Yoga and Heart Health

Published by Annie Barrett: 
March 7, 2021

Recently, we have been focusing on heart health in my weekly yoga class series. A key resource for this class has been the book Yoga for Healthy Aging by Baxter Bell.

According to Bell, yoga is great for the heart because it incorporates active exercises, resting and restorative poses, and stress management practices.

These are the ways yoga benefits the heart:

Yoga exercises the heart,
When we practice longer holds in yoga poses or do a dynamic sequence of poses, we get the heart pumping which strengthens the heart muscle in a healthy way.

Yoga rests the heart
When we do restorative and resting poses, we slow the heart rate down and lower our blood pressure.

Yoga improves circulation
A well-rounded yoga practice supports healthy circulation through the active contraction and relaxation of muscles. Inverted poses are beneficial for improving circulation because in these poses the veins move the blood toward the heart. These poses can also reduce swelling in the lower part of the body.

Yoga helps us reduce stress
One of the clearest ways in which yoga benefits the heart is through resting the heart and relaxing the body and mind. When we're stressed, our body's sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight response, causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline which narrows our arteries and increases blood pressure. This is good for getting away from the tiger but not good for our heart if this becomes frequent or chronic. Yoga helps the body turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest response, which helps us de-stress, lowering blood pressure and lowering levels of cortisol in the body. Practiced over time, yoga can help us be less reactive to stress and intense emotions.

Such stress management techniques also reduce inflammation which is understood to be a primary cause of obstructed arteries and contributes to the hardening of blood vessels. Further, stress management can lead to maintaining a healthy weight which is important for overall heart health.

Resources/articles on yoga and heart health
Yoga for Healthy Aging by Baxter Bell
How Yoga May Enhance Heart Health by Harvard Health
The Heart Yoga Connection by Johns Hopkins Medicine

Interested in starting a yoga practice?
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