"Rudy, that was such a good workout!"
When students tell me that as they leave my yoga class, I'm always a little surprised. In yoga, the workout is inherent, but it's hardly the point. Yoga isn't about sweating or burning calories. It's not a weight-lifting regimen that gets you ripped so you can impress everybody at the beach. It's not high-impact cardio that leaves you panting for air. Yoga is about connecting your physical and mental states to get to that higher level of health. That's why I tell my classes that instead of focusing on the workout, they should avoid the workout mentality.
Yoga and working out are both physical, of course, but the biggest thing that takes yoga to that next level is your intention. If you're consumed with the idea of "working out," burning calories and getting skinny, you're sacrificing your mind for your body. Why not engage both?
When you perform a posture, intention means everything. Take something as mundane as the forward bend: You can bend forward to tie your shoe, or you can bend forward to empty your mind. It's the same with yoga. You can move your body to burn calories; that's the workout mindset. Or, you can move your body into a pose to release tension, steady your mind, and get to that higher level of awareness that you can only grab if your thinking machine and moving machine are in tune. That golden area where your mind and body are jiving is the yoga mindset.
Take it from this former, and sometimes still, gym rat: there are definitely benefits to hitting the weight room or taking a cardio class. In fact, the best thing you can do for yourself is to mix it up. When you spin today and practice yoga tomorrow, yoga becomes a place where you can seek solace and find a reprieve from traditional workouts. Think of it almost as a reset.
The next time you're in yoga class, either with me or another instructor, don't start busting out pushups while you're supposed to be holding the plank position! Focus on moving your body in a way that engages your mind, not just your abs. Breathe through each movement, and think about how your mind and body feel as you are guided through poses.
Of course, there's an important caveat here: don't throw the baby out with the bath water by taking it too easy. In yoga, we use the body to challenge the mind. So avoid the workout mindset, but make sure you still challenge yourself enough to really experience that mental and physical yoga high. That's living in full expression.