When it came to the fitness benefits yoga can or can't provide, yoga teacher John Schumacher had heard it all. A student of B. K. S. Iyengar for 20 years and founder of the Unity Woods studios in the Washington, D.C. area, Schumacher was convinced yoga provides a complete fitness regime. But many people, even some of his own students, disagreed. Yoga might be good for flexibility or relaxation, they'd say, but to be truly fit, you had to combine it with an activity like running or weight lifting.
Schumacher just didn't buy it.
He knew three decades of yoga practice--and only yoga practice--had kept him fit. He didn't need to power walk. He didn't need to lift weights. His fitness formula consisted of daily asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathwork). That's all he needed.
Four years ago at age 52, Schumacher decided to prove his point. He signed up for physiological testing at a lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland. As he expected, Schumacher tested near the top of his age group for a variety of fitness tests, including maximum heart and exercise recovery rates. His doctor told him that he was in excellent physical condition and estimated that Schumacher had less than a one percent chance of suffering a cardiac event. "I've always maintained that yoga provides more than adequate cardiovascular benefits," says Schumacher. "Now I have the evidence that regular yoga practice at a certain level of intensity will provide you with what you need."
Evidence of yoga's ability to bolster fitness, however, goes well beyond Schumacher's personal experience. Yoga Journal's testing of three yogis also yielded impressive results. Even physiologists who don't do yoga now agree that the practice provides benefits well beyond flexibility and relaxation. Recent research--though preliminary--shows that yoga may also improve strength, aerobic capacity, and lung function. If you practice yoga, you already knew that. But if, like Schumacher, you've been told by friends, family, doctors, or even other yoga students that you need to add some power walking for your heart or strength training for your muscles, here's evidence that yoga is all you need for a fit mind and body.