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CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: Yoga for the Heart

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

When I was younger, long before becoming yoga certified I heard a story of a man who was a yogi and could control his own heartbeat. The story went on to describe a man who could lower his heartbeat just by thinking about it. I remember sitting there in disbelief, as if this man was some kind of superhero. I thought to myself, “he must be a jedi to have complete control over his body like that.” Over time, and after studying yoga myself, it became clear to me that it wasn't some direct on or off button. But rather, the product of a sustained practice of connecting mind and body. Through steady and controlled breathing patterns you can, in fact, relax your muscles and lower your heart rate. Although the yogi man is still impressive, the headline for the story most certainly glossed over the years of practice this type of bodily sovereignty requires. Yoga seems like an expensive and out of reach discipline for many groups but with cardiovascular disease on the rise this begs the question: Can yoga serve as a practical cardiovascular exercise?


The cardiovascular system is of the utmost importance and you don’t need to be a doctor or scientist to know how crucial this organ is for your overall health. The blood that pumps through your heart provides your body with essential oxygen and nutrients.

With high stress levels and poor exercise habits we can develop heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and so on. According to Dr. Helene Glassberg, cardiologist at the Penn Heart and Vascular Center, “Yoga, like other forms of exercise, can improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels by improving metabolism, and can lower blood pressure by improving artery relaxation.” Another study indicates that practice of yoga triggers a neurohormonal mechanisms that bring about health benefits which can cause positive changes in the cardiac system and decrease chances of heart disease (Jayasinghe, 2004). Conventionally accepted exercises for heart health have been rigorous activities such as cycling, running, and swimming. Although I adore these activities, it does not escape me that all of them require access to safe outdoor spaces, optimal weather conditions, and connection to luxuries such as pools and bike trails. Realistically, this is not everybody’s reality. This my friend, is where yoga comes into play.


Not only can you do yoga in the comfort of your own home but there are HEAPS of free resources and classes available on the internet. Ranging from beginner level to advanced, all you need is your body and a positive open mindset. Seriously! You don’t even need a mat or any props, you can simply use whatever is available to you. For example, books can serve as makeshift blocks and a soft carpeted area can serve as your mat. This practice is readily available to ALL communities, all incomes, all body types, and every cohort imaginable contrary to popular belief.


Think of your heart as an engine and yoga as a maintenance visit to your local auto shop. You wouldn't deny your car an oil change, so why deny your body of much needed regulation and maintenance? If you are reading this and you are wondering how you can get started with an at home yoga practice, let me give you a few pointers. First off, forget what you think you know about yoga. It isn't about Lululemon yoga pants or green juices. It is about feeling SAFE in your body. Safe enough to leave the mind, and fully experience what it is like to be present with your bodily sensations. With sustained yoga and breathing practice you can be just like the yogi at the beginning of this blog. You too can have sovereignty over your heart health, relax your muscles, and lower your blood pressure.


Yoga With Adriene is a youtube channel with hundreds of free yoga videos. This is how I got my start in yoga and let me tell you, it was life changing. Below is a link for a quick heart centered yoga that is fit for all levels.



I also have listed below a few of my favorite yoga poses for the heart:


  • The Tree Pose - Simply stand up tall, heart over hips, hips over pelvis. Root down in all four corners of your feet. Lift your left foot to the ankle, just below the knee joint, or just above the knee joint (never directly on your knee joint) and press the left foot into the right ankle or thigh. Press your palms together creating resistance and find a focus point. If you feel comfortable, allow your hands and arms to spread wide towards the ceiling. Imagine you are a tree, deeply rooted (Legs) but branches are growing (Arms).

  • The Standing Forward Bend: Stand up tall, heart over pelvis, pelvis over hips. Root down in all four corners of your feet. Hinge at your hips, keeping your back as straight as you can, also being generous and bending in the knees, let your upper body fold over your hips. If your fingers can touch the ground, amazing. If not no worries, grab a book or something that brings the ground to you. Shake your head a little yes, a little no. Clasp opposite elbows and just sway.

  • The Downward Facing Dog Pose: From a Forward Bend Pose, place your hands flat on the ground. Step your left foot back, then right, finding yourself in plank. From plank position, press your hips up and back into downward dog. Let your head hang and take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.


Yoga is an amazing exercise for your heart physically AND spiritually. With a sustained practice like this your mental and physical health can take leaps and bounds. Forget the additives and extra money, just bring your body and an open heart and see what yoga can do for you.


At IVY Integrative, you can work with one practitioner or build your own team of holistic practitioners! Reach your optimum health in-person or online. Check out our Get Started page to learn how to work with us!


Author: Mickey Hardy





References:


  1. Jayasinghe, S. R. (2004, October 1). Yoga in cardiac health (a review). OUP Academic. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://academic.oup.com/eurjpc/article/11/5/369/5932628

  2. The Yoa Heart Connection (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-yoga-heart-connection


Disclaimer:


This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.


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