As I’ve said before, the numbers on the scale provide only a small fraction of the complete picture of health. A full physical helps tremendously to fill out the picture. If you haven’t had one recently, call and schedule it today!
I had a complete physical a just before getting pregnant with AE in 2008. I knew the numbers on the scale were worrisome, but these numbers really escalated my concerns:
- Triglycerides: 200
- Total Cholesterol: 231 (HDL: 62 / LDL: 129)
- Resting Heart Rate: 86
After two and a half years of hard work (and a lot of yoga!), I’m happy to report the results from my most recent physical:
- Triglycerides: 51
- Total Cholesterol: 174 (HDL: 70 / LDL: 94)
- Resting Heart Rate: 57
(Can I get a woop woop?!?!)
Yoga has contributed to my improved heart health in three ways.
Yoga as Cardiovascular Exercise
Does our time on the mat qualify as a cardiovascular workout? The answer – it depends.
I am a huge advocate of sneaking in a yoga pose at your desk at work. I’ve been known to discreetly practice a tree pose in line at the grocery store. And, I whole-heartily believe that if you only have time to practice one yoga pose a day, it should be Savasana.
But…none of that qualifies as the cardiovascular exercise that you need to keep your heart healthy. Studies have shown that yoga can be a great workout for your heart – if you practice for more than an hour, at least two to four times a week.
A cardio workout can be accomplished on the mat not only with sun salutations and vinyasa (flow), but also with strong standing poses and backbends, like the poses detailed here.
Yoga as Recovery
Over the last two and a half years, my primary form of cardiovascular exercise has been walking. I like the way I think, feel, parent and relate to the world when I spend time walking out doors every day.
But, between the baby turned toddler attached to me and daily, three (or more) mile-long walks, parts of my body can revolt against this wonderful cardiovascular exercise.
My time on the mat has been instrumental in keeping my calves, hamstrings, back and shoulders healthy after my beloved walks. Poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose), Supta Padangusthasana (reclining big toe pose) and Bhujangasana (cobra pose) have kept my muscles happy and healthy for cardiovascular exercise.
(Sneak Peek: In February, I will begin a “Journey Through the Body” series. Each week, I’ll focus on a different part of the body and how to keep it healthy. If you suffer from aches and pains associated with your off-the-mat forms of exercise (like running, biking or walking), be sure to stay tuned for useful tips in the months ahead. Also, feel free to contact me with questions anytime!)
Yoga Breathing’s Impact on a Healthy Heart
While I’m sure I was breathing for the first twenty years of my life, I paid very little attention to my breath until I came to the yoga mat. I now believe that the quality of my life is directly related to the quality of my breath.
When we routinely take short, shallow breaths, every system in our body is negatively impacted, including the heart and circulatory system. However, when we improve the quality of our breathing, the heart is better able to pump freshly oxygenated blood to every part of the body.
The practice of yoga breathing often enables us to lower our breathing rate by taking slower, deeper breaths. And a reduced breathing rate slows down our heart rate and helps to lower our blood pressure. (As a side note, when every other numerical indicator of heart health was gloomy three years ago, my blood pressure was excellent. And, it continues to be great today (it averages about 105/70). I attribute that to the yoga breathing I’ve routinely practiced over the last fifteen years.)
One of the most useful yoga breathing techniques I’ve practiced is to simply observe the breath, with no agenda to change or alter it. Try this by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. Spend five minutes just observing the following characteristics of your breath (there are no “right” answers for this exercise – just observe):
- Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth?
- Is the inhale longer than the exhale or vice versa?
- What is the temperature of the air as it comes in the body? As it goes out?
- Where in your body to you feel the breath moving?
- Is it changing as you observe it?
Has your yoga practice positively impacted your heart health? How? I’d love to hear about it!
P.S. This post is part of a series about how I’ve used yoga to transform my body. See here for additional posts in this series.