You might be considering starting yoga or someone who has been doing yoga for years.
Either way, one question that’s worth asking is whether yoga is an aerobic exercise.
The short and simple answer is that no, yoga is generally not considered aerobic exercise. However, it can be aerobic if the yoga routine is intense.
So, due to this, the answer kind of depends.
And this also means there’s lots more to talk about when it comes to yoga, aerobic exercise, burning calories, and weight loss.
To find out everything you need to know, read this short guide to the end!
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
To better understand yoga as an aerobic exercise, it’s important to know what aerobic exercise is exactly.
If it all sounds confusing, this section will explain it in easy-to-understand layman’s terms!
Aerobic exercise is simply any exercise that increases your heart rate (measured in beats per minute) so that it’s working to at least 60-80% of its maximum capacity.
You can find out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
With that number, you can then use percentages to calculate the heart rate you need to achieve while exercising for it to be classed as aerobic exercise.
So, why do aerobic exercise?
Simply put, performing aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate to at least 70% is the key to burning calories, i.e. body fat.
This is the reason why aerobic exercise, such as jogging and swimming, is so popular – for weight loss. Despite that, it’s also done to improve general cardiovascular health.
Why Is Yoga Not Aerobic Exercise?
Now that you know what aerobic exercise is, why is yoga generally not considered aerobic exercise?
Put simply, elevating your heart rate to at least 60% of its maximum (aerobic exercise) requires doing physical activity that challenges your cardiovascular system – your heart and lungs.
Examples include jogging, cycling, swimming, and playing sports.
Needless to say, most yoga routines are slow-paced and relaxed. And due to that, yoga doesn’t challenge the cardiovascular system enough to sufficiently increase heart rate to the aerobic zone.
Yoga is typically a “light” exercise, meaning that it falls just under aerobic exercise – mostly using less than 60% of maximum heart rate for most people.
Is Yoga An Anaerobic Exercise?
Anaerobic exercise is any exercise that has the heart working to 80-90% of its maximum capacity.
It’s a heart rate zone that’s above aerobic, requiring more physically demanding cardiovascular exercise to reach.
As a result, yoga is not anaerobic exercise.
And it would be extremely rare—if not impossible—for any standard yoga routine to make someone’s cardiovascular system work that hard!
To provide examples, anaerobic exercise includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sprinting, long distance running, and sprint swimming.
And since anaerobic exercise is more demanding than aerobic exercise, it’s also more effective at burning calories and losing weight.
Is Yoga Cardio?
Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is essentially the same as aerobic exercise – except that it’s a more commonly used term.
Cardio is exercise that gets the cardiovascular system working to the point that heart rate is pumping to at least 60% of maximum capacity.
Cardio exercises include jogging/running, swimming, cycling, and most sports.
So, as you have probably guessed, yoga is not classed as cardio, since it doesn’t challenge the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) enough.
Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?
If yoga is not generally not considered to be aerobic exercise, can yoga still help you to lose weight?
It should go without saying that not everyone has the same fitness level.
And for people who are less fit and/or overweight, their cardiovascular systems will be working much harder during exercise – more than those who have good general fitness.
This also means that unfit people will reach the aerobic heart rate zone (60-80%) easier than people with good fitness, because their cardiovascular systems are not used to it.
For that reason, along with the fact that some yoga routines and yoga styles can be physically demanding, yoga can help to lose weight.
Does Yoga Build Strength?
So, what about strength – can yoga be used to build strength?
What a lot of people don’t realize is that yoga is harder than it looks. And there are some yoga poses—the advanced yoga poses—that require serious strength and training to achieve.
An example of this is peacock pose (mayurasana) – an advanced yoga pose that requires a combination of shoulder strength, arm strength, back strength, core strength, and wrist strength to pull off.
In fact, yoga can also be used to build muscle, as a direct result of how physically demanding some advanced yoga poses are.
The Benefits Of Yoga
If you’re on the fence about doing yoga—maybe after finding out that yoga is not generally considered an aerobic exercise—you might be persuaded to do yoga by finding out the wider benefits of yoga.
Yoga might be slow-paced and relaxed, but it’s done to achieve other benefits.
People who do yoga are not looking to improve their cardiovascular health or even lose weight, but become more flexible, mobile, and strong.
Yoga also offers mental benefits such as increased focus, reduced stress, improved mood, and more.
And where does involve the cardiovascular system is breathwork – which is a big component of most yoga routines and yoga styles.
Overall, yoga might not be the best option for improving cardiovascular fitness and losing weight, but it is worth doing if you want to achieve unique physical and mental benefits, such as flexibility, mobility, and better mental health.
To summarize, yoga is generally considered to be aerobic exercise because it doesn’t challenge the cardiovascular system enough – to the point that 60-80% of maximum heart rate is achieved.
Despite that, physically challenging and advanced yoga routines can result in the yoga exercise being aerobic.
And for people who are considered unfit or overweight, yoga can be aerobic since it will be more challenging for them to do.
Ultimately, while yoga isn’t the most effective exercise for improving cardiovascular health and losing weight, the above cases are real examples of when yoga can be an aerobic exercise.