Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad, Part II: Fit Perfection

Part II: Fit Perfection

In Part II Mr. Broad moves away from India and tackles the scientific communities claims regarding the health benefits derived from yoga, specifically, cardio wellness.  I had some initial confusion where I wasn't certain if Broad and the articles he was referring to were exclusively Hatha yoga or if it was Hatha and the flow yoga styles.  Initially, it was Hatha, and later in the chapter the flow yogas are addressed. 

Again, I appreciate the methodology behind his research, finding an early legitimate study and moving forward from there.  In this case, we touch on Gune from the first chapter, who was one of the first to bring credibility back to yoga in India in the 1920's.

Broad states, "Gune taught a style of yoga that epitomized the slow, tranquil approach.  His emphasis was on holding poses for long periods of time and learning how to relax even amid extreme states of bending, flexing and upending.  It was a point he drove home with his measurements of how challenging inversion were gentle on the heart.  By contrast, the newer styles tend to be hyperkinetic, some done to the beat of rock music. The objective is to get the heart pounding and the body exhausted...In contrast to Gune style of yoga [and one could argue Iyengar's], the new goal is to maximize rather than minimize the energetic costs."  (pg 49)

It was 1922 when the sports world started looking at cardio and respiratory capabilities in athletes and starting to establish oxygen intake.  But it wasn't until the 1970's when researchers started to look at the claims that Hatha yoga "...held that deep breathing increased the blood's oxygenation despite the relative stillness of hte body and the modest use of the muscles during  yogic practice."  (pg 52) 

It should come as no surprise that no, Hatha yoga does not increase aerobic capability or oxygen consumption.  Only endurance sports can do that. 

Further studies ensued looking at Ashtanga Yoga and similar flow yoga styles and results were published in Yoga Journal, Shape Magazine, and subsequently spawned the whole YogaFit corporation.  Yoga was the "fit perfection".  You could do aerobic yoga and reap all the benefits of an endurance athlete.  Mass media said so, so it must be true. 

But there was one more study lurking on the horizon in 2007, conducted by the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and the Mailman School of Public Heath of Columbus Univeristy.  They had the funding and additional support from the National Institutes of Heath.  The style studied was Ashtanga.   In a nutshell (you'll have to read the book for the details), the oxygen demands on a seasoned practitioner "represent low levels of physical activity, similar to walking on a treadmill at a slow pace or taking a leisurely stroll." 

According to Mr. Broad's research,  this final study was disregarded by the yogic community and media.

"Yoga Journal continued its claims, hailing vigorous Hatha in 2008 as a 'good cardio workout'. 
"Yoga for Dummies 2nd ed, 2010 hailed the Sun Salutation for its aerobic benefits..." and the newer styles, "let practitioners 'work up a sweat' to achieve 'aerobic-type' workouts."
New York Times article "Does Yoga Keep You Fit?  Yes, it said.
...Mr. Broad cites more examples after that. 
Absolutely fascinating. 

Personally, I loved the last page in this chapter where he addresses cross-training.  I cross-train.  I do Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow, Iyengar-style Hatha, Yin, spin class, a CorePole class (aerobic weight training with resistance bands), bicycle, walking and long distance hiking.   Yoga is my stretching and strengthening time.  Everything else is my cardio and muscle workout.  I have seen great improvement from yoga in my recovery time after my endurance sports.  I have seen improvement in my yoga from my CorePole class.  And I've become even more mindful about making sure I take time to recover, to schedule in minimal activity days.  And ya know, it's all good.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Studio Review! CorePower, Edina, MN

My travels recently took me down to the Twin Cities, specifically Bloomington.  I knew I would have a bit of extra time on my hands and desperately wanted to fit in a couple yoga classes.  Corepower was on my travel paths AND offered classes that would easily fit into my schedule.  Other advantage: new-to-me studio! 

I arrived 10 minutes before class (later than I wanted but it was the best I could do driving straight from Duluth), was greeted warmly, given a quick tour and settled in on my mat.  This was a C2 class lead by Bethany.

CorePower Yoga 2 – Open Power Yoga: CorePower Yoga is a truly unique yoga practice based on intuition rather than tradition. A heated, climate controlled Vinyasa flow practice, CorePower Yoga heals, detoxifies and exhilarates the body and mind with emphasis on movement, balance and intention. A great class for students who are ready to take the next step in their journey, CorePower Yoga 2 connects the body to the mind and spirit through intense flow and Ujjayi breathing techniques, helping students get to the "Core" of their being.

