Yoga is often stereotyped as a relaxed workout tailored to increasing flexibility and reducing stress. Recent studies are showing that yoga is much more than that, demonstrating that individuals who practice yoga consistently have as good or better heart health than those who do only cardio exercises like running and spinning.

The truth is, most yoga poses practiced in succession for a sustained period of time will increase the heart rate and work the cardiovascular system just like any other exercise. Massachusetts General Hospital, which has embraced yoga as a treatment for heart patients, states that using yoga the right way, and incorporating poses with breathing and meditation, can result in slower heart rates and lower blood pressure.

Combine these cardio benefits with other benefits that yoga offers, including reduced stress, body awareness, and increased muscle mass and flexibility, and you have yourself a pretty ideal exercise program.

To reap these benefits, do yoga for an hour or more, two to four times a week. Try these poses, combined with some time for mediation and breath work, to strengthen your heart and lungs.

Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Begin standing in a mountain pose with your feet shoulder width apart, arms relaxed at your sides. Bring up your right foot, and press your sole into the inner area of your left thigh with your toes pointing down toward the floor. Take a moment to make sure your pelvis is in a neutral position, with the top parallel to the floor and centered above your left foot. Lengthen your back by pulling your tailbone toward the floor, lift your hands, and press them together above your head. Stand in this pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Step back into mountain pose, take a breath, and then repeat with the opposite foot.

Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)
Sit down on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you. Rest your hands behind your hips, lift and open your chest and lean back. Next, lift your legs up and move your body into a V shape with your tailbone the bottom of the V. Make sure to keep your back straight.

Stretch your arms out in front of you, and rest hands near your knees, parallel to each other. Press the thighs near your bottom into the floor, while simultaneously lifting your sternum up and keeping your lower belly firm and flat. Take gentle breaths and hold this pose for 10 seconds. Increase your hold to 60 seconds over time. Exhale, and put your legs down, and sit up on an inhalation to come out of the pose.

Plank Pose
Start in a downward-facing dog pose. Inhale and move feet back until your arms are perpendicular to the floor with shoulders over wrists. You should look like you are about to do a push up. From here, press your arms firmly down into the floor, looking straight down. Press down through your heels and keep your shoulders and bottom lifted. Stay here for 30 to 60 seconds while focusing on your breath.

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