Wednesday 13 May 2015

Yoga Apps for iOS

There are heaps of yoga apps competing for your iPad and iPhone dollars so where do you begin if you want to perfect your Sun Salutation or tame your Downward Dog?

The first fitness-related app I ever bought for my iPad - and the one that I still consider to be far and away the best - was You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG). This is a bodyweight or ‘calisthenics’ program aimed at improving your strength, endurance and, to some degree, flexibility. But, of course, where flexibility is concerned, it is hard to beat yoga. At any rate, I thought that a good yoga app would complement the YAYOG workouts. And, after much research, I couldn’t help notice that two iOS yoga apps were getting lots of good reviews. They are Yoga Studio and, so those are the ones I decided to try.

Yoga Studio $3.99

Yoga Studio shows poses that are seamlessly linked by animated transitions
This is a slick-looking app that shows a woman teacher demonstrating sequences of poses while a female voice describes the basics of each pose. There are over 280 poses and these are arranged into ‘classes’ graded for beginner, intermediate or advanced students. The length of each class varies from 15 minutes to 30 minutes or a full hour. You can also create custom classes by selecting different poses and saving them for later viewing.

Here I am previewing the poses in a class. Pressing the Play button gets things started.
The app cleverly inserts ‘transitions’ between poses to give the impression that the onscreen teacher is moving seamlessly from one pose to another. Meanwhile the narrator describes the key elements of each pose. Optionally you may also have some music or sound-effects (ocean waves is my favourite) tootling away in the background. This is all well done, but I must admit that I am not really terribly keen on the slightly soporific narration that exhorts me to let my shoulders “melt over” my knees and “bring this lovely after-yoga feeling” into the rest of my day.

My main reservation, however, is that the actual nitty-gritty instructions on how to do the yoga poses with good form are often a bit vague. You can revise elements of proper form when not taking a class by browsing through a database of poses and reading some text-based instructions. However, I would have preferred a much more detailed narration to explain exactly how to perform each pose, how much of a stretch to aim for, how to achieve correct alignment and so on. The app recommends that students should use it in addition to a regular yoga class rather than as a replacement for one. I have studied yoga before so I have some pre-existing knowledge. However, I suspect that some people will try to use this app to learn yoga from the ground up. I honestly don’t think it is technically thorough enough to be used in that way. If you already know some yoga, and you want an app to help you structure your own practice at home, however, this might fit the bill. It is certainly a nice, professional-looking program even though I do find the narration a bit sleep-inducing.

Yoga.Com $3.99

The core of (which is confusingly labelled as ‘All In Yoga’ once the app is installed) are the 45 Yoga Programs. A ‘program’ is a ‘yoga class’ comprising a predefined set of poses. The programs are grouped  in various ways – some for Beginners,  some for balance, others for strength, breathing, digestion and so on – and they vary in length from about 13 or 14 minutes to well over an hour.  Just like Yoga Studio, this app also lets you create your own programs by picking sets of poses and saving them for later use. does not fully animate the poses in a class. But you can watch a video of each pose in a popup window - which is what I am doing here.
To perfect your technique, there is a pose database that lets you pick a pose (from around 300) by name and watch a video of the instructor showing the correct form. Each pose also comes with written instructions and optional narration.  And you can even view a diagrams of the muscles being exercised.

For the more anatomically-minded student, even has diagrams to show the muscles exercised by each pose.
The programs themselves are, by default, shown as static photographs rather than moving videos. There is an option to display the short videos from the pose database at the start of each now pose in a class but these are shown in a popup window rather than as a seamless sequence (as in Yoga Studio). A brief description of each pose can be narrated if you choose.

An annoying feature of is that on completing a program, you are prompted to share your progress on Twitter or Facebook (apparently this is supposed to ‘inspire’ people and not, as the cynic in me supposes, advertise the app). Sharing my progress is something I never, ever want to do but I can’t find any way of disabling the extremely irritating nag screen.  The setup options, incidentally, are arranged rather oddly. The main menu, available from the home screen, provides access to features such as the calendar, to schedule your practice and the language in which both the text and the narrations are delivered (English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish are provided). But if you want to configure things such as the teacher’s voice (on or off), the animated videos (show or not show) or background music (a choice of 15 tracks or none at all) you have to start a class in order to access a new set of options available from an icon at the top-right of the screen. As to why these global options are not all available from the global settings menu – well, your guess is as good as mine.

In Summary

So which of these two apps would I recommend? This really depends on what you are looking for and your existing yoga experience. Both apps mainly function as ‘prompters’ to guide you through a sequence of poses at home. They provide pictures and videos of an instructor showing the correct poses form but neither provide really detailed information, during a class, on the finer points of that form. This means that unless you have already studied all the yoga poses at a conventional class, there is a risk that you will do them incorrectly which may do more harm than good. Each app does, however, provide a pose database to let you view the poses one by one along with some slightly more advice on good form. Neither app specialises in a particular style of yoga but they do describe a large number of poses (asanas) common to most yoga schools.

Personally, I slightly prefer the more ‘down to earth’ descriptions in rather than the somewhat ‘dreamy’ sounding narrations of Yoga Studio. But Yoga Studio looks a bit slicker due to the transitions between poses (the closest has are its popup videos which are not properly integrated into the main class). So personally I would marginally favour Yoga Studio. However, if your native language is not English, the multi-lingual option of might be the deciding factor.

For my own purposes, I would have liked a greater range of short (10 to 15 minute) yoga sessions since my main interest is to add some yoga stretches to my other exercise workouts. And while I can construct custom classes using both apps, it would have been better if they had provide a greater range of pre-defined ‘targeted’ classes (10 minute stretches for runners; 15 minute warmups and cooldowns etc.). Even so, if you are mainly interested in following a fairly traditional yoga class at home, either of these apps would be a good investment – and both are excellent value giving you a lot of content for a very low cost. I don’t think either of them has enough detailed information and guidance to teach good yoga form from the ground up, however. So if you’ve never done any yoga before, join a conventional yoga class before using one of these apps.