Whenever you search “yoga for heart health,” over 300 million results pop up. Seems everyone agrees that yoga is good for your heart. Surgeons, medical doctors, and many cardiac hospitals all agree with people like me — simple yoga teachers who are not medically trained — that yoga improves your heart.
In fact, it seems everyone agrees that any yoga will be good for your heart. However, in reviewing the best of the health recommendations, what I’ve found is that yoga poses break down into three major categories: twists and folds, chest openers, and safe inversions. All of these are a part of why yoga is so effective — they help you break out of your stress cycle, which can be a major contributor to heart disease.
If you have time to do a complete yoga session, be sure to warm up and cool down. On my YouTube Channel I help you with that using my Efficient Warm Up Series. Finishing with Savasana (Corpse Pose) while you use a meditative mind. If you don’t have enough time to do a complete session, you can gently sprinkle yoga into your daily life at home or in your office. If you don’t even have time for that, then just pause and take a few deep breaths.
Opportunities to twist are all around you. Twists help to cleanse and stimulate all the organs and soft tissues housed in the torso not just the heart. The trick to make twists effective is to move slowly and hold them deeply keeping your belly relaxed and your breath small. They can be done easily whenever you are sitting by grounding both feet, cross left hand to your right leg, and rotate to the right. Holding your hand to your leg is your Counter Point, the place of stabilization that helps you go deeper into the twist. Twist both sides.
Like twists, forward folds involve squeezing. Folds consist of bending so you are pressing your belly and chest into your legs. If you’re sitting, be sure you lift up out of your hips and low back before you place your torso on your lap. Note that these forward folds are different from doing ones to stretch your hamstrings. For hamstring stretches to evolve that require a Belly Well — a space you create by separating your legs to make room for your belly to fold into. Any of the belly-down poses — Cobra, Boat, or Locust, for example — will also create this press of your belly and chest.
There’s an abundance of chest openers in yoga — bow, camel, cobra, and fish, just to name a few. Any pose that squeezes the shoulder blades together will lift the heart center. If you’re at the office, scoot to the front of your chair, grounding both feet with the legs apart. Reach back behind you with both hands to grab the back of your chair. Then press your chest forward and up. Sliding your hands higher behind you will increase your effort. Release and relax. Follow with a forward fold as a counter-stretch, if you have the time.
It’s important, if you carry any extra weight, that you only do safe, supported inversions like Legs Up-the-Wall or Up-the-Chair, or Bridge pose. Your strap can help you lift and hold when doing Bridge. Lasso the strap around your ankles, holding onto both ends of the strap with your arms beside you. Or, do supported Bridge by sliding bolsters or blocks under your hips.
With all of life and health, it’s important to find balance. While yoga can do a lot to help our heart health, yoga can’t do it alone. Adding weight training and your favorite cardio can complete your heart health routine. If you’re unable to go to the gym, make a home gym with makeshift weights, using cans, filled bottles, or bags with cans and bottles inside.
For your cardio, if you’re unable to run, swim or cycle, or just find yourself stranded in the office in need of a cardio boost, try chair dancing. Whether you dance while in a chair, or standing, dance along with this Cat Dance! Find the beat, find the fun in moving. Add some of your own moves too — don’t forget to breathe.
After you’re finished dancing or stretching take a few integration breaths and notice the way your body feels. Take note of your heartbeat, the moisture on your skin, your muscles’ reaction to moving in so many different new ways. Then feel the smile that’s now found its way onto your face.
Be safe, be creative, and move mindfully, remembering there’s no pain in yoga.
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