity thing. Some people argue high-intensity forms of exercise such as running are bad for your body over long periods of time. Running can hurt your knees or wear down cartilage. Yoga, on the other hand, while certainly not injury-proof, is much less intense on the joints and soft tissue, making it easier to sustain for longer periods of time without injury. Plus, you get the baked in mental and emotional benefits brought on by relaxation and breathing and the built-in stretching inherent in most of the poses.

For me, this makes yoga the ultimate workout.

Practicing yoga 3-5 times a week for at least 60 minutes, especially if you’re practicing a Vinyasa flow style will keep you healthy and fit. It will also supplement other types of exercise, such as weight-lifting and cardio, really, really well. When you put it all together, you’ve got one heck of a healthy exercise routine.

Yoga Is My Cardio (Mostly)

So back to my answer. For the most part, all I practice is yoga. However, I’m not necessarily trying to lose any weight. Rather, I’m in maintenance mode. With that said, my move to north Texas made things a bit tricker, as I was unable to continue practicing the same vigorous style in a heated classroom that I was used to practicing before. While I’ve still kept up a consistent practice, it has become noticeably less intense and as such I’ve supplemented with other types of workouts.

I really hate running, but am trying more and more to enjoy it because it’s the most effective and quick way to build in cardio to my regular yoga routine. I also pull out my old DVD’s like P90X, cardio pilates and others to switch things up and challenge my muscles. Doing the same thing over time stagnates muscle growth, so I like to challenge my brain and my body by switching things up and trying new things.

With all that said, I know fitness is important to you. So whether you’re on a weight loss journey or simply looking to maintain the figure you’ve got, check out today’s cardio practice. Then you tell me whether yoga can be considered cardio.