Much like most breakfast foods are advertised as ‘part of a healthy and balanced diet’, yoga asana is just one part of a healthy and balanced exercise regimen. Yoga provides us with innumerable benefits and is an excellent practice for your overall health, but it can also be easy to lose sight of the other exercise options out there.
Sometimes you may want a more intense sweat session with a higher calorie burn, or maybe you’re looking for something that feels different than yoga but will help you improve your yoga practice. Check out these top five fitness activities that can and will provide you with anything you feel that yoga (asana) can’t give you, and will help you hone the skills you need to make progress on the mat.
Getting splashy is an excellent cardio workout, and is more demanding on your lungs and heart than even the most intense Power or Hot yoga classes. Swimming allows you to really push yourself for cardiac, respiratory, and muscular endurance and speed—all without posing a major danger to any of your joints.
It’s a low-impact exercise in terms of injury risk, but is a high-impact choice in improving your body’s functional capabilities. This is a great alternative to running if running doesn’t float your boat or if it’s too hard on your joints.
However, there is something to be said for exercises like running that do involve jolting your skeletal system—these kinds of exercises can actually help strengthen your bones, provided you avoid overuse and have no pre-existing conditions such as a bone density issue.
Grab a friend and find a peak—hiking is one of the best ways to improve cardiac and muscular endurance outside of the gym. You get to spend time in the great outdoors (which can majorly improve your happiness factor), and the movement—which often involves elevation change—asks your joints to perform to their full potential without stressing them. Just watch your step and be careful with your ankles on uneven terrain!
It’s also important to stretch after any kind of cardio workout, but especially one that involves forward motion while standing (like running, hiking, etc.). This helps avoid any buildup of stiffness or tightness, and makes sure you don’t lose any of the flexibility you’ve gained through your yoga practice—e.g., focus on the hip stretches after a hiking session.
3. Rock Climbing (or Bouldering)
While this one may not look like much of a physical challenge, anyone who’s done a few runs up a rock climbing wall will tell you that everything hurts by the end—in a good way.
Rock climbing really challenges your body in ways you can’t train in almost any other way. All the tiny muscles in your hands, feet, and forearms get a real workout, and building this strength is a great way to feel more comfortable in many yoga postures.
Add that to its incredible ability to build functional, body-weight upper body strength, and you’ve got an exercise practice that’s extremely empowering, exhilarating, and will help you see significant results in your asana practice prowess.
Many people tend to confuse yoga and Pilates, but the two are starkly different. Pilates focuses specifically on building core strength (this includes training the back and legs) with exercises that have you work against resistance.
It’s excellent for injury recovery, prevention, and functional strength-building, and will provide you with a lot of the skills you may need in more advanced yoga balance poses and inversions. Pilates also tends to focus more on the physical practice than any mental or spiritual challenges.
5. Team Sports
Yoga practice can be a very communal experience, but some people may miss the community aspect of alternative forms of exercise—like taking part in a soccer, football, or volleyball team, for example!
Just joining a local intramural league or kicking a ball around with some work friends during lunch can be a great way to stay active and social in ways that yoga may not always offer you. You get to decide the skill and intensity level, and it’s a fun alternative to meeting friends at a bar or restaurant—and is often better for your health and your wallet!
While yoga can offer us so much in terms of our physical and mental health, these are just a few of the ways that you can supplement and complement your regular yoga practice with a diverse range of other physical activities. Let us know in the comments what you get up to when you’re not doing yoga, and what you like best about your non-yoga exercise choices!
Image credit: Paige Yeaton