Is Yoga a Cardio Workout?

Is Yoga a Cardio Workout?

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Warrior poses strengthen your muscles and get your heart pumping.

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Yoga is a full-body exercise that improves flexibility and balance and strengthens and tones muscles. Incorporating breath work, physical postures and meditation, yoga promotes physical and mental well-being. Its cardiovascular benefits, however, vary according to the type of yoga, the duration of the class and the style of the teacher. Ashtanga yoga and Power yoga are the two types that offer the most cardiovascular benefit.

Measuring Cardiovascular Benefit

Cardiovascular workouts strengthen your muscles, heart and lungs, training them to deliver oxygen more efficiently to your body. The more vigorous the exercise, the more your lungs and muscles have to work to increase oxygen. According to the National Institutes of Health, cardio workouts push your heart rate into the target zone and keep it there for 30 to 60 minutes.

When measuring cardiovascular benefit, it's important to know your target heart rate. If you are a man, subtract your age from 220 and multiply the result by 0.5 to find your target zone. If you are a woman, subtract 88 percent of your age from 206 and multiply the result by 0.75. You can measure the cardiovascular benefit of any exercise by wearing a heart rate monitor.

Yoga as a Cardio Workout

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, implementing deep pranayama breath during yoga elevates your heart rate. When you breathe deeply, your body works harder to handle the extra oxygen coming in and your lung capacity increases. In the same manner as more traditional cardio workouts, yoga trains your body to use oxygen more efficiently.

According to the Yoga Journal website, the quicker you move through the postures, the fewer breaks you take between poses and the deeper your breath, the more cardiovascular yoga becomes. Postures such as Warriors I, II and III engage two of the largest muscles in your body -- your quadriceps and hamstrings. Large muscles require more oxygen, thereby elevating your heart rate and expanding lung capacity. While yoga does not burn as many calories as popular cardio workouts such as aerobics and spinning, it does help protect against heart disease. According to Massachusetts General Hospital, yoga slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga aligns breath to movement in a unique series of postures designed to strengthen and condition the body. Results from a 2006 study published in the "Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies" showed that Ashtanga yoga was significantly more vigorous than other forms of yoga. It raised heart rate about 30 beats per minute over resting heart rate.

Power Yoga

Power yoga is a form of yoga based on Ashtanga yoga but that varies its series of postures according to the teacher. Power yoga workouts are vigorous, using a flow series of asanas to raise heart rate and make you sweat. Dr. Paul Jerard, an expert consultant for the Aura Wellness Center, claims that Power yoga is a cardiovascular workout that enhances heart health; however, no scientific studies were cited to validate this statement.

The key to maximizing yoga's cardiovascular benefits is to work within your target zone for 30 to 60 minutes. Yoga classes that are only an hour long don't have as much cardio benefit.