It is undeniable that exercising has a myriad of benefits for both your physical and mental health. That being said, many people have trouble finding the time to exercise or feel self-conscious in front of others while they do so. If you relate to this, then Vinyasa Yoga might be the solution you’ve been looking for!
Vinyasa is both a form of exercise and a type of yoga. This form of yoga can help improve balance, flexibility, muscle tone, stress levels, breathing techniques – the list goes on. As far as exercise goes, it’s one of the best options around.
This article focuses on the exceptional physical benefits of Vinyasa Yoga and explains why it indisputably counts as a form of legitimate exercise. By the end, you’ll be ready to buy your own yoga mat and give Vinyasa Yoga a try! Keep reading for all you need to know.
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Does Vinyasa Yoga Count as Exercise?
Yoga, in general, has increased in popularity since the early 1960s. People might scoff at the practice due to its historic roots to the Hippie and New Age Movements of this time period; what they can’t scoff at is the physical benefits of just one session of this intense type of yoga.
Vinyasa Yoga absolutely counts as a form of exercise and has been recognized by scientists, personal trainers, and yogis alike for its ability to strengthen the muscles and bones, increase flexibility and mobility of joints, and improve cardiovascular health by increasing aerobic capacity with regular practice.
This is possible due to what’s known as “the flow” or Vinyasa Krama Yoga technique which incorporates a series of poses (asanas) linked together through fluid movement, breathing techniques, and chanting that is meant to focus the mind and test the body.
These sessions can vary significantly in speed, posing an increased challenge to individuals familiar with yoga asanas and have participated in slower Vinyasa Yoga sessions to the point that their muscles are ready for increased intensity.
Of course, that does not mean a slower session doesn’t count as exercise. In fact, these Vinyasa Yoga sessions have been deemed an ideal light-intensity cardiovascular workout by a 2013 study published in the Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy.
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
As a practice, there is an extensive number of yoga types an individual can study and practice in their daily lives, and of those many types, there are believed to be five major or primary types of yoga. These include:
- Bikram Yoga
- Hatha Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Anusara Yoga
As one of the primary types of yoga, Vinyasa Yoga uses many of these same teachings and asanas as other types but differs in its techniques.
Vinyasa Yoga is a type of yoga that focuses on linking breath and movement. The word “vinyasa” translates to “to place in a special way,” which describes the manner in which someone moves in a Vinyasa Yoga session. As opposed to other yoga types, movement in Vinyasa Yoga is continuous as one asana flows into the next seamlessly according to the inhale and exhale of the person’s breath.
Another noticeably unique quality of Vinyasa Yoga, apart from its continuous movements connected to the breathing, is that these sessions tend to be quicker, and therefore, more intense than other yoga types, like Hatha Yoga.
The movements in Vinyasa Yoga are also sequential, and the next asana is typically determined by the yogi running the session or whichever asana the person prefers. This differs from other yoga types (we’ll use Hatha Yoga as an example again), where sequences are predetermined and always the same for a particular session.
What Happens During a Vinyasa Yoga Session?
If Vinyasa Yoga is new to you, you might be wondering what to expect in a session regarding format, physical exertion, and mental concentration.
The yoga session will typically start with a brief centering meditation and visualization exercise to help you achieve mental clarity – this is called “opening” or “waking up” your mind in yogic terms.
Next comes proper warm-up, which can include various asanas meant for stretching out muscles not normally used in daily life but vital to a successful Vinyasa Yoga session.
After your muscles are sufficiently stretched and loose, you’ll move on to the main portion of your session, which is typically a sequence of poses, or asanas, that are linked together with fluid transitions. As you fluidly shift from one asana to the next, the movement is accompanied by the inhaling or exhaling of your breath. This specific breathing technique found in yoga is referred to as Pranayama and plays a vital role in Vinyasa.
The goal is for your movement from one Vinyasa to the next to feel as if it is a direct result of your breath. The flow comes from your inhaling or exhaling.
Physically, one can expect to work for all the major muscle groups through poses like Cat-Cow Pose (Bidalasana), Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana), or Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Many of these asanas will test your physical strength, flexibility, and balance while the continuous movements (often at an intense pace) increase your heart rate.
