Visual Proof That Yoga Is Actually a Great Physical Workout

Updated 05/09/17
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Convincing my boyfriend to come with me to Tuesday evening yoga class was a big feat. Along with eating vegetables and going on hikes, it took a lot of bartering to get him to take the leap, but once he did, he made it a habit.

I’m sure he isn’t a rare case—yoga gets a bad rap for not being a substantial workout, often viewed as just a whole lot of breathing, standing, and “omm-ing.” While it’s a spiritual practice dating back over 5000 years that, on the surface, understandably seems more meditative than physical, it’s actually an even split of the two.

I’m a fair-weather gym-goer, so yoga has been the perfect outlet for me to decompress after work while toning my body. Since ritualizing Tuesday class, I’ve noticed a marked difference in my legs and core, gains my boyfriend has experienced as well. But let me be clear that these changes didn’t come easily—yoga takes a great deal of strength to carry out well. I still can’t do crow pose, but my 60-year-old teacher who’s fit as a fiddle can stand on her head. My boyfriend struggles with certain poses too, which even further validates my quest to convert him into a yogi.

“Told you it isn’t easy,” I said to him with a smirk.

For anyone else who’s still a yoga skeptic, I thought I’d do a test to prove how much of a physical workout it truly is. I’d heard about an app called Instant Heart Rate (free on iTunes and Google Play) that captures your pulse through your phone’s camera. It’s a process called photoplethysmography, where the camera detects color change (with the help of the camera flash) in your finger’s capillaries as they expand with each beat. Throughout an entire at-home YouTube yoga class (I’m sure a constant camera flash during a group class would earn me a spot on my studio’s blacklist), I periodically captured my heart rate from start to finish.

Take a look at the results below.

heart rate

This was my resting heart rate before going into the yoga session. According to Edward R. Laskowski, MD, a healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 BPM (beats per minute), and the lower the number, the healthier the heart. *Gives heart a high five.*

heart rate

In this particular video, we began with some breathing exercises to center the mind and prepare for the practice followed by chaturanga flows. The latter elevated my heart rate slightly to 74 BPM.

heart rate

As the movements started to pick up, so did my heart rate. About a third of the way through the workout, I was almost at 100 BPM.

heart rate

It was at this point that I reached the peak of the class and the movements became the most physically demanding and fast-paced (chair pose, three-legged downward dog, side plank, etc.). I reached for my phone, panting slightly, to find my heart rate had spiked to 124 BPM.

heart rate

After cooling down with breathing exercises, stretches, and a child's pose, my heart rate settled down to 73 BPM. Yoga at its core is a well-rounded form of exercise that rises and falls in perfect proportion so your body has a chance to settle and stretch out, leaving less room for post-workout soreness.

heart rate

Just as a test, after the workout, I did 50 jumping jacks (sorry, downstairs neighbors) to see how high my heart rate would spike. It reached 137 BPM, which isn't too far away from the peak of my yoga workout. This proves that yoga can get your blood pumping and heart working at just about the same caliber as cardio. In that same vein (pun intended), yoga has a ton of heart-health benefits—it's shown to improve lipid profiles in the blood as well as your overall heart health (read: lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels).

While I could physically feel and see that yoga has had a direct effect on my muscle tone and overall endurance, seeing the results on my phone screen was even further validating.

While we're on the subject, try giving face yoga a try too.

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