Our heart works around the clock to maintain a steady flow of oxygen, blood, and hormones throughout our body; It is no wonder that this important organ requires maximum care for smooth functioning. When it comes to heart health measures, most of us stick to our daily exercise and nutrient-dense meals, but face the threat of heart attack and cardiac arrest at some point. This can be due to pre-existing illness, family history or even poor mental health with unrelieved stress, depressive tendencies and anxiety issues. (Also read: Cardiologist on hidden causes of heart attack during physical activity, how to prevent it)
While screening is important for those with high risk factors or a family history, to protect our cardiovascular health overall, it’s important to follow a routine that takes care of most of your risk factors. The ancient practice of yoga is gaining popularity for its holistic approach to health. There are asanas, pranayama techniques, and meditation practices that help relieve stress, exercise vital organs, bones, and muscles, and help reverse the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
“Yoga, an ancient practice originating in India, has gained worldwide recognition not only as a form of physical exercise but also as a holistic health discipline. It includes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). which together can have a beneficial effect on heart health,” says Dr. Indranil Basu Ray, cardiologist and electrophysiologist.
“Many studies have looked at the effects of yoga on heart health. For example, research published in prestigious journals highlights the positive effects of yoga on various cardiovascular risk factors. Systematic reviews also suggest that yoga may be beneficial for people with hypertension. and metabolic syndrome,” says the expert.
Dr. Indranil says yoga has a calming effect on our nervous system, which can help reduce stress and manage blood pressure. Yoga also helps reduce bad cholesterol and improve lipid profile, apart from controlling blood sugar levels.
Here are some ways yoga can help our heart health:
1. Blood pressure managementHypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease. Yoga has been shown to help lower blood pressure through its calming effects on the nervous system, which can improve arterial relaxation and reduce stress levels, both of which are helpful in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
2. Stress reductionChronic stress can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, and over time can damage the cardiovascular system. Yoga’s emphasis on deep breathing and relaxation can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
3. Improved lipid profileRegular yoga practice is associated with better lipid profiles, including lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, as well as increased HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease.
4. Weight management. Obesity is a well-established risk factor for heart disease, and yoga can be an effective tool for weight management. While not all forms of yoga are active, many styles can help burn calories, and even gentler forms of yoga can help control weight by reducing stress and improving focus, which can reduce emotional eating.
5. Anti-inflammatory effectInflammation is a key component of heart disease. Yoga can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which is beneficial for heart health. Yoga practice has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, which are associated with cardiovascular disease.
6. Improved physical fitnessAlthough yoga is often considered a low-impact activity, it can improve physical fitness, including increasing aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility, and balance. Improving general fitness can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
7. Enhanced mind-body awareness. Yoga enhances self-awareness and focus, which can lead to better choices regarding diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle, thereby indirectly benefiting heart health.
8. Support to stop smoking. Yoga can also support smoking cessation efforts. Because smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, yoga’s potential role in helping people quit smoking could have significant benefits for heart health.
9. Management of diabetesYoga can be part of a lifestyle intervention to manage diabetes, a condition that significantly increases the risk of heart disease. By helping with glycemic control and weight management, yoga can be a useful adjunct to other diabetes treatments.
How to incorporate yoga into your routine for heart health
Incorporating yoga into a heart health regimen should ideally seek out qualified yoga instructors who can tailor the practice to individual needs, especially for those with heart disease. It is important to start with gentle exercises and gradually progress to more advanced postures and techniques as your fitness level improves.
Although yoga can be an effective tool for prevention and management, it should complement, not replace, traditional medical care for heart disease.
Yoga exercises for heart health
Incorporating yoga into your routine can be very beneficial for better heart health. Here are some specific yoga practices and tips that can help promote cardiovascular health, as suggested by Dr. Indranil:
Certain asanas or yoga postures are known to help improve heart health by improving blood circulation, reducing stress, and improving the flexibility of blood vessels. Some postures that are often recommended include:
⦁ Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Improves posture and breathing, which forms the basis for other asanas.
⦁ Vrikshasana (Tree poseA balancing pose that helps with mental focus and circulation.
⦁ Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose). This asana can help regulate blood pressure.
⦁ Uttanasana (standing forward bend)Calms the nervous system and helps reduce stress.
⦁ Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). Opens the chest and improves respiratory function.
⦁ Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose). Improves circulation and breathing.
⦁ ArdhaMatsyendrasana (Seated Half Spinal Twist). Stimulates the heart and improves spinal flexibility.
⦁ Pavanamuktasana (wind-relieving pose). Aids in the release of digestive gas and improves metabolism, indirectly contributing to heart health.
⦁ Savasana (Corpse pose). Known for its deeply relaxing effects, it helps reduce stress and can lower blood pressure.
Pranayama or breathing techniques can be helpful in controlling the breath, which can play a crucial role in managing stress and thus heart health.
Some effective breathing exercises include:
⦁ AnulomVilom (alternative breathing through the nostrils). It is known to have a calming effect on the nervous system and can help balance blood pressure.
⦁ Bhramari Pranayama (Breath of bees). It has a calming effect and can help lower blood pressure.
⦁ Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath). Its rhythmic pattern can enhance cardiovascular function and help relieve stress.
⦁ Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling breath). Can lower blood pressure and calm the mind.
⦁ Dirga Pranayama (Three part breath). Encourages full oxygen exchange and is deeply relaxing to the autonomic nervous system.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can reduce stress and have been linked to lower heart rate and blood pressure.
Techniques may include:
⦁ Guided meditation. A guided meditation may be easier for beginners to follow.
⦁ Mindfulness meditation. Focuses on the present moment, which can reduce stress and anxiety.
⦁ Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra, or “yogi sleep,” is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, and is a powerful relaxation technique for the mind and body.
⦁ Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups, which can help lower blood pressure and heart rate.
⦁ Visualization. Visualizing relaxing scenes or experiences can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, offering cardiovascular benefits.
How beginners should approach yoga for heart health
Start slowlyIt is important for beginners to start slowly to avoid any strain or injury. Start with the basic posture and gradually increase the difficulty and duration of the practice.
Consistency is keyRegular practice gives better results. Even a short daily session is more beneficial than an infrequent long session.
Listen to your bodyListen to your body’s cues when practicing yoga. If a pose or breathing exercise causes discomfort, relax or consult a yoga instructor for modifications.
Seek professional guidanceIt is advisable to practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor, especially for people with pre-existing heart problems.
Combine with other lifestyle changesYoga should be part of a broader lifestyle change that includes a balanced diet, regular aerobic exercise, and stress management for optimal heart health.
Avoid high-intensity exercise if not comfortableSome high-intensity yoga exercises may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with heart disease. Exercises such as hot yoga or power yoga should be approached with caution.
MoisturizeStaying hydrated is especially important when doing yoga, which increases sweating.
Integrate with medical careThe practice of yoga should complement traditional medical care for those with heart problems. Always discuss with a health care professional before beginning a new yoga practice.
“By incorporating these yoga practices and tips into daily life, individuals can effectively support their heart health. It should be noted that while yoga can significantly promote cardiovascular health, it should not replace conventional medical treatment for existing heart conditions. It is better to see yoga as a complementary approach to a heart-healthy lifestyle,” concludes Dr. Indranil.
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