What My Apple Watch Taught Me About My Yoga Practice

by Heidi Kristoffer

Alyssa's note: While drinking my morning coffee and reading various articles I found my spirit sister. Have any of you seen me without my apple watch? I thought if I could relate so easily I'm sure many of you can too! Of course, Yoga and Pilates are different. Read the article and I promise you will see how it applies to your Pilates practice and cardio training!

Hi, my name is Heidi and I am a fitness tracker junkie. #truestory

When the Apple Watch came out as not just a smart watch but a tracker too, I needed to get one! I was more than a little bit disappointed to find the incredibly limited list of activities the Apple Watch categorizes, which left the bulk of my workouts to the "other" category. But, being the tracker-lover that I am, I faithfully set the watch to "other" every time I started my yoga practice.

Unlike my previous tracker, which only counted steps, the Apple watch flashes every so often with notifications about my different heart rates. The results were fascinating, and not at all how I thought it would go. While I'm practicing some of the most challenging "advanced" yoga postures and moves like inversions, my heart rate drops super low (even below my resting heart rate), and during Kundalini breath exercises, like breath of fire, as well as during back bends, my heart rate sky rockets.

It left me wondering: If I can raise my heart rate that high with a breath exercise or a back bend, do I really need cardio? And what exactly does my heart rate say about the kind and quality of workout I'm getting? For answers, I went to an expert: Sara Seidelmann M.D., Ph.D., a Harvard researcher and health and nutrition expert.

What's In a Heart Rate? It's about more than just your workout. "Your underlying genetics, nervous system, and circulating chemicals and hormones—together—are responsible for [your heart rate]. If you're under stress, fatigued, or at different climates or altitudes, your heart rate can change," explains Seidelmann.

Turns out, yoga does more than tone your muscles; it also tones "the nerve supply to the vital organs of your body, such as your heart, brain, and digestive track," according to Seidelmann. That's one reason why it can lower a person's heart rate, like I noticed during my workouts. This is partially due to how it affects the body's autonomic nervous system. Yoga seems to increase parasympathetic tone (the "rest and digest" part, which decreases heart rate and blood pressure and increases digestion) and decrease sympathetic tone (the "fight or flight" mechanism which, when activated releases stress hormones and chemicals), "resulting in the benefit of lower resting heart rate and blood pressure as well as increased digestion and metabolism," says Seidelmann. "During the practice of yoga, the parasympathetic nervous system is generally inhibited and your heart rate and cardiac output increase as your muscles have a heightened demand for nutrients and oxygen to power movement," she says, but "in the long run, as you become more physically conditioned and fit, parasympathetic tone increases and your resting heart rate will fall."

Does a lower heart rate mean better health? "When your resting heart rate falls in response to the regular practice of yoga, your heart becomes more efficient, necessitating fewer beats per minute to perform the same job," explains Seidelmann. "The ventricles, or the main chambers of your heart, have more time to fill in between beats, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your heart muscle as well as to the other tissues of your body such as your skin, brain and digestive track."

Based on Seidelmann's wisdom above, practicing yoga may not only reduce your risk of heart disease, but it may help you to live longer. "Research has shown that heart rate is inversely correlated with longevity in all species, including humans," says Seidelmann. "So keep practicing yoga." Doctor's orders!

So, Do You Really Need Cardio? If breathing exercises or wheel pose can raise my heart rate and give me those health benefits, do I reeeeallly need cardio? Unfortunately for anyone who is looking for a reason not to run, "increased heart rate due to sympathetic activation does not carry the same benefits of aerobic exercise," says Seidelmann. "In a healthy person, raising your heart rate during aerobic exercise tells your body that your heart is working hard to fuel its tissues with nutrients and oxygen. And as you condition your body through regular workouts, the heart becomes stronger and more efficient and your muscles also get more efficient at extracting oxygen and nutrients from the blood." In general, workouts at lower intensity (around 65 percent of your maximal heart rate), like yoga, will burn less calories per minute but will be fueled primarily from fat stores, whereas workouts at a high intensity (90 percent of your maximal heart rate), like cardio, will burn more calories per minute but will be fueled primarily by carbohydrate stores. (Related: The Hidden Benefits of Exercise.)

