Celebrate Heart Health Month With Yoga!

The month of February is American Heart Health Month and what better way to celebrate than an article discussing the benefits of yoga in the prevention of heart disease. It is common knowledge that reducing stress is one of the many benefits of a regular yoga practice. Stress is one of the major contributing factors to heart disease and heart related illness. Engaging in yoga can reduce your stress levels and therefore decrease your chances of falling victim to heart disease.
(This article can also be found here )

Heart Disease and It’s Causes
What Is Heart Disease, as our friends at WebMD will remind us, it is the leading cause of death among men and women in the US every year. Heart disease is not just restricted to coronary artery disease, it envelops a broad range of heart related disorders including periocardial disease, heart muscle disease, vascular disease, abnormal heart rhythms or arrythmias, congenital heart disease and more heart related conditions. Most heart related conditions are a product of something called atherosclerosis or plaque building up on your artery walls for various reasons including genetics, diet, stress… This build up ends up constricting the blood flow through your arteries to your heart and can eventually lead to a complete stop in the blood flow or a heart attack or a strokeCauses of heart disease vary according to what type of heart disease you have, your genetical pre disposition, your diet and general level of exercise and health.
One factor that is coming under a greater understanding in terms of contribution to heart disease and prevention is your general level of stress and ability to manage it. Dr. Timothy McCall in his book “Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing” refers to Type A personality behaviors characterized by anger, hostility, over achievement , a sense of urgency about time, inappropriate competitiveness as contributing factors to to heart attack. High stress personalities tend to experience greater incidence of heart attacks because stress is a contributing factor to heart disease.

The American Institute of Stress cites in one of their online articles about Stress and Heart DiseaseIt has long been recognized that severe or sudden emotional stress could result in heart attack or sudden death”.  because responses to stress tend to activate the sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” response, increasing the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The Harvard Medical School Journal cites that “ stress hormones constrict blood vessels, speed up the heartbeat, and make the heart and blood vessels especially reactive to further stress ”. Yoga is a proven non competitive exercise that has powerful stress reducing effects, the stress reduction can translate into better heart health and heart disease prevention for the many people that suffer or could suffer from heart related illness or death.

Yoga and Stress Relief

Yoga comes in many forms and has many different schools of thought. Yoga practices that are breathe centered and focused on the connection between mind and body tend to have great stress relieving side effects when practiced regularly. The Mayo Clinic lists stress reduction as one of the primary potential benefits of doing yoga. The quiet and slow breathe centered movements in a yoga practice have a powerful ability to draw the mind’s attention away from our chaotic lives , inward, to the wonder of the body’s simple, yet vital, inner functionings of breathing, blood flow and movement. This mental and physical break offers the body a chance to replenish oxygen stores and truly rest, relax and reduce stress levels.

Breathe centered yoga can help get your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing stress as a contributing factor. Gentle yoga practices such as kundalini, restorative and yin yoga that engage the practitioner in deep breathing which has a powerful ability of increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of every breathe that you take in. The deeper breathing encouraged by these practices engages all parts of the lungs and offers a richer supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. Delivering more oxygen to the heart, more efficiently, through better breathing practices has been found to have a significant effect on contributing to the treatment and reversal of the symptoms of heart disease as Dr. Dean Ornish’s studies have shown. Studies have also demonstrated that yoga has an added effect of reducing cortisol levels, the stress hormones previously discussed to that can cause blood vessel constriction. The reduced stress and increased oxygen supply to the heart from a regular yoga practice can lead to a happier and healthier heart.

Give to Your Heart, Get Yogic!

There are so many ways to get involved in yoga in your community. You don’t need to be from San Francisco or India. There are studio’s almost everywhere and google will help you find them,  you can engage in potentially life saving, gentle yoga postures by accessing your high speed internet connection, contacting one of the many trained RYT at Yoga Alliance… (and consulting your local Dr if you are suffering from symptoms and signs of heart disease). The trick is to get your body breathing and moving, take your focus off of sweating and bring the focus to getting your body movement and breathe coordinated. You don’t need soak through your t-shirt with sweat to define the success of your exercise regime, you just need to breathe and move and your heart will thank you for it.

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