‘Exercise’ has become the slang of the present day. Each of us is speaking of exercise day in and day out; emphasizing its benefits, trying to derive customized forms of exercise, calculating weight loss, calorie loss and a lot more. Exercise is being loosely used synonymous to asanas; they being referred to as yogic exercise without knowing the actual connotation.
Exercise is defined as repeated movements of particular part of the body; there could be practically no exercise without moving the body contrary to the term asana which is defined as a comfortable steady position with minimal or no movement at all – ‘Sthira Sukha Asana.’
Asanas have become a favourite yogic practise in the recent past; however the mechanism of action of the practise of asana is grossly misunderstood. Asanas are designed to bring back a balance within one’s own self. The various asanas stimulate the organ systems in the body by regulating the movement of prana thereby regulating the endocrine system and maintaining optimal metabolism.
While trying to draw an analogy between asanas and exercise we come across facts that actually differentiate the two. Asanas cause minimal energy expenditure while exercise consumes more energy. Asanas contribute to increasing the tone of the muscles alongside a relaxed mind, while exercise promotes strengthening of muscles. Asanas do not increase the muscle mass while exercise does due to the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Asanas can be practised by all age groups with minimal care as they do not cause physical lethargy. Exercise on the other hand causes fatigue due to repetitive movement with limitations for elderly, heart patients etc. Asanas lay emphasis on the importance of slow stretching and maintaining the position for some time hence establishing connect between the muscular and nervous system.
Asanas are driven by a completely different philosophy and bring about specific physiological changes in the body different from physical exercise. Physical exercise targets the muscular channel of the body to bring about physical fitness causing increased respiration, perspiration and heart rate while Asanas channelize the prana to bring about tranquillity of the mind and body.
Asana put an end to agitation of the always mobile and restless human beings by bringing the body to a stable and comfortable posture. The control one achieves by attaining the final position in Asana leads to control of the mind, the body and the conscience; suggestive of the psychological impact of Asanas. Asanas should not be forced but performed with optimum ease and relaxation unlike exercise.
To sum up, Asanas are way beyond exercise. Asanas restore homeostatic balance of the body along with a sense of well-being of the mind and body both. Asanas are considered the basis of the higher yogic practices. They are intended to control the fickleness of the senses and bring about stability.