Bethany lead a lovely class that was both simple and challenging.  The flow sequence was really delightful and could be adapted to both beginners and experienced practitioners.   She offered ways to up the pose and decrease the pose and moved around the room offering adjustments and encouragement. 
The room...was not as pleasant.  It was about 95* and humid.  About halfway through I suddenly felt nauseous and a bit light headed.  I do have low blood pressure (98/62) and couldn't get my heart to stop pounding.  Childs pose and modifications were necessary.   Any thing with my hands over my head was not good.  Ujjayi breath had to go away.   It took a good 10-15 minutes at the conclusion of class to get my heart to stop pounding.  I was dripping wet. 
An aside - I do question the use of the Ujjayi breath in a heated environment - Ujjayi is used to heat the torso, so do you really want to be heating the body when it's 95*?   Just a thought....
I returned the next day and attended a C1 class led by Valerie. 
CorePower Yoga 1 – Introduction to Power Yoga: A great class for beginners, CorePower Yoga 1 is a Vinyasa yoga done in a non-heated environment, with a slower-paced flow than CorePower Yoga 2. Postures are broken down (demonstrated), and instructors lead the flow at a deliberate pace with an emphasis on alignment and breath. An interactive class, students are encouraged to ask questions and explore the postures as they are ready. A great place to start your CorePower Yoga journey.
Yes, a beginning class, but it fit into my schedule and sometimes beginning classes can be just as challenging as a "upper level" session.  Valerie was a lovely instructor who moved around the room offering encouragement and adjustments as she worked with her regulars.  The room was NOT heated, but pleasantly warm.  I really enjoyed the flow and sequencing of this class and wouldn't hesitate to go back again. 
Overall, a good first impression of a CorePower studio.   I may try a C2 (heated class) again, now knowing that I should not add the Ujjayi in at the beginning and to keep my hands below my heart from the start.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad Part I: Health

I had a different post lined up for today, but then this book came available at the library on Friday.  I figured I would review it chapter by chapter.  Please join in if you've read it already. 

Quick background:  January 5, 2012, William J Broad wrote an article for the New York Times called  How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.   I'm sure most of you have read it, it hit the yoga community like a midsummer thunderstorm leaving people feeling shocked, dismayed, threatened, and, in some instances, relieved that someone was finally speaking up about the "darker" side of yoga. Yup, apparently it's not all incense and bliss. 

Stretch forward three months and I got my hands on a copy of the book the article accompanies -  The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards.

I have finished part I: Health.  So far this has been a fascinating read.  The author explains articulately why he has chosen to focus on asana and not on the philosophy of yoga and how he went about doing his research.  I appreciate that Mr. Broad went past what we in the west understand to be the 'beginning' of yoga with Krishnamachara.  Mr. Broad dug into the sordid past and put it right down there in black and white.  As a western practitioner, raised in a traditional Christian religion that I walked away from as soon as I could, who came to yoga mid-life, I always found the discussions and dialog of "traditional" yogic philosophy a little too clean and pure sounding for my tastes.  I tend to be an automatic skeptic anytime someone says "we do this because tradition says so". 

Mr. Broad doesn't hold back.  Immediately in Part I: Health, he brings in the science and the research that has been conducted over the last century.   I work in a field that deals with a lot of statistics, number crunching, data analysis as well as speculation so I can appreciate the efforts behind good (and even mediocre) research.  My field has it's pariahs as well, those so-called researchers where I automatically sneeze bullshit! so I understand it's not all clean and clear cut.  I thought the authors methodology was reasonable and insightful and established a solid foundation for his hypothesis.

I do have a couple of criticisms:  one, it was either in the prologue or early in part I where the author states he wants to move away from those studies that use too few bodies (as in people) for their sample, citing research where perhaps only one individual was used or maybe less than twenty.  Yet as I read on, I found him talking about studies where they used, oh twenty eight people, or maybe forty.  I questioned the statistical validity of those samples in light of the former statement (assuming I read that first statement correctly) and wondered if the experiments had been repeated.  That's where you'll find the good science - can those studies and the results be repeated. 

My other criticism was he seemed to focus on debunking some of the more outlandish claims of yoga, using one example, that established yogis can stop or re-start their hearts (emulating savasana, or corpse pose).  Now this is just my opinion but even for as much as yoga can claim to do, that one I just never quite believed.  Perhaps it needed debunking because it's rooted in yogas deep "traditions", but I had my doubts. 

So far this book is very easy to read, it doesn't become bogged down in technical details and he interjects enough stories to keep the pacing satisfactory. 

Please stay tuned for Part II: Fit Perfection.