Is Yoga Aerobic or Anaerobic? The Answer May Surprise You

What Is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. The word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, reflecting its goal of uniting mind, body, and spirit. There are many different styles of yoga, each with their own focus and intensity level. Hatha yoga emphasizes physical postures and breathwork while Ashtanga yoga involves more vigorous sequences of postures. No matter the style, yoga provides benefits for both the body and mind. Regular yoga practice can improve strength, balance, and flexibility while also reducing stress and anxiety. Yoga is accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels as postures can be adapted based on individual needs and abilities. Whether you’re looking for a gentle stretch or an intense workout, there’s a yoga style that will fit your needs.

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

Differences Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

To understand whether yoga is aerobic or anaerobic, it is helpful to first define these two types of exercise:

What Are Aerobic Exercises?

Aerobic exercises are continuous activities that use large muscle groups and cause your body to use more oxygen than it would at rest. During aerobic exercise, your heart, lungs, and muscles work together to fuel your body with oxygen over a sustained period of time. Running, cycling, swimming, and brisk walking are examples of aerobic exercise.

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

Some key features of aerobic exercise:

  • Uses large muscle groups in continuous, rhythmic motions
  • Can be maintained continuously for extended periods
  • Requires breathing harder over time
  • Increases heart rate to between 55-85% of max heart rate
  • Burns fat and calories as fuel

Examples of aerobic exercises include running, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, and aerobics classes.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercises

Regular aerobic exercise provides many benefits:

  • Strengthens the heart and improves circulation
  • Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Burns calories and helps with weight loss
  • Reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
  • Increases endurance and cardiovascular fitness
  • Can help improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety

Getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, is enough exercise to provide significant health benefits.

What Are Anaerobic Exercises?

Anaerobic exercises involve short bursts of high-intensity activity that takes more energy than can be provided by the body’s oxygen supply. During anaerobic exercise, your muscles rely on stored energy that doesn’t require oxygen, which helps to improve muscle tone. Examples include sprinting and weightlifting.

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

Some key features of anaerobic exercise:

  • Short duration, high-intensity bursts of exertion
  • Causes rapid rise in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Work muscles to the point of momentary exhaustion
  • Does not require oxygen intake to meet energy needs
  • Leads to build-up of lactic acid in muscles

Examples of anaerobic exercises include sprinting or running up hills, weightlifting, plyometrics, power training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercises

Regular anaerobic exercise can provide these benefits:

  • Builds muscle mass and strength
  • Increases bone density and strength
  • Boosts speed, power, and agility
  • Burns calories and fat
  • Can help maintain balance and coordination
  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels

Anaerobic exercise is important for optimizing sports performance and building lean muscle mass. It’s recommended to do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2-3 times per week.

Is Yoga Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Yoga incorporates elements of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise depending on the style and intensity. More vigorous yoga styles can provide an aerobic workout, while holding challenging poses builds anaerobic endurance.

Yoga is a unique type of exercise that doesn’t fit neatly into either just the aerobic or anaerobic categories. Most forms of traditional aerobic exercise like jogging, cycling, or aerobics classes involve sustained high-intensity workouts that push cardiovascular output to the maximum. Anaerobic exercise like weightlifting focuses on short bursts of exertion that build power and strength.

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

Yoga provides a blend of both aerobic activity through flowing sequences of postures as well as anaerobic isometric work through holding poses for extended periods. Different types of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga, can emphasize one form of training over the other.

Certain active forms of yoga like Ashtanga and Vinyasa flow qualify as aerobic exercise due to their rapidly moving series of postures that raise heart rate and breathing. But yoga class will rarely reach the same level of cardiovascular intensity as a long run or bike ride.

On the anaerobic side, holding challenging poses like plank, chair pose, and warrior III for 30 seconds to a minute requires muscular strength and endurance. However, this anaerobic work is balanced with recovery during stretching and resting poses.

