Every time you begin your practice, you take a big step toward keeping your heart healthy. Yoga’s emphasis on relaxation adds to the impressive array of benefits — increased lung capacity, better respiratory function, and overall strength — that any activity offers. So, you’re already on the right track. Tailoring your yoga practice to your heart once in a while can enhance those positive effects even more.
Many of the risk factors of heart problems are lifestyle related, which is a big part of why cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. But, your risk factor isn’t just determined by physical factors like diet and exercise. The pressures in your life also have a major impact on your heart, in both the literal physical sense and the metaphysical one. According to cardiovascular health legend Dean Ornish, chronic stress can double the rate of plaque buildup in vital arteries around your heart. So, calming down is just as crucial as eating healthy and staying active.
Fortunately, you already have your yoga in your heart-health toolkit. When you go to class or practice at home, you know the feeling of release you enjoy. It’s easier to let go of the stresses of your day as you move through each pose. What you may not be as aware of is that some poses focus on the heart and, many yoga schools believe, can offer additional benefits.
Here are a few poses to try:
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Benefits: This gentle twist creates space in your spine and upper back, helping you relax.
How to do it: Start by sitting on a folded blanket or the floor. Bend your knees and cross your left leg under your right, letting your left knee open so that the outside of your left foot is on the floor. Bring your right leg over so that your right foot is on the ground by your left thigh. On an exhale, twist to your right and put your right hand by your right hip. You can bring your left arm to wrap around your right leg, or snug your left elbow into your right knee. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: This restorative pose helps you slow down your thoughts and relieve stress.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Benefits: This ultimate relaxation pose invites stress to drip away from you.
How to do it: Lie face up on your mat. Extend your legs gently in front of you and let your hips rotate naturally (your feet will probably turn somewhat outward). Place your hands by your sides, palms up. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Let the tension leave all your muscles. Remain here for five minutes, then roll onto one side and come up.
Breathe. It might sound obvious, but remembering your breath as you practice amps up the heart-health benefits. Try Ujjayi breathing (victorious breath), focusing on deep, even inhalations and exhalations.
Open your heart. Sometimes, The best thing for your heart is sharing it with others. Donating your time to a good cause is good for your mental and physical state. Try checking with your yoga studio to see what charitable endeavors they support and how you can help.
Remember, too, that as you practice, your mind may wander. Unless it’s going in a negative direction, let it be. Sometimes, that mental break is a great stress reliever. If you want to direct your focus inward, visualize tightness and pressure leaving your body.