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Why Yoga is So Much More Than (Just) a Workout

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Hatha Yoga / Modern Yoga / Social Media / Yoga philosophy

Why Yoga is So Much More Than (Just) a Workout

Nowadays, a lot of people think of yoga as a form of workout or exercise. But that means forgetting about the other amazing components of a yogic practice.

The image of yoga as a workout probably means that people are thinking of yoga as something purely physical (or maybe with some elements of meditation and breathing in it). Yoga, however, is a philosophy, it is a way to live. It teaches you about ethics, about spirituality, about self-love. How can this be just a workout?

The true meaning of yoga

Modern (western) yoga is quite different from what yoga was meant to be originally – or that is at least how I understand it. Because, that’s the beauty of any teaching, philosophy, ethics: there is always an element of interpretation and things are rarely black and white. You probably know that yoga was created in India – many thousands of years back. And while I won’t go into detail about the cultural perspective in this text – see THIS text instead – but this does play a part in this question on a bigger level, too.

If we just look at the teachings of yoga, however, then there are 8 steps of the yogic path and only one step mentions the physical aspect. To put this into perspective, that is less than 13 percent. But to look at it from this angle would be too short-sighted, too. Because the steps aren’t equal in what they cover, some of them are very detailed about how we treat our surroundings, which essentially can influence our daily life, and then the physical practice could be designated 30 min on the mat. So that makes the physical practice look rather marginal.

But all these steps are interlocking and interacting with each other. Allow me to make this point for the physical yoga practice: in a class or your own practice, you might come across some heart openers. They can be backbends, side stretches, or anything along those lines. This might not only feel nice in your chest or your upper back, but it can also have benefits on your mental health or your emotions. It could result in you showing someone an extra pinch of empathy, or reach out to someone you need. A gentle yin yoga practice might result in you feeling very relaxed and allowing you to practice “pratyahara”, which is the withdrawal of senses (and another of the 8 steps), so you are not reacting to someone negatively than how you’d have done without the practice. 

So, what’s the conclusion then? Workout or not a workout?

So the physical practice is definitely an important part of the yogic path and it can mean that indirectly you are also practicing other parts that aren’t physical. Or it might be a way to get someone interested in yogic philosophy or benefit someone’s emotions without them even knowing about it.

I think it is super hard to define how a yoga class would differ from a physical workout. I don’t want to say that anyone that doesn’t include pranayama or meditation doesn’t teach a yoga class. Ultimately, every teacher has to define their style and how they teach for themselves.  

 

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