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.

1 comment:

Alissa said...

Nice! My mom did yoga while I was growing up. I believe it kept her sane while raising six children.