So in summary, yoga merges moderate aerobic activity with some anaerobic elements depending on the style and intensity. It provides excellent combined benefits that complement dedicated cardiovascular or strength training, contributing to overall health.

Yoga Can Be Aerobic Exercise

More dynamic styles of yoga like Ashtanga, power yoga, and vinyasa flow move rapidly through sequences of postures to raise your heart rate. The constant movement provides an aerobic benefit.

What Types of Yoga Are Aerobic?

Ashtanga yoga, power yoga, and vinyasa yoga are among the most aerobic styles because of their fast pace and constant motion.

  • Ashtanga yoga flows through six established sequences of postures rapidly, providing an intense cardiovascular workout.
  • Power yoga maintains a rapid pace through challenging postures to increase strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity.
  • Vinyasa yoga focuses on smooth transitions between postures coordinated with the breath. The nonstop flow elevates the heart rate.

Other vigorous forms of yoga like hot yoga and some forms of Hatha yoga can also provide an aerobic benefit when maintained at a rapid pace. The key is keeping your body in constant motion through fluid transitions between postures.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise in Yoga

The aerobic component of yoga provides excellent cardiovascular conditioning. Benefits include:

  • Strengthened heart muscle
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Increased circulation and lung capacity
  • Weight control
  • Greater endurance
  • Stress reduction
  • Boosted energy levels

Even gentler forms of yoga can provide some increase in heart rate and aerobic benefit. But more vigorous yoga styles maximize aerobic conditioning.

Yoga Can Be Anaerobic Exercise

While flowing styles of yoga provide an aerobic effect, holding challenging poses for extended periods builds anaerobic endurance. As muscles are worked to exhaustion without oxygen, yoga can be anaerobic.

What Types of Yoga Are Anaerobic?

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

More meditative, stationary styles of yoga focused on holding postures are more anaerobic as muscles work maximally without oxygen.

  • Yin yoga – Holding poses for 3-5 minutes deeply stretches connective tissues.
  • Restorative yoga – Using props to support the body in passive poses relaxes muscles.
  • Gentle hatha yoga – Long holds in seated, supine, and prone postures.
  • Iyengar yoga – Emphasis on precision body alignment in held postures.

The isometric contraction of holding poses forces muscles to work anaerobically. Partner yoga and AcroYoga also provide anaerobic benefits through stabilizing another person’s weight.

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise in Yoga

The anaerobic component of yoga offers several benefits:

  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved joint stability
  • Protection against injury and falls
  • Increased bone density
  • Relief from chronic pain
  • Development of mental focus and concentration
  • Release of endorphins that boost mood

Holding challenging poses like planks, chair pose, and downward dog for extended periods can build significant muscle endurance. This helps create a strong, toned physique.

Differences Among Aerobic Exercise, Anaerobic Exercise and Yoga

Aerobic ExerciseAnaerobic ExerciseYoga
Running, swimming, cycling, etc.Weightlifting, sprinting, HIITVinyasa, hatha, ashtanga, etc.
Uses oxygen to continually fuel activityDoes not require oxygenCombines aerobic and anaerobic elements
Moderate pace, can be sustained for long periodsShort bursts of high intensityGentle to moderate intensity
Improves cardiovascular healthBuilds muscular strength and powerImproves flexibility and balance
Burns fat for fuelUses glycogen for quick energyBurns a moderate amount of calories
Strengthens heart and lungsBuilds lean muscle massRelaxes body and calms mind
Lowers blood pressureIncreases bone densityLowers stress hormones
Reduces risk of chronic diseasesBoosts speed and agilityRegulates nervous system
Increases enduranceLeads to fatigue quicklyBuilds mental focus
Uses slow twitch muscle fibersUses fast twitch muscle fibersUses both muscle fiber types
Aerobic metabolismAnaerobic metabolismBalances metabolism
55-85% max heart rateMax heart rate50-80% max heart rate
Water, carbon dioxide byproductLactic acid byproductLow lactic acid production
Sweating, increased respirationRapid fatigue, muscle sorenessControlled breathing

