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Yoga vs. Calisthenics (Everything You Need to Know)

Distinguish yoga from calisthenics by learning their similarities and differences. Find out which one's more effective and more suitable for beginners.

A woman doing a push-up on a yoga mat beside a large window.

Many people think of yoga as a form of exercise. And while it’s true that yoga has postures and movements that are very similar to another bodyweight and no-equipment calisthenics exercises, these are just one aspect of yoga. Calisthenics and yoga are still two different practices.

This article will explain the difference between yoga and calisthenics and all the things in between.

What is Yoga?

A woman doing Plank Pose on a blue yoga mat inside an exercise studio with wooden floors.
Photo by Jaykayfit

Yoga is a mind and body practice from India. It’s history dates back to 3000 B.C. with roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, many people practice yoga for its physical and mental health benefits.

What is Calisthenics?

A guy in gym shorts doing a push-up for his calisthenics exercise on a bare white floor.

Calisthenics is a physical training consisting of exercises that require minimal to no equipment. It has its roots set in England and Europe. The word calisthenics comes from the Greek root words, “kalos,” which means beauty, and “sthenos,” which means strength.

Yoga vs. Calisthenics – Their Differences

When you first attend a yoga class of Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or a more active style of yoga, you may notice that it is much like doing calisthenics. But there are many differences between these two. Here are the differences:

Goal

The main difference between yoga and calisthenics is that yoga’s goal is to control the mind so that you can connect with your soul or God. The aim of practicing asanas (postures) in yoga is to keep a healthy physical body, so you can endure long hours of sitting in meditation. However, depending on the yoga teacher and the practitioner, practicing yoga can improve the strength, endurance, and flexibility of the body. 

The goal of calisthenics, on the other hand, is to strengthen the body and boost endurance. 

You Move with Your Breath

A guy doing Warrior 3 pose while moving with his breath during an outdoor yoga session.

Another difference between yoga and calisthenics is that in yoga, you move with your breath. Yoga emphasizes breathing in and out as you move from one posture to another and start or end the yoga class. Calisthenics, on the other hand, doesn’t.

There Is Relaxation

In a yoga class, there is relaxation. Even when the style of yoga you practice is fast-paced and active, there is relaxation at the end of the class. There is even a Savasana or Corpse Pose in which you stay still for a few moments. 

In calisthenics, there is a cool down, but there is no Savasana.

The Similarities

Yoga and calisthenics have so many similarities, which are what makes it so easy to compare them. As I have already mentioned, the physical aspect of yoga we call asanas or postures is very similar to calisthenics. For example, Chaturanga Dandasana is a push-up, and Chair Pose is identical to a squat.

Other styles of yoga, like Power Yoga, also do not follow the traditional yoga postures. Some different styles are even a fusion of other types of calisthenics such as HIIT and HIIT Yoga. So, you will see a variety of yoga classes that may have common calisthenics movements, such as a pistol squat.

Which is More Effective?

A woman doing Yoga Headstand on a blue-gray yoga mat inside a studio with white brick walls.

Many think of yoga as an exercise because of the similarities between the physical aspect of yoga and calisthenics. In this case, which is more effective between the two as a workout?

It depends.

For a workout to be effective, it needs to strengthen your muscles and keep them flexible. Both yoga and calisthenics can achieve that. However, it depends on the exercises and movements that you do in your yoga and calisthenics practice. 

Some styles of yoga do not put stress on the muscles, which is what makes them strong. Yin yoga, for example, targets the ligaments, joints, and fascia. However, this style of yoga will not improve your strength and endurance.

For yoga to be an effective overall workout, your practice needs to have a good combination of poses or sequences to strengthen and stretch your muscles. 

The same goes for calisthenics. Most of the movements in calisthenics, such as dips and pull-ups, only focus on muscle strengthening. However, you also need to be flexible for you to achieve an overall fit and healthy body. So, for your calisthenics workout routine to be effective, you need to add movements to help you achieve that.

Combining the Power and Flexibility of Yoga and Calisthenics

When you put together a system that focuses on flexibility and balance and another approach that focuses on strength and compound movements, you get a full range, complete workout routine. But how do you do that without having to spend more time in the gym or studio? Here are some movements that you can do.

Down Dog to Pike Pushup

Downward-facing Dog Pose is a ubiquitous pose in yoga. It’s excellent for opening the chest and the hamstrings while strengthening the shoulders. You can turn this into a calisthenics exercise by moving from a Downward Dog to a pike push-up.

Here’s a great video on how to do a Down Dog to a pike push-up:

Source: LivestrongWoman

Standing Hand to Big Toe to Pistol Squat

Standing Hand to Big Toe is a balancing yoga pose that strengthens the legs. You can make this pose more challenging by moving into a pistol squat. 

Here how to do it:

  1. Stand in your Mountain Pose. Keep weight evenly distributed on all corners of your feet.
  2. Shift your weight to the right leg, then lift the left knee. Grab the left big toe with your left index and ring fingers and straighten your left leg.
  3. Then, hinge from your hips and slowly bend your right knee.

Here’s a great instructional video on how to do a pistol squat:

Source: Katrina Razon

Lunge Step-up

Lunge step-up is very common in calisthenics. You will see this in many HIIT classes. You can easily add this movement to your yoga practice by moving from your Crescent Lunge and stepping up forward.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. From your Crescent Lunge, shift your weight to your front foot.
  2. Then, slowly bring your back knee to your chest. Keep your standing leg strong and engaged.
  3. Repeat for five to ten rounds.

Here’s a video on how to do a lunge step-up:

Source: DAREBEE

Burpees

In case you didn’t notice yet, Sun Salutation is very similar to a burpee. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start standing in Mountain Pose.
  2. Jump and land in a squat. 
  3. Bring your hands down on the floor and step back to come to a high plank.
  4. Then, do a Chaturanga Dandasana and push up back to come back to high plank. 
  5. Jump forward to come back to your squat. Then, stand up and jump.

Here’s a video on how to do a burpee:

Source: Well+Good

Single-Leg Deadlift

The exercise single-leg deadlift in strength and weight training is Warrior 3 in yoga.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand straight in your Mountain Pose.
  2. Shift your weight to your right leg. 
  3. Then, slowly bring your chest forward while you get the left leg to the back. Come back to your starting position.
  4. Do this for five to ten rounds on each leg.

Here’s a video on how to do a single-leg deadlift:

Source: Physio Plus Fitness

Staff Pose to L-sit

Staff Pose in yoga may look easy, but it requires a significant amount of flexibility and strength. In calisthenics, Staff Pose is the preparatory pose to L-sit. 

Here’s a video from Kino on how to do it:

Source: KinoYoga

Can Yoga Replace Calisthenics?

It depends on the style of yoga you practice. Restorative Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Yin Yoga, and some other types of yoga focus on meditation and spirituality. You cannot replace calisthenics with any of these styles. However, Ashtanga, strength-based Vinyasa, HIIT yoga, and other flowy types of yoga can replace calisthenics. 

Which is Better for Beginners?

It depends on your goal as a beginner. If your goal is to improve your physical fitness alone, calisthenics is better. However, if your goal is to improve your physical fitness and mental wellness, yoga may be better for you. 

Final Thoughts

A man doing a headstand for his calisthenics routine inside an exercise studio with white floors and white walls.

There is no comparison between yoga and calisthenics. While they have their differences, they also have similarities. To achieve an overall fit body and mind, without getting two memberships or spending more time in the gym or yoga studio, combine these two disciplines.

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