We all know Yoga is great for flexibility training, but did you also know that Yoga is a superior way to train for both cardiovascular endurance and cardio respiratory efficiency. How? It’s all that great breathing, also known as pranayama in Yoga, in fact the resting heart rates of marathon runners have been compared to that of Yogis!
The average person only uses roughly 10-20% of their overall lung capacity. Yoga teaches us to use deep diaphragmatic breathing, breathing right down to the lower lobes of our lungs, commonly through a three-part breathing technique.
To Practice: Breathing in through our nose we continue to fill our lungs until our diaphragms press down into our abdominals causing our bellies to slightly push out. We continue our inhale laterally expanding our rib cage out to the side and at the same time stretching our intercostal muscles and other deep muscles in our back. Finally we take in our last sips of breath at the top of our chest opening across our pectoralis major and minor. From there, slowly and carefully we exhale, once again through our nose drawing our abdominals in with a slight press upward of our diaphragm and softening into our chest. Working to take as much time for our inhale as that of our exhale.
This Three-Part Breath is used in nearly every pose we do in Yoga, the more this breath is practiced the stronger the muscles that surround our back, chest and abdominals become allowing our breath to become fuller. As fitness professionals we already know the more air we can take in with one breath (VO2 Max.) the stronger our lung function and therefore the stronger our hearts = lower resting heart rate. All this just from breathing! This means that anyone practicing deep breathing can create major shifts in their heart health whether through a very gentle or restorative yoga practice to a power or hot yoga class. Everyone who practices Yoga will benefit!
Deep breathing also greatly lowers stress and cortisol levels, in fact breathing in and out of our nose directly links to our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for calming us). When we practice deep nasal breathing through our more challenging postures in Yoga we are teaching our body how to cope with and process stress on our mats, which then helps us off our mats as well.
Happy Heart Month! With hopefully another great reason to continue your Yoga practice.