Yoga — Workout or Supplement (or Both)?

Recently, I posed a question on Facebook. I asked my friends:

Screenshot of Facebook post about yoga

The reason I asked was that I’ve noticed my yoga practice gradually increasing, while my regularly scheduled workouts remain the same. It came to a head on the day when I realized I had a short road run in the morning, followed by yoga at mid-day, and wrapping up in the evening with a longer trail run. (Yes, I know I’m lucky to have this weekday flexibility. It makes me insanely happy.)

I’ve found that the yoga I practice, which is an introductory-to-intermediate level of hatha yoga, makes my body feel amazing. While I work hard and focus intensely during the session, I don’t feel taxed or tired after an hour’s practice. It seems to help me recover quicker and keep me feeling limber after boxing and running (my cardio-based primary workouts).

But I wondered — was I unconsciously overloading my day with physical activity? After all, I have also discovered that I need more rest days in my schedule as I get older. Because I love to work out, my first choice is to fill my day with as much movement as possible.

Feedback on Yoga as a Workout

Reviewing the responses, which were varied and, for the most part, thoughtful, was interesting. I paid particularly close attention to those I knew who ran regularly — like I do — and were also yoga instructors (Olga King, that’s you. King has been my running coach and has her own blog, “Run More Talk Less”).

A few took the opportunity to tell how yoga could be intense or difficult and lecture on it as a workout. This showed a misunderstanding of the original question. I wasn’t questioning or debating the merits of yoga as a workout — my query was designed to see how others fit its practice into a schedule, as a primary or secondary (supplemental) focus.

Here are the results:

Yoga is a Rest Day

Four people responded that it was their rest day. That is, for the most part, how I started out treating yoga. There’s a general assumption that stretching (and much of yoga is working on lengthening muscles and tendons) helps with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, there isn’t a lot of scientific research that supports stretching as alleviating DOMS. While stretching may make me feel better, my yoga practice isn’t offsetting any soreness from previous workouts. What’s actually helping is the lack of eccentric exercise.

Yoga is a Supplementary Exercise

Overwhelmingly, this is what people responded with — especially those who were regularly running or training in another sport.

Screenshot of Facebook post about using yoga as supplement

This is how I’ve come to look at it as I’ve increased my practice. It’s not truly rest but more of an active recovery. Yoga is using muscles in a different way, engaging other systems, and providing all-over toning. One might say that “supplemental” can simply be rebranded as “cross training.” To that end, I need to think about my practice as an additional workout, much as I would view the three separate sports that make up triathlon training. I should scheduled my practice mindfully, not just show up because I like the way I feel afterward.

Yoga is the Day’s Workout

The number here balanced the “rest day” adherents. I can agree with this, too, as most who responded this way pointed out specific types of yoga.

Screenshot of Facebook comment about yoga as supplemental.

In the days when I practiced Bikram yoga, it was my workout for the day. A lot of this had to do with the sheer amount of time involved — a session is 1:30. When travel time is added in, that can amount to two or more hours involved. Logistically, it had to be my exercise choice of the day. In addition, the heat caused such a depletion of fluids and electrolytes that it was necessary to thoughtfully rehydrate. So, clearly, Bikram would be the workout for the day.

Another aspect folks brought up is the level of practice. I’m still in the beginner/intermediate group, so I’m working to master poses. That’s one level of intensity. Once I am more proficient in the poses, the next step is increasing the intensity of my practice. That will cause me to reevaluate how I use yoga in my schedule.

It Depends on the Type of Yoga

The “it depends” group was the same size as “rest day” and “workout” responders. My guess is that these folks may be working with a less structured fitness schedule. For example: when I’m not training with a goal in mind, I’ll take on all sorts of exercise, and my weeks vary quite a bit. Yoga can be a fun treat.

Screenshot of funny Facebook comment about yoga

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

5 thoughts on “Yoga — Workout or Supplement (or Both)?

  1. I know this is a comment to old article. When they say – it depends – maybe the group is talking about the type of yoga. Yoga Nidra would be 100% rest, no workout. Yin Yoga could be recovery, deep stretching but no strength or cardio. Many other types of basic yoga could count as active recovery or main workout, depending on the intensity of the instructor and focus of the person practicing. Flow Yoga can be one step more, but again depends on the person practicing. Power Yoga and Hot Yoga (hot is mainly because of the heat and not the poses) are the most intense and is a main workout. Then you add in custom classes from studios that can get really intense. Choose your yoga based on your goals and schedule for each day. Yoga is my main workout always and I supplement with basic cardio. I mix it up, twice a week two hour sessions mixing Flow then Yin. Rest day Nidra and Yin. Power Yoga once a week. Other days seeking out classes where I can work on learning complex poses. Look at flying pigeon – yoga is hard.

    1. I’m glad you commented! Yes, it definitely depends on type. Back when I was doing Bikram, however, I’d have still called it “supplemental” because it was secondary to my main fitness (even though it’s more intense than the hatha yoga I was practicing at the time I wrote this). I used it as altitude training for Pikes Peak marathon–the heat does all the great things that being at altitude does for the body.

      These days, I’m out of my yoga practice and that’s not a good thing. Thanks for bringing this back up, Christine!

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