Traditional yoga exercises frequently use hyperventilation breath exercises that seem completely at odds with the Simulated Altitude Training program. Modern science can tell us more, and in some cases correct ancient beliefs. Question your beliefs and get the full picture.
Yoga was not designed as a performance tool, but rather as a tool for personal and spiritual growth. As humanity evolves, so does the view on what traditional teachings can offer us.
So many of the ‘masters’ of Yoga, who are so slavishly deified by their followers, were renegades and hell-bent on exploring and pushing their own limits and the limits of the Yoga they were practising within. Some of their exploits are so extreme as to be incapable of being followed by modern followers, so whether or not the attainment of all they promise is possible we may never know. The era they lived in was different to ours; their bodies were different, and their futures were different as well.
Physically, mankind is at a much lower capacity than our ancestors. We are familiar with hearing the stories of our ancestors resembling modern-day Olympians, physiques built by eating seasonally and walking to and fro, from sea to mountains.
The case of Ötzi, the naturally mummified man who dated from 3,300 BCE is a case in point of power and physical capability. We look to programs like the Paleo Diet and Eastern medicine to give us back the positive factors of health our ancestors enjoyed. That said, our ancestors lived fast and died young, and human evolution requires we take the positive factors of our previous generations learning and add them to our modern-day understanding.
Very few of us would want to live the daily life of a wandering caveman, constantly on the lookout for berries and mushrooms while eyeing the gathering storm clouds above the mountains just for the sake of a few extra muscles. But this is exactly the environment that Pranayama came from; a real human need to create exercises that overcome and surpass human capability just to survive.
Modern-day life demands more from humans now than any point in history; Longer working days, less nutritious foods, larger families, less rest and less social support. The ancient philosophies, like those of Yoga who gave breathing techniques only to certain individuals who could commit to a life of study and asecitism do not apply in the same way. Now, more than any time in history, health-giving exercises and teachings must be made available to all, to be practised and mastered so as to aid in human evolution and performance.
For modern-day athletes and coaches, Yoga has well-documented histories and exercises, and by including Pranayama and Ayurveda we can add to the breath and postures nutritional guidelines, and up to and including surgery.
Taking Pranayama into the sporting arena opens the door to exciting new levels of performance and R&D.
Current Altitude and Simulated Altitude Training is practised for the physiological and mental impact of Altitude, while adding Pranayama to the process adds breath flexibility and staged development of diaphragm and control.
What can Yoga add to Simulated Altitude Training?
Simulated Altitude Training reduces O2 in the bloodstream by using hypoxic exercises that stop the breathing for short periods of time (20 – 80 seconds) in cycles.
The Yoga practise of Ashtanga Vinyasa and Pranayama Khumbaka use both short and long apnees throughout the practise, and these become increasingly difficult as the heart rises under the positive stress of the exercises.
For our needs, Yoga can be broken down into its two parts:
1. Asana (physical practise)
2. Pranayama (breathing practise)
The phrase Yoga is ‘just stretching’ is common, and to most of the general public their image of Yoga is ‘rock-star’ Yoga teachers putting their feet behind their heads and annoying do-gooders at parties preaching their new-found health ideas thanks to Yoga and their just-finished 200 hour program. This image is the same image we had of environmentalists in the 1980’s being chained to trees and the current reality of environmentalists as Organic farmers and Sustainable food producers – very different to what was originally thought.
When we train at Altitude we breathe less oxygen, professional cyclists training above 2,500 metres liken this experience to breathing through a straw. They are breathing heavily, and their body fights to increase the length of their inhale to bring in as much oxygen as is possible.
Imagine for a moment you have a blocked nose, and are riding up a mountain with your mouth taped closed. This is a rough and dangerous simulation of Altitude, but it is essentially the same thing; physical exercise on insufficient oxygen (hypoxia).
This exercise during hypoxia is an integral part of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, where small apnees are made at the end of the exhale during the fast flow between postures. These apnees are sufficient to drop O2 down to 92%-95% which replicates exercise at Altitude.
The developers of modern Yoga did at times live in the stereotypical cave, including Sri Brahmachari, who lived in a cave at the foot of Mt Kailash, Tibet at 4500 metres of Altitude.
It was here in this cave that the father of modern-day Yoga Sri T Krishnamacharya spent 7 years learning 3000 Yoga postures (Asana) and breathing practise (Pranayama), all the while using breathing at Altitude as a mechanism to perform phenomenal physical feats. It is here that we start to realise that training at Altitude has been researched, developed and practised intensely, with documentation and examples freely available throughout the world.
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