Heart health concerns are no longer limited to seniors. Many recent studies have shown more than 30% of heart patients are under 40. With climbing amounts of stress, irregular routine, unhealthy diets and sleep schedules, it’s no surprise. Many are living sedentary lifestyles with little to no exercise.
The good news is many experts and studies have shown the positive impact of yoga on cardiovascular health. 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.” In fact, Hugh Calkins, M.D., director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins says, “A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health. There’s been a major shift in the last five years or so in the number of cardiologists and other professionals recognizing that these benefits are real.”
How does Yoga benefit Heart Health?
Yoga is known to relax the mind and body, release stress and anxiety, as well as lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation. It also lowers bad cholesterol levels, improves heart rate and lung capacity. It takes time, effort and determination to commit to a healthier lifestyle and a regular practice. But if a few simple stretches and breathing exercises can work a preventive measure, then why not commit to it?
Yoga as a stress-reliever
Yoga is one of the best ways to relax the mind and body and let go of stress. Stress can cause numerous physiological problems, increase cortisol and adrenaline levels which will narrow your arteries and increase blood pressure. Yoga asanas and breathing exercises can greatly help balance this effect.
Yoga boosts metabolic markers
Yoga lowers blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels. It reduces the heart rate effectively. A study shows that slow-paced yoga classes twice a week reduced the frequency of atrial fibrillation episodes in patients with the condition. In another report, patients with heart failure who went through an eight-week yoga program showed improvement in exercise capacity and quality of life. They also had lower blood levels of markers for inflammation, which contributes to heart disease.
Yoga improves lifestyle
Yoga helps improve mindfulness which helps overcome unhealthy habits like smoking, bad diets, irregular sleep patterns, etc. Once lifestyle improves, automatically your well-being will improve.
Yoga makes you active
Overcome a sedentary lifestyle with yoga. Stay active, stretch and strengthen muscles, improve balance and flexibility with yoga. When you are active, blood circulation improves, toxins are released and your body is more balanced.
Yoga practices for heart health
Regular practice of yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation are all helpful. Here are a few yoga asanas for heart health.
Yoga postures for heart health
Always start your practice with warm-ups. A few stretches and rounds of surya namaskar will be helpful. It’s best to join a live yoga class and practice under the guidance of a teacher.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
A simple heart opening posture, this asana It works on your shoulders and allows you to improve your posture as well.
How to do tree pose:
- Stand with your arms by the side of your body. Slowly bend the right knee and place the right foot high up on your left thigh. The sole of the foot should be placed flat and firmly on the thigh.
- Keep the left leg straight. Focus on your breath and find your balance.
- Once you are well balanced, inhale and gently raise your arms over your head from the side, and bring your palms together in Namaste.
- Look straight ahead in front of you, gazing at a single point to stay balanced.
- Gently as you exhale, bring your hands down and slowly release the leg.
- Repeat this with the other leg.
The Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
This posture improves your respiratory function and cardiovascular functioning. It expands the chest, strengthens the arms, legs and back muscles.
How to do chair pose:
- Stand straight and tall with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Inhale and lift your arms next to your ears, stretching them straight and parallel with wrists and fingers long. Keep your shoulders down and spine neutral.
- Exhale as you bend your knees, keeping your thighs and knees parallel. Lean your torso forward to create a right angle with the top of your thighs.
- Keep your neck and head in line with your torso and arms. Hold for a few breaths
The Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
This forward bend improves blood circulation to the brain, calming the mind. It helps relieve stress as well as tightness from the back muscles.
How to do standing forward bend:
- As you inhale, lift the arms upwards towards the sky/ceiling. As the biceps touch the ear, start bending back and keep the position of the head and arms intact. Stretch from the sides and the abdomen.
- Now, exhale and pull the stomach in. Start bending forward from the hip and try to bring the chest closer to the thighs.
- Place the hands next to your feet, or on the ground in front of you, keeping the elbows slightly bent. Inhale and look ahead.
- Exhale and bring the face closer to the knees. Relax the head and neck, and hold the posture for a few breaths.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This posture improves balance as well as calms the mind. It also stretches the back and chest region.
How to do downward facing dog:
- Come onto your fours. Form a table such that your back forms the table top and your hands and feet from the legs of the table.
