As I do most Thursday afternoons, I pedaled last week with My Lovely Wife a mile and a half or so over to the eastern shore of Lake Nokomis to spend 90 minutes in the embrace of something resembling yoga. It’s a ritual I’ve been practicing for a few years now, one that seems to have marginally increased my limited geezer flexibility while teaching me the value of patience. Those hamstrings of mine are not going to loosen up anytime soon.
Our weekly yoga adventure is grounded in compassion and forbearance. Our teacher, the ever-indulgent Jinjer Stanton, asks no more of us than she knows we can muster. “You start from where you are” is one of her favorite expressions (and mine). And, except for the poses that test the limits of my poor hammies, it’s generally a pleasant way to pass the time. But’s it’s not what I would call a workout.
So I was slightly vexed today when I read in my local newspaper a piece breathlessly declaring that yoga is no substitute for exercise. “Yoga appears to be too gentle physically to be anyone’s lone exercise,” the writer asserted. “In one of the most interesting studies of the activity to date, experienced yoga enthusiasts performed their favorite type of yoga for an hour in a metabolic chamber that tracked their caloric usage and heart rate. The volunteers then sat quietly in the chamber and also walked on a treadmill at a leisurely 2 mph and a brisker 3 mph pace. Yoga was equivalent to strolling at 2 mph.”
This level of activity, according to the authors of the study, would “not meet recommendations for levels of physical activity for improving or maintaining health or cardiovascular fitness.”
I don’t know anyone who does yoga who believes it’s a substitute for a broader fitness regimen. That said, I know plenty of really healthy and fit people who only do yoga. None of them, to my knowledge, have ever entered a metabolic chamber, and I’m pretty sure that most of them avoid the dreadmill entirely.
In fact, yoga is a great way to improve your circulation, balance, flexibility, and strength — all things us geezers need to keep in mind as we get older. Plus, I’m told there are cleansing and restorative properties that result from various poses, though these effects may be more ephemeral, especially if, like me, your hammies tend to attract most of your attention while you’re on the mat.
For most of us geezers, the most direct route to a long and healthy life involves a variety of physical activities — cardio stuff, strength training, stress management, and such. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Find out what works for you and go for it. And if that includes yoga, just make sure you warn your hamstrings.