Benefits of Yoga

Beyond aerobic and anaerobic benefits, yoga offers whole body health effects:

  • Improved flexibility allowing for greater range of motion
  • Enhanced balance and body awareness
  • Increased core muscle strength
  • Better posture and spinal alignment
  • Relief from stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Deep relaxation and better sleep quality
  • Heightened mental focus and concentration
  • Integrated mind-body wellness

A regular yoga practice provides benefits related to strength training, cardiovascular fitness, stress management, and improved mental health.

Yoga as Mind-Body Exercise

Yoga is a unique form of mind-body exercise that develops both physical and mental fitness. The practice combines physical postures, breath control, deep relaxation, and meditation or mindfulness.

The physical asanas build strength, balance, and flexibility. Controlled yogic breathing exercises oxygenate the body while calming the nervous system. Deep relaxation lowers stress hormone levels. And meditation/mindfulness practices train attention, awareness, and emotional regulation.

is yoga aerobic or anaerobic

This integration sets yoga apart from purely physical workouts. The pairing of asanas with breathwork, relaxation, and meditation yields whole being benefits – a sound mind in a strong, flexible body. Regular yoga practice results in greater health, vitality, mental clarity, and life balance.

The Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga

Research shows that yoga positively impacts heart health in numerous ways:

  • Lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improves maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise
  • Increases blood flow and circulation
  • Lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Regulates adrenaline, cortisol, and thyroid hormones
  • Reduces inflammation and risk of blood clots
  • Corrects irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation
  • Helps manage stress and anxiety

These cardiovascular benefits are likely due to yoga’s ability to balance the nervous system and influence heart rate variability through controlled breathing. While not as intense an aerobic workout as running, yoga complements other exercise for holistic heart health.

Effect of Yoga on Heart Rate

During yoga classes, heart rate typically stays between 50-80% of maximum heart rate depending on the intensity. More vigorous yoga can reach up to 85% of max heart rate like moderate aerobic exercise. However, yoga’s focus is not on pushing past comfortable intensity levels.

Some yoga postures and sequences will naturally increase heart rate through the demands of movement. But a hallmark of yoga is controlling the breath, which keeps the nervous system relaxed. This allows for brief elevated heart rates during exertion followed by recovery as the parasympathetic nervous system activates.

Over time, yoga strengthens the cardiovascular system not by maximizing heart rate, but by optimizing heart rate variability – the ability to smoothly transition between activated and relaxed states.

Something You May Want to Know

Here are answers to some common questions about yoga and aerobic versus anaerobic exercise:

Is Yoga Recommended for Weight Loss?

While not as intense an aerobic workout as jogging or cycling, yoga can contribute to weight loss by burning calories and building muscle mass. Certain vigorous styles of yoga maximize fat burning. When combined with a healthy diet, yoga is an effective part of a weight loss regimen.

Does Yoga Improve Lung Capacity and Endurance?

Yes, yoga has been shown to increase vital lung capacity and improve respiratory endurance. Controlled breathing with deep inhalations and exhalations maximizes oxygen absorption while toning the lungs. This improves lung function over time.

How Often Should You Do Yoga to See Cardiovascular Benefits?

Yoga at least 2-3 times per week for at least 30-60 minutes per session can provide excellent cardiovascular benefits. But even practicing gentle yoga once a week is helpful. Maximizing benefits may require more vigorous yoga 4-5 days a week.


In summary, whether yoga is aerobic or anaerobic depends on the style and intensity of practice. More vigorous flowing styles of yoga can provide an aerobic benefit. Holding challenging poses for extended periods is anaerobic. Yoga offers the benefits of both aerobic conditioning and anaerobic muscle endurance while also cultivating mind-body wellness. A balanced yoga practice complements other exercise for whole body health.

Profession in Yoga and Yoga Products: UGA

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