- As you breath out, lift the hips up, straightening the knees and elbows. Your body will form an inverted V-shape.
- Hands are shoulder width apart, feet are hip width apart and parallel to each other. Keep the toes pointed straight ahead.
- Press your hands into the ground. Widen through the shoulder blades. Keep the neck lengthened by touching the ears to the inner arms.
- Hold the downward dog pose and take long deep breaths. Look towards the navel.
- Exhale, bend the knees, return to table pose and relax.
Bow pose (Dhanurasana)
The bow pose opens up and strengthens the heart region. It is stimulating for the abdominal organs, digestive system and strengthens the back. It also effectively corrects bad posture.
How to do bow pose:
- Lie flat on the stomach with the legs and feet together, and the arms and hands beside the body.
- Bend the knees and bring the heels close to the buttocks. Grip the ankles with the hands.
- Keep the knees and thighs firmly on the floor and the arms straight throughout the practice.
- Place the chin on the floor.
- Tense the legs and lift the feet backward while raising the head and chest as high as possible from the floor without straining.
- Use the backward movement of the legs to assist the raising of the body, allowing the back muscles to remain passive. In the final position, the gaze is upwards without compressing the neck.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
This posture is extremely effective for heart health. It opens up the chest, improving respiration and cardiovascular function. It also corrects bad posture. The asana works on your abdomen and helps reduce stress and fatigue as well.
How to do cobra pose:
- Lie flat on the stomach with the legs straight, feet together and the soles of the feet facing upwards.
- Place the palms of the hands flat on the floor, below and slightly to the side of the shoulders, with the fingers together and pointing forward.
- Position the arms so that the elbows point backward and are close to the sides of the body.
- Rest the forehead on the floor and close the eyes.
- Relax the whole body, especially the lower back. Now slowly raise the head.
- Straighten the elbows, using the back muscles first, then the arm muscles to raise the trunk further and arch the back.
- In the final position, the pubic bone remains in contact with the floor and the navel is raised a maximum of 3 mm.
- The arms may or may not be straight; this will depend on the flexibility of the back.
The Bridge pose (Setubandhasana)
The bridge pose strengthens the whole body, improving balance. It opens up the chest, improves blood circulation and strengthens the muscles in the back and chest region. It also helps relieve stress.
How to do bridge pose:
- Lie on the mat with your back firmly on the floor
- Bend the legs at the knees. Knees should be pointing towards the ceiling. Keep the legs hip-width apart.
- Arms should be by the side of the body with the psalm near the feet.
- Now slowly start by lifting the back and then the chest off the mat. Tuck the chin into the chest.
- Stay here and take slow deep breaths.
- After a couple of minutes slowly lower the back and then the chest onto the mat.
Other exercises for heart health
Apart from the above postures, one can practice the following:
Research shows calf stretches are beneficial for heart health. This is linked to how cardiovascular exercises are good for heart health. The American Heart Association cites decades of research concerning how cardiovascular exercise helps to improve heart health. It lowers levels of the bad cholesterol, increases insulin sensitivity, lowers blood pressure and reduces body weight. All of these contribute toward better heart health. This is also why walking is always recommended for good heart health.
Hand grip exercises
Handgrip strength is associated with lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), lower blood sugar, and higher HDL (good) cholesterol. It is known to reduce stress and improve mental stability. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in December 2015 found that people with stronger hand grips had more favourable findings on measures of their cardiovascular health than those with weaker grips.
Breathing Exercises for Heart Health
Regular practice of Pranayama keeps the body balanced, calm and stress-free. It will improve lung capacity, and the functioning of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The best Pranayama for heart health are alternate nostril breathing as this practice will release stress, improve blood circulation and induce a sense of peace and calm; humming bee breathing will release stress and bring about a tranquilizing effect on the body; oceans breathing is also extremely effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and inducing peace and calm.
Meditation and Relaxation
Take out 15-20 minutes a day to practice meditation and Yoga Nidra. These practices will keep stress at bay by keeping your nervous system balanced. Over time, you will be more mindful of everything you do - your diet, how much movement you have had in a day, your thoughts, and any stressful triggers. Start slow with just 5-10 minutes a day and slowly increase or join a live class and practice under a teacher’s guidance.