Can I substitute my yoga classes for a cardio workout?
For reference, cardio workout is anything that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time, usually 20-30 minutes. It works all of the major muscle groups, and you should find yourself sweating and breathing hard during the most intense part of the workout.
How many calories you're burning at a physical yoga practice really depends on the type of yoga you're doing. It's like asking "does walking burn a lot of calories?" It depends on how far you go and how fast you go.
There are a couple of very athletic styles of yoga that are almost akin to gymnastics (that's actually where some of their historic roots lie). If I'm doing a real Ashtanga or a Power Vinyasa practice that's heavily into repeated sun salutations done to the breath (as in, one breath per movement, as opposed to long holds), my heart rate is up higher than when I'm doing cardio cycling. I'm slipping off my sticky mat on my own sweat. Gross, but a great cardio workout (about 500 calories per hour). A more restorative practice is just not the same cardio boost, but the slower practices keep me limber enough and strong enough to do the bigger/better/faster stuff.
Yoga is great for your mind--as a stress reliever, meditation, spirituality practice-- however you benefit from it. Yoga is great for flexibility and stretching--something that most exercisers tend to skip over. YES, it burns calories (about 200 per hour). But is the calorie burn of an average yoga class comparable to something like running or aerobics class? Probably not.
It's a great addition to a well-rounded exercise plan. Exercise is more than just burning calories-- it's a lifestyle. Trying to be active throughout your day in many ways, besides just running etc. adds to calorie burn and adds to losing and maintaining a healthy weight.
While yoga would be a good introduction to exercise (making the habit, getting active, sticking with it), it cannot solely provide you with everything you need. You still need some form of cardio/aerobics 3-5 days a week and you still should do strength training as well.
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