Traditional yoga may not be the aerobic exercise my body needs, but based on my heart rate, I am toning my vital organs and burning calories primarily from my body's fat stores. And the kind of deep, thoracic breathing we practice in yoga "aerates the important lower portions of your lungs, increasing pulmonary function and respiratory strength and delivering more oxygen to your body," says Seidelmann. This will help your body better meet increased oxygen demands during more stressful situations (exercise or otherwise!).

How Heart Rate Can Enhance Your Yoga Practice Let's talk about the times during my yoga practice when my heart rate got super high, like during breath of fire, a heating breath often used in Kundalini yoga which involves taking short, sharp, even inhales and exhales through of your nose, pumping the air at your navel center. According to studies, sympathetic tone may increase during this type of breathing, which could result in a higher heart rate. In backbends like wheel, when I noticed my heart rate super high, Seidelmann surmises that the blood was pooling in the arms, head, and legs, which could cause a sudden shift in thoracic blood volumes, resulting in a reflexive increase in heart rate. (In handstand and forearm stand, Seidelmann notes that the opposite can occur, when the blood moves from the lower limbs to the upper body, resulting in the decrease in heart rate.)

Armed with all this new information, I made more of a point to consistently work in CrossFlowX (a hybrid yoga/HIIT I created) several times a week (either at home or at the studio where I teach, The Movement), to make sure that I was getting all of the benefits of yoga and all of the benefits of aerobic exercises. I used to think that if a flow was fast-paced enough or technically challenging enough, it would "count" as cardio. Now I know better. And hopefully, I'm now balancing the two a little more evenly. It's been said that yoga teachers teach the class they need. Apparently, I was teaching mine long before I knew I needed it!

Sara Seidelmann M.D., Ph.D., is a Harvard researcher and health and nutrition expert source for this story. Original published:

Apple Watch Blog


So many of you know how long that I have been anxiously awaiting the Apple watch. Well, it arrived on a Tuesday afternoon while I was jumping up and down in anticipation. I was so excited that I could barely get the box open.

It was a beautiful moment; my breath caught in my throat as I slowly opened the case. So lovely, nestled in the pristine and iconic white packaging. I was instantly smitten. I could not wait to get it on my wrist. Once I did I just looked at it for a few minutes. J

I really wish I knew someone with an Apple Watch, so I can play with the digital touch messages. I promise an update as soon as I can. The animated text messages are fun and customizable. So I have been sending odd smiley faces at every opportunity.

I have yet to decide on a watch face that I love but being able to change the face quickly and change the color to match my outfit has been entertaining. I do like that each watch face has shortcuts to frequently used apps. And speaking of apps….

I am really digging the Activity and Workout apps. The Activity App uses the built in heart rate monitor, the accelerometer, and if in range the gps built into your iphone to measure your activity, calories, burned and time standing. (Sitting is the new smoking.) There are three rings. Red is calories burned. Green is minutes of exercise and blue is standing. Each goal is a adjustable. However, Apple Watch is supposed to be smart and offer new goals every Monday. The more you wear the watch the more accurate it becomes. I am super excited to see where my goals are after a month of wear instead of just shy of one week.

And now to my concerns… What does Apple mean by water resistant? Splash proof and sweat proof. I know Tim Cook says that he showers with his Apple Watch on, but I’m too nervous for that. Besides I’m sure he receives better customer service than I can expect.

Should you buy one? I don’t know.

I’ve been wearing a smart watch for the past year. I am comfortable with its and my limitations. Will it eliminate the need for your phone? Absolutely not. Is it a handy tool, a fun toy? Without a doubt.

As I have said in the past fitness trackers are highly personal devices and they are not for everyone. If you currently use one and are interested in expanding what your fitness tracker can do investigate the Apple Watch.

You can always take a peek at mine at your next Pilates Session!

Until next time Delta Dolls!

xoxoxo AB

Fitness Trackers

In just three short weeks, the Apple watch will be available for pre-order. On the off chance that you haven’t heard me gushing about it, I am so excited! I realize that the first generation of new technologies usually comes with a few bugs, and that many of us wait for the second or third generation before dropping hundreds of dollars on a new gadget. This is very wise, but I just can’t wait!

