When I started practicing yoga, I was convinced that, while there were some benefits to strength and flexibility, it was still important to retain my running and cycling regime to keep my cardiovascular health up to scratch. So, I kept running and running and running and was starting to get a bit annoyed that my flexibility was not changing much (particularly in forward bends) and it wasn’t until I had to stop running for a while due to a disc injury, that suddenly my yoga practice was taking off! One thing led to the next, which started from practicing beginner’s yoga once a week to practicing vinyasa yoga up to 6 times a week. And once I got the hang of the sun salutations, I could see that this was a definite cardiovascular workout! Even better than running (where you usually exhale through the mouth), the yogic (Ujjayi) breath we use, requires breathing in and out of the nose and when done properly, creates internal heat and greater lung capacity. When I tell people that yoga (if practiced at least 3 times a week) is all they need for strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health, they look at me incredulously. Fortunately, more and more studies are coming out to prove the concept of yoga asana and breathing as a holistic physical practice. This article from Yoga Journal explains in detail the outcomes of studies that compared maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), lung capacity, heart rate, body composition (fat%), anaerobic threshold and lactate content of groups of students (including athletes) practicing yoga and those that weren’t. Even the athletes’ lung capacity was boosted by a regular yoga practice!
While these outcomes are encouraging for yoga practice, by all means keep up your other sports which give you joy and help keep you healthy! But if you find yourself down the ‘yogic rabbit-hole’ with more and more time dedicated to your practice, you can (literally) breathe a sigh of relief that you are still going to do all the right things for your body and mind!