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Yoga vs gym – know the difference

Updated: May 3

During one of the regular Yogavijnana question & answer sessions, an interesting question came up from one of the practitioners. The answer to this question given by Vinay Siddaiah has been captured here in the form of a detailed transcript and a short summary. The transcript has been written by Chaithra Murthy.


Below is the link to the original video in our YouTube Channel for those who want to watch.



Question:

What is the difference between going to the gym compared to doing the yoga practice everyday? Also in some people we see muscle development quite easily & am wondering if it’s just the genetics & the diet they might be following. Some of the exercises I believe strengthen the same set of muscles be it gym or yoga for that matter. Isn’t it?


Answer / thoughts by Vinay:

If you look at gym and yoga, one of the main differences is the whole attitude of doing this activity itself. When you go to the gym, the whole attitude is to do something related to your body, a physical oriented practice, which is normally the goal. That’s it and no further. The higher aspects of mind are missing in the gym practice. However, in yoga the whole idea is also to get more deeper into your spiritual being. So whatever you are practicing in yoga right now acts as a tool to your ultimate goal which is normally more spiritual oriented.

We do see that many people practice yoga just at a physical level and don’t bring in the mind aspect to it. Most of the time goals will be body driven intentions such as losing weight or controlling their blood pressure, becoming more flexible, etc.,

The deeper you go into the practice of yoga, you realise it is mostly to do with your mind. In hatha yoga pradipika, there is a concept mentioned called “Ashta Siddhi Lakshanas”

When a person goes deeper into yoga, there are visible characteristics which will be seen in a person. Some of them which I remember are that the person’s face starts glowing, his eyes become brighter, his voice becomes sharper, his body becomes leaner. Many people even market yoga saying that it makes your body leaner and you can lose weight, whereas the whole concept of mind goes missing.

If you practice yoga mindfully & meditate, this is enough to lose weight or to achieve any other goals that you might have. I meant to say if you can keep your mind calm and induce best practices into your lifestyle, this is sufficient to help you in reaching your goals. All these are part of yoga practice itself.  In yoga, of course strengthening of the physical body is focussed as well. Yoga also sees the body as a tool to achieve future goals. The whole goal of hatha yoga is to make your body stronger. This is also because your body needs to be stronger to handle the energy such as kundalini shakti and it’s awakening within.  If you go in detail into yoga therapy, infact what is recommended is mind control and not body control. Asanas are easier compared to achieving control on the mind.


Question:

When people talk about building their body, muscles, going to the gym etc., what can we tell them to change their mind?

Answer / thoughts by Vinay:

Building up a physical body is their goal, we don’t have to tell them anything or no need of convincing them otherwise. Let them do what they aspire for.


Question:

How to convince them that yoga provides all these benefits as well? I have been looking for a few points to convince them for many years.


Answer / thoughts by Vinay:

First of all, you don’t have to convince them at all. There is no need to convince anybody, as long as they are convinced in what they are doing, it is alright.

Yoga provides all these benefits as well as making people who practice leaner. However, some people might not want to be leaner, maybe they want to be bulkier. It is their motivation for exercise. A person needs to be ready on his own to practice yoga, no one can pull them into it. They should have a drive on their own to start doing something for it to be permanent. Don’t try to convince them otherwise.

When I started teaching initially, in a place called Bellandur, in Bangalore (south India), some of the classes I used to teach them through gym exercises. There was a gym adjacent to the yoga studio and I would take my practitioners there and would tell them that I shall teach gym exercises using yoga practices. I would tell them to challenge themselves by showing them how they can imbibe concepts of yoga in what they are doing.

For instance, even in the gym, a lot of people do the weight exercises in the wrong way. They would lift their dumbbells by compensating their whole body weight, leaning onto one side and struggling. Their ego was to lift more weight and compensate to lift those dead weights as high as possible. So, i told them that instead of lifting 10 kg weight, lift only 5 kg and in the manner i would show. I would give them instructions so that they can stabilize their body better and then lift the weights. But with this, I saw a lot of them struggling to lift even 5 kg weight. Once you make them aware of their body and to lift the weights in the proper way instead of compensating with the body, they were practicing yoga in the gym.  Now, they were trying to be more aware and do the gym exercise. I would say even if they are doing gym exercises, as long as they mentally aware of what they are doing and being mindful, this itself is more than enough to start with.


Question:

I have seen many people who do the gym exercises or even yoga with more interest and don’t know the concept behind it or the right way to do it. Some people are more focussed on building muscles and I have tried to convince few on the benefits of yoga. They have in turn asked me what is the major benefit which we can get from yoga? I would need a few answers to give it to them.


