Isn’t it all the rage right now…a yoga practice of any kind is trendy and uber chic. Everyone is doing it, walking with a mat often in a funky carrying case, and enjoying the benefits of one of the oldest practices in the world. It would seem with a 5000-year history, the benefits of yoga have proven themselves, based on longevity alone.
So, how is it that your yoga practice may not actually count as a heart rate benefit!?
It is very uncommon to link our cardio health with yoga. These are generally not terms that go together, however, with the influx of fusion yoga like yoga flow, power yoga and vinyasa, classes are now capturing the mainstream yogi. If you have found yoga because it spoke to you in a different way than the hard-core aerobic workouts at the gym, don’t be discouraged or dissuaded. You can and probably are still getting your heart rate pumped.
The countless benefits attributed to yoga like weight-loss, heart disease protection, freedom from depression, increased flexion, and preventative joint care are enough reasons to get anyone on the mat. The question that is still debated and scientifically challenged is, can yoga sustain activity that elevates your heart rate?
When we talk about the benefits of cardio exercise we are truly measuring how efficiently the heart moves blood and oxygen to the muscles. There is no doubt that when we stretch to our own individual maximum and feed our joints through asana (poses), the blood flow and circulation is increased and therefore new oxygenated blood cells are traveling further down the musculature system, increasing the work of the heart. To ensure the heart is attaining cardiovascular fitness we need to balance the intensity of the yoga sequence, the length of time or duration of the practice, and consistency and frequency of how often we are practicing.
With any yoga practice, advanced, beginner, flow, or alignment based, if you follow and practice these 5 principles, the cardio element of your weekly practices will be elevated. Your ability to use your breath more efficiently will develop and help your heart distribute the oxygen flow with efficacy to the muscles. And notably, your risk of heart disease will be decreased, preventative artery diseases will be increased, lower blood pressure will be obtained and your desired cardio health will be achieved.
- Learn some basic Pranayama (breath) exercises and open and close your practice with them like a traditional warm up and cool down. Practice these different breathing techniques for 5 – 7 minutes to make it count as heart exercise. Wait until you see what it does for your mind too!
- Practice your sun series and run through it 5 to 10 rounds. It is a flow of 9 basic poses that heat up the muscle and body bringing a cardio element to your practice.
- Start adding inversions and holding them for longer durations as part of your practice. Adho Mukah Svanasana (Downward Dog) is considered an inversion.
- Mixing high and low intensity in your practice is beneficial to your heart health. Consider calming your body with Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose/Baby Shoulder stand) to bring the nervous system back to neutral after a high intense inversion.
- Practice holding all your poses for longer durations. Some milestones to attempt would be 5 – 10 breaths and building it up to 3 – 5 minutes a pose. You will quickly notice that the duration of pose will directly affect the intensity and heart rate increase.
Yoga is a lifestyle. It is also a fitness regime. But once the two paths intersect it often becomes a practice that you carry around with you everywhere you go. And sometimes you get to take it in a funky carry case feeling all uber chic, from the inside out!