Over the past two years, I have played with multiple fitness trackers, and here are my thoughts and experiences on my favorites:

Jawbone Up: I really like this one and it would be my number 1 if I hadn’t been through 7 bands in 12 months. The battery seems to die after three months of daily use. The customer service was always great and fast. My band would die and I would send and email it to customer service, and within 3-5 days I would have a new band. The companion app is my favorite, and I still use it with my Pebble watch (see below). In addition to tracking mileage, users can input different activities and adjust the length of time and intensity of the workouts. It tracks calories consumed, calories burned, weight, and distance; it also shows graphic representations of any two of these. My favorite is comparing calories consumed and burned. The Up also tracks sleeping, including light and deep sleep, although I don’t know what to do with this information. Pricing is $100-$125.

Misfit Shine: Looks like jewelry and different bracelets and necklaces can be purchased so that it really is jewelry. It runs off of a replaceable watch battery and is super easy to change. It has a strange blinking light watch function. I have a bad habit of wearing it upside down, so the time never makes sense. The Shine will tell you how many steps/miles you have moved and it assigns points for activity and congratulates you when you have reached your point goal. Syncing is super easy, as you just hold your phone near the Shine with the app open. The app is not as detailed as the Jawbone Up, but it is possible to add workouts, even though the selection is limited and the intensity is not adjustable. While there is not a food log, it does track sleep. Pricing is $100.

Pebble Watch: A smart watch, akin to what I would expect from a prequel to the Apple watch. It has a rechargeable battery that I charge every 3-4 days for about an hour. There is an app store with all sorts of different apps, from watch faces to fitness oriented to games. There is a blue tooth connection that allows it to work with both iOS and android phones. Yes, I receive notifications of phone calls, text messages, and reminders from my phone on my watch! I cannot respond to text messages via the watch, although there are apps that allows you to send canned responses. There is a remote control function that allows me to control the audio player from my phone. It even works with the Jawbone Up app, but syncing is not as smooth or as accurate as it is with the Up band, but this is not a deal breaker. The phone itself replaces the Up band! Pricing is $150.

Ultimately, the best fitness tracker is a subjective assessment; not everyone wants the same things from a fitness tracker. Many of you might not have any interest in seeing text messages on your wrist. If you are a watch person, most likely you will prefer a fitness tracker that is only a fitness tracker. Think about what exactly you want from your fitness tracker, and even try a few different trackers before committing.

Look for an update on the Apple watch and how much fun I am having with it in early May! - AB

6 Fitness & Health Apps to Download

Our cell phones have become a huge part of our life now, and we seem to have them on us every second of every day. Not only do they let us communicate with those we need to be in touch with, but they also have a seemingly endless amount of apps that range from games to business tools. Since we’re all about fitness and health, below are 5 apps that help to maintain your healthy lifestyle! And not to mention, they’re also free.

  1. MyFitnessPal: This is ranked as one of the top calorie counter apps, as it is easy and simple to use. It also has one of the largest food databases as well!
  2. Spring: This fun app makes working out more exciting, since you get to listen to a customized playlist as you go!
  3. Fooducate: This app is educational and easy to use, which is the best part about it. When you are at the grocery store, you can scan the barcode of an item of food, and it shows you the nutrition facts and even lists healthy alternatives. Still not sure? Look around and see the reviews of the app- it is hard to find one lower than 5 stars!
  4. Moves: Download this app for a great and simple tracker for everyday exercise. All you need to do is keep your phone in your pocket or your purse and you will have a full count of your daily steps and exercises!
  5. Lark: Lark is a health app that uses low-power sensors that tracks your daily activity, sleep, and eating. It is your “personal champion”, and it roots for you and encourages you to become an overall healthier person. You also have the option to chat with Lark, and gives you personalized progress reports.
  6. Fitocracy: This app is interactive and personal, allowing you to chat with others to inspire and motivate in your workouts, at the same time as focusing on your specific goals. You’ll feel as if you’re a part of a larger fitness community, making it more fun and challenging!