While there are many aspects or limbs or schools of yoga, the most general form is the asana or posture practice. This is what most people refer to as yoga poses. If you are new to this practice and have only heard of it or seen pictures, the posture practice consists of 25-60 different yoga poses connected with deep breathing. In a yoga studio, these classes typically last 1 1/2 hour. At a fitness facility, usually not longer than an hour.
The language connected to the Yogic practice is Sanskrit. The word posture in Sanskrit is asana. You will find me using plethora of each language throughout this blog. If you have questions about a word I have used, feel free to ask.
There are five things that happen within each posture that is beneficial and could also be considered a workout. Each posture is specifically designed to stretch and work out an area of your body. When you mix these postures with deep, Ujjayi breathing, it creates heat in your body. A third mechanism that happens is the activation of the bandhas. The moola bandha at the pelvic floor, and the uddyiana bandha at the naval, causing an abdominal contraction, creating more heat and strength being created from within. The last is the drishti or the focus. This is when your eyes focus so intensely on a specific spot that it firmly plants your body where it should stay on the mat.
If you are new to this, that last paragraph could be a little overwhelming. To clarify, what you should take out of each yoga pose is that even though it looks extremely simple, there are 5 areas of your body that are being worked out and yoga asana constitutes as exercise. I will do an entire post on breath, bandhas and drishti. For now, just start by knowing that for every posture, breathe in and out non stop (evenly and through your nose). You should also squeeze in your perineum and belly button for as long as you can for each posture. And wherever your instructor tells you to look, don’t take your eyes off that spot. When you can master those 3 things, you can master any posture. Seriously.
Now, as for using Yoga poses as workout routines. The first thing yoga have to do is decide what kind of workout you are looking for. Are you trying to strengthen a certain part of your body? Are you looking for cardio? There are so many different types of workout plans that yoga could work for. The Sun Salutes, or Surya Namaskara, if done correctly can constitute a full 15-30 minute, fat-burning, cardio workout. Or, a series of random yoga poses targeted at a specific body area could formulate a custom routine to fit your needs.
The following video is not me, but a video that I often refer students to. It consists of the full Sun Salute (Surya Namaskara -Both A & B) If you are looking for a general workout routine just beginning your path to start the yoga posture practice, this is an excellent place to get started.
In my experience, I have taught ‘body area specific’ yoga classes including: Prenatal specific, Yoga for Drummers, Yoga for Baseball Players, Yoga for Golfers and even Yoga for Color Guard. (Ahh, Color Guard! I marched Blue Coats Drum & Bugle Corps and Onyx World Winter Guard. Just a shout out to all the vets!)
My point here is, if you are looking for workout routines then yoga is the right place to start. My personal recommendation is to start with the Sun Salutations, daily. Then progress with a full series of yoga postures as your practice grows.