Purpose: With the increasing popularity of Hatha yoga, it is important to understand the energy cost and METs of yoga practice within the context of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) physical activity guidelines.
Methods: This systematic review evaluated the energy cost and metabolic intensity of yoga practice including yoga asanas (poses/postures) and pranayamas (breath exercises) measured by indirect calorimetry. The English-speaking literature was surveyed via PubMed using the general terms "yoga" and "energy expenditure" with no date limitations.
Results: Thirteen manuscripts were initially identified with an additional four located from review of manuscript references. Of the 17 studies, 10 evaluated the energy cost and METs of full yoga sessions or flow through Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), eight of individual asanas, and five of pranayamas. METs for yoga practice averaged 3.3 ± 1.6 (range = 1.83-7.4 METs) and 2.9 ± 0.8 METs when one outlier (i.e., 7.4 METs for Surya Namaskar) was omitted. METs for individual asanas averaged 2.2 ± 0.7 (range = 1.4-4.0 METs), whereas that of pranayamas was 1.3 ± 0.3. On the basis of ACSM/AHA classification, the intensity of most asanas and full yoga sessions ranged from light (less than 3 METs) to moderate aerobic intensity (3-6 METs), with the majority classified as light intensity.
Conclusion: This review suggests that yoga is typically classified as a light-intensity physical activity. However, a few sequences/poses, including Surya Namaskar, meet the criteria for moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity. In accordance with the ACSM/AHA guidelines, the practice of asana sequences with MET intensities higher than three (i.e., >10 min) can be accumulated throughout the day and count toward daily recommendations for moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity.