Monday, April 2, 2012

Cardiovascular Exercises & Tonics

"When you consider yourself valuable you will take care of yourself in all ways that are necessary." ~Scott Peck

Since my last blog post, I've received an in-pouring of emails and texts with more questions about the subject of "Cardio." Many people have different ideas about what cardio. entails. The predominant theme is one I like to call the "triathlete triage." Since I've received inquiries about what the definition of cardio. is, I decided to go around and ask, not only fellow fitness enthusiasts and educators, but the public as well.

I would venture to say that at least 7 out of 10 people mentioned either swimming, biking or running as the "definition" of cardio. Is that to say that those sports aren't cardio.? Not at all. I will counter with the thought that it is a limited definition of cardio., however.

Cardio. is a term that is associated (with the majority of people I asked) with the 80's. Cardio. was considered to be synonymous with scales, "Jazzercise" and step-aerobics. It is a love-hate relationship for most. Most of the people I "interviewed" said they either craved their "cardio.-endorphin fix" or they couldn't stand cardio. and "only did heavy weights." "So, heavy weights don't give you "cardiovascular heart-pumping benefits?" I asked. I heard crickets. When challenged with this thought, the "cardio. nay-sayers" weren't sure what to think.

I'd like to invite you to think outside the box in regards to your definition of "cardio." Coach Glassman, founder of "CrossFit" sums it up best: "If you think you won't raise your heart rate by heavy lifting at high intensity, you would be mistaken."

A more accurate picture of activating the 3 main metabolic pathways would be to use two terms vs. one. Those would be "Aerobic" and "Anaerobic." "Cardio." is too simple.

The heart rate can get up in myriad ways. Not just by running, biking or swimming. Lifting heavy weights at high intensity and certain yoga poses can stimulate both "aerobic" and "anaerobic" capacity of the heart and metabolic pathways, depending on intensity level.

A powerful way to induce a "cardio." effect via yoga asana (pose) is the combination of heat and bringing your heart to parallel (or below your chest cavity). The "Balancing Series" in "Bikram Yoga" is a perfect example of this. Here are the poses in the "Balancing Series" (please only do this series in a certified "Bikram Yoga" studio, when the body is warmed up, under the instruction of a "Bikram Yoga" teacher)


DANDAYAMANA-DHANURASANA ("Standing Bow Pulling Pose")

TULADANDASANA ("Balancing Stick Pose")

I am not a yoga instructor. However, the amount of information on the benefits of the "Balancing Series," in the sense of what it can do for cardio. building capacity, are too numerous to list here. In addition, inversions, or yoga asanas that invert the body upside down, or induce back-bending are powerful for cardio. benefits as well. It is said in yoga that inversions are "longevity postures." This is because of the immense cardiovascular benefits that come with them. A powerful example of another "heart tonic" asana would be the "Camel Pose" (USTRASANA):

"Vintage" Bikram Choudry in "USTRASANA," or "Camel Pose"

"The word aerobic literally means "with oxygen" or "in the presence of oxygen, involving or improving oxygen consumption by the body ." Aerobic activity trains the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system to process and deliver oxygen more quickly and efficiently to every part of the body by elevating the heart rate during exercise to its target level. As the heart muscle becomes stronger and more efficient, a larger amount of blood can be pumped with each stroke. Fewer strokes are then required to rapidly transport oxygen to all parts of the body. " (http://www.bikramyoga.com/BikramYoga/FAQ.php#12)

To accomplish the task of greater blood-pumping efficiency per stroke may not take as much time pounding the pavement as previously thought. Also, there may be exercises, not previously explored, that can do this at a greater efficiency than, say, running or bicycling.

"Rebounding" is a fancy word for jumping on a trampoline. "NASA has used rebounding for years to condition astronauts before and after space travel, and their studies show rebounding to be 68% more efficient than running for cardiovascular benefits." ("Journal of Sports Exercise Physiology", Jan. 2003).

Rebounding is a wonderful way to increase aerobic capacity, without the burdensome side-effects of joint impact. Its fun, draws all-ages, engages your core (due to it being an unstable surface), invokes greater agility and proprio-reception, and should particularly be thought of in injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Katherine & Kimberly Corp at their NYC Rebounding studio, where I was certified as a Rebounding Instructor

The power output on the heart from "Olympic Lifting" (Oly Lifting) should not be underestimated. To deadlift, say, approximately at a 70% weight of your 1 rep max., instigating anaerobic exercise will most definitely benefit efficiency per stroke of heart rate. Assuming that lifting only benefits muscle vs. cardiovascular capacity would be faulty. "Olympic Lifts" are a power-source for "drive output" from the body. Your heart's ability to keep up with the strong need for output of power from your muscles is exactly why it works so well for cardiovascular tonification. You will see the benefits derived in lifting in your running. The two seem unrelated, but they are not. They are actually yin/yang of one another, and support each other. Power drive output cannot be underestimated in the effects it has on speed. You will notice this in your "cardio. activities" within a matter of weeks. I can attest that your heart feels like its pounding out of your chest cavity when you are doing 10 reps. down to 1 of a 70% max. weight deadlift for time. No question.

Back-Squats, brought to you by "CrossFit Kids." :-)

Are there various herbs that can enhance, or as we say in Chinese medicine, "tonify" the cardiovascular system? Absolutely. Here are several herbs, from pharmacopeia around the world that I will introduce to you. *Please consult a licensed acupuncturist or naturopathic physician before taking these herbs.

1.) Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis)

2.) Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

3.) Hawthorne Berry (Crataegus oxyacantha Rosaceae)

4.) Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera)

5.) Tulsi a.k.a. "Holy Basil" (Ocimum sanctum)

6.) Rose (Rosa berberifolia)

All of these plants are powerful cardiovascular tonics, to be used judiciously during training (with the supervision of a complimentary care provider). They can enhance your heart's ability to pump blood efficiently, and thereby have a "ripple" effect on your endurance.

There is a premise in both indigenous medicine and homeopathy that "Like Treats Like." You consume the organ of the animal that you're looking to "tonify" yourself.

If you recall in the movie, "Dances With Wolves," the Lakota Sioux warrior named "Wind In His Hair" consumed the heart of the buffalo, during the great hunt. The heart contains the greatest amount of COQ10, nature's great "heart anti-oxidant." So, you eat heart to tonify your own heart. No part of the animal was wasted with indigenous people. Be sure to consume only the highest quality, grass-fed, organic organ meats. This is imperative for health benefits.

You can order freeze-dried, grass-fed, org. bovine heart from: www.drrons.com

I hope this blog encourages you to think of the many ways that you can "tonify" your cardiovascular system. From a variety of ways to exercise, to herbs, to supplementation. I wish you many blissful miles of road and trail, and hope to see you out on them soon... Almine <3

"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second." ~William James