Does yoga improve cardio-vascular health?
Interestingly I reckon most people would say no, so it’s worth examining the whole concept of the meme that we describe in the modern world as “cardio”. In reality, “cardio” is actually aerobics and it’s become the term we use for any kind of intense activity or exercise where we get a bit of sweat up and raise our heart rate such as running, skipping, intense cycling or whatever.
However, I would argue (and let’s be honest here), that the majority of people who do “cardio” (aerobics) arn’t necessarily thinking about their heart – since we rarely think about our organs unless they are ceasing to function – it’s more likely that “cardio” for the majority has become about how many calories are going to be burnt engaging in the particular activity.
Cardio-vascular – the full term – refers to the health of the heart and the ability to move blood efficiently around the body and sure, you can improve the flow of blood around the body by engaging in intense activity provided you are not tense or stressed by that activity (rare). But if you continually raise your heart rate by engaging in said activity and exercise to the point where you cannot speak or breathe through your nose anymore, then actually, this is putting pressure on the cardio-vascular system and will have the opposite effect since over-breathing and a rapid heart rate are actually stress responses that INHIBIT the flow of blood. That’s why stress is a killer, right?
The fittest person at the finish line is the person who has managed the intense activity without their heart rate going through the roof, who is still able to breathe normally and talk calmly. Sure, if you are seriously unfit, your heart rate will increase a fair bit if you walk up the stairs, so it’s totally necessary if we want to get fitter and healthier. But incrementally is less stressful and healthier since we all need to be working towards keeping a steady heart rate while doing intense activity.
Essentially, yoga is pure cardio-vascular exercise – as is walking briskly. As you move, your muscles tense and release which provides an amazing blood pump (way better than the heart) and also improves the flow of oxygen all around the body. Don’t believe me? Try opening and shutting your hands 100 times and see how warm they get. Alternatively, lift your arms up above your head and keep your fingers soft and see how quickly they get cool and tingly (heart not pumping blood so well to fingers in that position). So, even when we move a little more slowly, provided we are relaxed in the core, it is totally possible to end up fitter, stronger and healthier without the physiological – or indeed psychological – stress.
As for the calories, eating lots is also a stress on your body so if you eat less, there will be less to burn off……
(This is a a reasonably intermediate vinyasa idea sped up heaps..but perhaps you get the picture..)