A female yoga instructor practicing yoga outdoors with her students.

As a yoga teacher, students often ask me if yoga is an aerobic or an anaerobic exercise. So, is yoga aerobic or anaerobic? To answer this question, let’s first understand what aerobic and anaerobic exercises are and to which group yoga belongs.

What is an Aerobic Exercise?

Yoga students doing Warrior 2 Pose on their yoga mats at a yoga studio.

Aerobic exercise is any activity that provides cardiovascular conditioning. You know this exercise as “cardio.” The term aerobic means “with oxygen.” It increases your heart rate and breathing. It includes cycling, running, jogging, brisk walking, swimming, water aerobics, skipping, and more.

The Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

Improves Your Cardiovascular Health

Improving your cardiovascular health is the most essential and popular benefit of aerobic exercise. It pumps the heart more and makes it stronger. The American Heart Association recommends it to people with, or at risk of heart disease.

Lowers Your Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, many parts of your body can run amok. When you do aerobic exercises regularly, the blood vessels in the body can flow more easily and freely. In return, it can help in unclogging your arteries and reducing blood pressure.

Regulates Your Blood Sugar

Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and your blood flow. When this happens, the body uses glucose, or the sugar in the body, to give you energy. As you continue exercising, your body will consume more glucose and lower your blood sugar. The insulin in your body also works better if you do any exercise.

Helps You Sleep

Doing cardiovascular exercises help improve your sleep. According to a study, following an exercise program may be aerobic or anaerobic, making your sleep better and longer. Exercise improves not only the sleep quality but also the mood of the participants of the study.

Make sure you don’t exercise two hours before bed, though, as this will keep you tossing and turning in bed all night.

Regulates Weight

Being overweight can lead to many chronic illnesses. Doing any exercise can help regulate your weight and avoid risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and breathing problems, among others.

Aerobic exercises, in particular, burn more calories than weightlifting. So, if you’re looking to lose weight faster, do cardio exercise.

Reduces Symptoms of Asthma

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, aerobic exercises help people with asthma control their breath better. When you can manage your breath, you can control the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. Before you start any cardio exercises, though, make sure to check with your doctor.

Similarities and Differences of Aerobic Exercise and Yoga

Yoga students maintaining a yoga pose on their purple yoga mats at an indoor studio.

The similarities between yoga and cardio are pretty obvious. They have the same benefits. 

Yoga improves your heart health by improving blood flow. It helps reduce asthma symptoms as you learn to control your breath by doing pranayama or breathing exercises. Yoga can also help reduce weight, which helps in managing your blood sugar and blood pressure. 

Lastly, it helps in relaxing your body, which in return can help you sleep faster. 

Is Yoga Aerobic?

Aerobic or cardio exercises such as cycling, running, and swimming, focus on pumping the heart so the heart rate increases. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on the breath, observing it, and controlling it. Another difference between aerobic exercises and yoga is that aerobic exercise is an exercise, while yoga is a lifestyle. 

With the difference in focus and how it is practiced, can we consider yoga an aerobic exercise? My answer is, it still depends. 

Some yoga styles are relaxing and therapeutic such as Yin, Yoga Nidra, and Restorative. These styles of yoga are more meditative, slow and gentle. Therefore, you cannot consider these styles of yoga as cardio or aerobics exercise. They don’t make your heart rate increase.

Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power, and Hot Yoga are other styles of yoga. These styles are rigorous, fast, repetitive, and last for 40–90 minutes—the same qualities you can find in aerobic exercises. In contrast, yoga doesn’t focus on increasing the heart rate. The heart rate increases when you practice fast-paced yoga styles. 

So. you can consider some types of yoga as aerobic exercises.

What is an Anaerobic Exercise?

A woman in a white sports top and black leggings doing some heavy weightlifting.

An anaerobic exercise is the opposite of aerobic exercise. It means “without oxygen”. It depletes the body of glucose (sugar), which is a source of energy, without oxygen. It is more intense but is shorter. Some examples of anaerobic exercises are heavy weightlifting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sprinting, and plyometrics.

The Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

Build Muscle Faster

Anaerobic exercises such as weightlifting build muscle faster than aerobic exercises. When the body deals with a higher level of weight or resistance, the muscle fibers break. This process is called muscle hypertrophy. 

During the recovery period, the body will heal itself by fusing the muscle fibers back together. When this happens, the muscles grow in mass and become stronger. Anaerobic exercises build muscle faster than aerobic exercises because you put more resistance on them. 

Protects Your Joints

A woman with a sleeve tattoo, doing an advanced yoga handstand.

Ligaments and muscles surround joints. When muscles and ligaments are strong, the risk of having injuries is lower.

Increases Your Metabolism

After an intense workout, the muscles in the body become hungry. At this point, your metabolism works at a higher rate, even when you are sleeping. It is vital to eat sufficiently after an intense anaerobic exercise, so the muscles can recover faster and grow in mass.

Regulates Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar

Like aerobic exercises, anaerobic exercises also regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. Any physical activity can make the heart stronger and pump more blood and more oxygen with less effort. When this happens, the arteries will also start working with less effort and will lower blood pressure. 

Burns Body Fat Faster

Anaerobic exercises grow your muscles. Muscles burn more calories. When you have more muscles, you burn calories faster. Therefore, you are losing body fat more quickly. 

Similarities and Differences of Anaerobic Exercise and Yoga

Yoga and anaerobic exercises have a few similarities. Anaerobic exercises work the muscles against resistance. In the case of yoga, you work with the resistance of your body weight.

Many yoga asanas are similar to your usual anaerobic bodyweight exercise routines such as Chair Pose (similar to squats), Goddess Pose (similar to sumo squat), and Chaturanga Dandasana (similar to push-ups). 

The difference between yoga and anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, is the focus. The focus of yoga is not to increase muscle mass. Yoga is all about having a healthy mind, body, and soul. 

Anaerobic exercises focus on the physical aspect of health. Another difference is that you can’t progressively overload in yoga since you are only using your body’s resistance. With anaerobic exercises, you can use external resistance tools, such as free weights, weight machines, and resistance bands. 

Is Yoga Anaerobic?

A woman doing a core strengthening exercise on the floor with a dumbbell to her side.

Yoga can be an anaerobic exercise, but it still depends on the style of yoga you practice. Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga are two styles you can’t consider as an anaerobic exercise, not even aerobic. 

However, you can consider yoga fusions like HIIT yoga as anaerobic. There are also new yoga fusions you can consider as anaerobic exercises. Iron Yoga is one where you practice yoga with dumbbells, and then there’s also Resistance Band with Yoga.

Yoga is Neither Aerobic nor Anaerobic

Traditionally, yoga as a whole is neither aerobic nor anaerobic. Ancient yogis do not think of it as a physical exercise. In the book the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the definition of yoga is “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” 

Physical poses are part of yoga to prepare the body to stay in seated meditation for an extended period. In the Western world, we consider yoga as just the Downward Facing Dogs and Handstands. If this is the case, yoga is either an aerobic or an anaerobic exercise. It simply boils down to the style of yoga you practice.