What Are the Cardio Affects During a Vinyasa Yoga Session
Cardio is one of the most effective forms of exercise because of its many physical benefits, such as weight and blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, improved cardiovascular functionality, and more. It is also a popular form of exercise because of its diversity, as there are as many high-impact cardio workouts as there are low-impact workouts, making it an all-inclusive form of exercise.
Depending on the session and the individual, Vinyasa Yoga can be considered both a low and high-intensity cardio workout and reaps the benefits and cardio effects experienced in these sessions equally, regardless of intensity. During a Vinyasa Yoga session, a person should expect to feel their heart rate increase due to the relatively fast-paced session combined with physically challenging asanas and no respite.
When tracking her heart rate, Kate Saal of One Flow Yoga found that she was in a cardiorespiratory fitness state for 50% of the session’s time, and the other 50% was fat-burning.
This demonstrates that there is a period during any Vinyasa Yoga session (length varies by individual) where your heart rate increases and is sustained long enough to a point where you are directly training your heart. The result is improved cardiovascular fitness as your heart learns how to move blood, and consequentially oxygen, more efficiently through your body, particularly in a physically heightened state.
As your heart rate increases, you learn to further train your heart in a healthy manner by controlling your breathing through proper Pranayama. The combination of these techniques with the methods of Vinyasa Yoga results in this being one of the most cardio-intense yogas you can practice.
Does Vinyasa Yoga Help With Toning?
There are honestly few things in the realm of exercise that Vinyasa Yoga can’t help you with, and toning isn’t on the list. In addition to being an exceptional cardio workout that tests your stamina and balance, Vinyasa Yoga can also help you tone many of your muscles throughout your entire body.
While there certainly is a cap to how toned your body can become using Vinyasa Yoga, there are certainly gains to be had here. Usually, beginners will experience toning the most as they gradually increase their muscle strength and flexibility in attempts to perform and hold asanas they’re unfamiliar with.
As these elements improve with time, you’ll find you’re straining or muscles less, and they aren’t working as hard during the session, effectively limiting their toning capabilities. In order to ensure you’re constantly working and toning these muscles, you’ll need to include a variety of asanas in your session that work them, and you’ll have to increase how long you hold the asanas.
Of course, this becomes difficult for more advanced yoga users since Vinyasa Yoga is supposed to be relatively fast-paced and intense. Sessions aren’t meant to be filled with asanas you hold for minutes on end; they’re meant to be intense and brief.
Therefore, while Vinyasa Yoga can definitely help tone your core, arm, and leg muscles (the majority of your body, honestly), there might be a point where you feel it is helping you more in terms of relaxing your mind and body rather than working it.
Does Vinyasa Yoga Help With Weight Loss?
A vast majority of people decide to start working out because they want to shed a few pounds, and because Vinyasa Yoga is a low-impact, high-intensity form of cardio exercise, it’s particularly enticing to many. But, understandably, people who aren’t familiar with any type of yoga question its ability to help them lose weight.
Thankfully, Vinyasa Yoga is arguably the best yoga type to use if you want to burn fat and calories. In one hour-long session, the average person can burn 550 calories using Vinyasa Yoga techniques. Typically, a person will burn about 100 calories running one mile. So if running is too high-impact, intense, or time-consuming for you, Vinyasa Yoga is a legitimate alternative that can help you slim down.
That being said, remember that another significant benefit of Vinyasa Yoga is that it can help you strengthen and tone your muscles. So, you might find that after burning some fat and working your muscles, your weight has actually increased, but this is all healthy weight born from productive exercise.
It might take you a decent number of months before you start seeing significant results, but Vinyasa Yoga will undoubtedly get you to where you want to be, as long as it is paired with other healthy lifestyle choices, such as sufficient rest and a good diet.
If you’re looking for a new form of exercise that will allow you to significantly improve your strength, balance, and cardiovascular health, then Vinyasa Yoga is an exceptional choice. These non-stop, high-intensity sessions are a legitimate form of exercise anyone could try regardless of their yoga knowledge. Beginners can start slow while they work on their balance and knowledge of asanas and then slowly increase speed, holding time, and overall intensity as they gain confidence and become more physically capable.
Remember that not all of the benefits Vinyasa Yoga has to offer are purely physical. Mental focus and relaxation are both perks of yoga, and learning how to enter this state during Vinyasa Yoga is a skill users can carry over to their daily lives.