Answer / thoughts by Vinay:

Few points as mentioned before which differentiate between gym and yoga practices are

  • Gym is a physical driven intention and yoga is a mind driven intention

  • In gym people work mainly on contraction of the muscles, building the muscle tension. However in yoga the intention is to relax the muscles as much as possible by loosening the tension

  • In the gym the whole process will activate the sympathetic nervous system, so that it results in excitement or “kick” as we normally refer to it. They feel a rush in the energy as a result of physically aggressive activities. However in yoga, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, where practitioners consciously try to calm themselves. They are also trying to reduce the mental effort while doing other physical actions

  • Nowadays, our mindset is more activity based, more aggressive in nature. Even in yoga, if you observe, people like surya namaskara more. If you make them stay still in a static asana, they wouldn’t like it. They want movements, more dynamic in nature. This movement is also driven by lack / constraint of time, in whatever little time they have they would want to satisfy their ego by having done something. Hence they go and do an extensive physical activity of many kinds resulting in feeling that they have done a lot of things in a given time. By doing all this, in fact they are draining themselves more and more.  However in yoga, there is always a component of relaxation. Whenever there are asanas being done with an amount of excitement, there is also a counter asana done for relaxation resulting in balancing the whole system. By end of yoga practice you feel much calmer

  • Immediately after gym practice, the energy jumps up, after that it immediately drops down as well making you feel tired. Wheres as in Yoga, you will feel more energetic after the practice and a lot more calmer

  • When we talk about goals, in the gym practices goals are mostly physical oriented. Nowadays, people don’t have any goals for their mind, only for the body. If we look around, goals are mostly gaining weight or losing weight in a given time frame. No one goes to the gym saying, I want to calm my mind today, maybe there are few exceptions of course. They always go with a competitive mindset. For example, a person would think, I ran 10 km yesterday, today I want to run 11 km or something like, I lifted 5 kg yesterday, maybe today I want to lift 6 kg dumbbells. In yoga, there is no competition at all as we are trying to focus on the process in our lifestyle rather than a strict physical goal. Once you set the right processes, your results are bound to come. In yoga, the approach is more holistic and it encompasses multiple things such as physical asanas, pranayama, daily meditation, the way you talk to people, and the kind of food you eat. If you look at hatha yoga pradipika, there is a concept mentioned about food as “Mita ahara” or limited food intake, “Pathya” or diet is talked about as well . Even in Bhagavad Gita, food is categorised into different types, sattvic, rajasic & tamasic food and it’s effects on body and mind. All these are oriented towards creating awareness that food is extremely important. Yoga also talks about cleansing practices such as “neti”, “douthi” & a lot more different types of mental practices

  • There is a factor to train your emotions as well. In yogavijnana, the other day we did “Satsang” literally means community of truth or community of the good, which helps you train the emotional part of you. Most of the time, the results you want are not achieved just by physical activity, it has to be addressed at an emotional level as well. Sometimes the pain in your body is caused by an emotion that is bothering you, which manifests itself into physical pain. You might be holding back something emotionally and even that has to be released. In yoga, there are lot of practices to take care of your emotional being

  • There is also a concept of karma yoga. Karma yoga is to voluntarily do some service to the people or to the society. It can be any sort of service. You are supposed to dedicate yourself voluntarily to do some work without expecting anything in return. However in these days, karma yoga concepts misleads people in thinking, yoga teacher is taking advantage of our time and asking us to do some random things. However, if you go to traditional schools, even today, karma yoga is given lot of importance. If you go to some of the traditional schools, they literally make you clean public toilets as a part of karma yoga assignment. People always wonder, what exactly am I achieving by cleaning toilets, make me a daily wage worker? No, the intention is to drop your ego. Imagine the mindset a person needs to have to clean someone else’s toilet. No common person can do it so easily. Most of the time, we hesitate to even clean our own toilets instead have someone do it for us in turn for a fee.

Summary:


Yogatends to work on different dimensions of our body and mind, which are missing in the gym practice. Here are some points to highlight the main differences:

  1. Gym normally focuses on physically driven practices or goals. However, yoga focuses not only on the physical body but also on the realm of mind

  2. The gym works towards creating contraction or building the tension in the muscles whereas yoga focuses on relaxing the muscles

  3. The gym focuses on activating the sympathetic nervous system giving a high feeling/kick as we call it, however, yoga focuses on activating our parasympathetic system, helping us to calm ourselves

  4. Gym feeds into an activity-based mindset which is evident everywhere and with most of the people. Always wanting to do something and not sitting still. In yoga, there are practices to stay still in asanas, meditation, and several other practices helping to calm ourselves which in turn creates an acute focus in what we do.

  5. After gym practice even though we feel energetic immediately, after a short while, the body feels tired. After yoga, you always feel more energetic in both body and mind

  6. The gym always gives you physical goals whereas yoga focuses on the process rather than goals. This helps us eventually achieving both physical and mental goals

  7. Gym practices talk about diet restrictions which in turn only satisfies the physical goals whereas, in yoga, the food being the important aspect focuses not just on feeding the physical body but also to control the mind. We are what we eat.

  8. Yoga deals with a lot of cleansing practices (neti, douthi) which energizes the body and mind inside out.

  9. Yoga also focuses on your emotional being treating you holistically. Releasing and training your emotions will compose you overall. If your emotions are calmer, your health is achieved automatically

  10. Yoga teaches us the concept of karma yoga, doing something voluntarily to people or society without expecting anything in return. This in turn helps us to shed our ego resulting in better human beings

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