Researchers from the University of British Columbia have just published the findings of a study which compared gym-goers to people who practice yoga in a studio environment. The study followed 2,112 participants who joined either a gym or a yoga studio between December 20, 2014 and January 7, 2015. Of these, 983 exercised at a gym while 1129 opted for yoga. All participants fulfilled their respective regimens at least twice a week for at least the first 6 months of the study period, which ended on April 13, 2016.
It should hardly come as a surprise that with regard to strengthening muscles, losing weight, and improving overall physical fitness, yoga didn’t even come close to achieving the results of a regular gym routine made up of cardio, weight training, and simple stretches. While it should be noted that diet was not a variable in the study, the gym members as a whole lost an impressive 231% more weight than the yoga group. They also gained 78% more muscle mass than those who practised yoga.
Yoga did edge out the gym slightly on improving flexibility. This was expected, since most yoga poses involve a stretch of some kind, and the more muscle one has, the more difficult it is to stretch. That said, stretching is stretching, and calling it yoga doesn’t make it any better. Any physiotherapist can tell you that you don’t need to be in a yoga pose to stretch effectively. Body contortion is neat, but isn’t known to have any major health benefits.
You’re probably thinking that measuring gym workouts against yoga is comparing apples to oranges, and on the surface that seems obvious. How could one reasonably expect a practice focused on relaxation and positive thinking to have a serious impact on a person’s physical fitness? One couldn’t, because that makes no sense. So let’s delve into the results concerning the mental side of things.
Yoga places deep emphasis on concentration and form. But just as stretching is stretching, concentration is concentration. Being aware of movements and breathing is just as crucial to a regular workout as it is to yoga.
While doing cardio or lifting weights at a gym, people can get into “the zone” in whatever way suits them, for instance, by listening to their favourite music. Yoga, on the other hand, requires that you clear your mind by banishing your worries and focusing on breathing. This is easier said than done when participating in a yoga class at a studio.
84% of the yoga sample group experienced anxiety or discomfort which detracted from their focus. Maintaining a clear mind is challenging when you’re occupied with reading the room, self-consciously comparing your abilities to those of other people doing the same poses, wondering if your butt crack is exposed, concealing the sweat puddles on your mat, and trying desperately not to fart in the face of the person directly behind you, which the whole class would also hear.
When asked specifically how “zen” their experiences were, gym-goers ranked their time at the gym an average of 5.7/10 on the zen scale. Participants ranked their yoga studio experience an average of 4.6/10. The gym group also reported sleeping more soundly at a higher rate than the yoga sample (67% to 31%).
Previous scientific findings have suggested that physical exercise results in better sleep, improved mood, and heightened concentration ability. The UBC study agrees with this, and concludes that traditional gym workouts are more beneficial than yoga to both body and mind by a significant margin.
The study also investigated other attitudes and practices of gym and yoga culture. It found that gym and yoga schedules were adhered to at about the same rate, and that people felt equally guilty about failing to stick to their programs after the initial 6 months.
One main difference lay in the amount of money each group was willing to spend on their self-improvement. A yoga class costs significantly more than the average visit to a gym. In addition, aspiring yogis spent an average of 402% more on clothing and gear, and 56% more on post-workout beverages and snacks.
According to Jeff McGregor, professor of kinesiology at UBC, “Yoga in the West is a scam sold by clothing companies, juice bars, and the self-help industry. They exploit people’s anxieties and negative self-image, promising to fill emotional voids with pop spirituality, minimal exercise, butt-lifting stretchy pants, and a superficially wholesome lifestyle that will bleed you dry. Yoga studios in America are essentially cults.”
The UBC study concludes that yoga doesn’t really offer any health benefits (physical or otherwise) that honest workouts don’t, while coming up short on results and costing much more.
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