The benefits of yoga are many and varied. Though not typically considered a “cardio” workout, cardiovascular fitness is indeed one of the many attributes of a regular yoga practice, along with increased flexibility, strength, balance, lung capacity and metabolism; improved posture, mood, immune system function, and mind-body awareness; lower stress levels and blood pressure; reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety; and an overall sense of fitness and well-being.
Yoga is an ancient mind-body practice that is currently enjoyed by nearly 11 million Americans. While some yoga practices are designed purely for relaxation and meditation, others, such as Ashtanga yoga, which health.usnews.com deemed vigorous enough to count as a cardio workout, are more powerful, athletic practices that emphasize strength and stamina and provide better cardiovascular workouts than the more common, gentler practices, such as Hatha yoga.
Ashtanga yoga synchronizes the breath with postures to detoxify the body and improve circulation. Ashtanga-yoga-canada.com notes that the practice strengthens the cardiovascular system, promotes weight loss and weight regulation, and improves athletic performance in all endeavors, adding that “when you actively engage in its process, Ashtanga Yoga will greatly improve the quality of life.”
But there’s more to cardiovascular fitness then torching calories and losing weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In the United States, approximately 600,000 people die of heart disease each year and nearly 935,000 suffer heart attacks.
Most victims of cardiovascular disease are overweight, post-menopausal, or sedentary. Livestrong.com recommends yoga as a “gentle, beginner-friendly cardiovascular exercise — about as intense as taking a walk — that offers a host of other benefits and easily fits into a busy schedule.”
Practicing yoga lowers your resting heart rate and blood pressure, and reduces hypertension while strengthening the cardiovascular system. Stretching your body through a series of poses exercises the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, and breathing exercises improve circulation and lung capacity. A 2003 article in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology confirmed that regular yoga practice slows the normal age-induced rise in heart rate and blood pressure, and a report by the Lerner Research Institute notes that while anxiety and depression can cause or worsen cardiovascular disease, the calming effects of yoga can prevent heart problems from occurring or intensifying.
Additionally, Livestrong.com cited a research review published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that found that for both healthy and unhealthy people, yoga provides the same, or better, protective cardiovascular benefits as other types of exercise.
Despite the many cardiovascular benefits of yoga, the practice alone is not necessarily sufficient for you to remain fit and reach your specific fitness goals. According to yogajournal.com, “If you are just doing 15 minutes of gentle yoga stretches three to four times a week, you will also need to do some other form of exercise to stay fit.”
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As webmd.com suggests, “the only way to be certain of all that yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see.”