Maintain a Healthy Heart with Yoga
by Angie Newson
A Yoga and Pilates Expert
It's pretty easy to improve the health of our heart in the physical sense. Located in the centre of the chest (slightly to the left), the heart is a muscle the size of a clenched fist. It's function is to pump blood around the body - the right side collecting oxygen-depleted blood and the left side pumping out the fresh clean oxygenated blood. With regular exercise and a healthy, nutritious diet, we can help it to do its job, preventing disease.
We all lead very busy lives, and that's no excuse - it really isn't very difficult to incorporate exercise into our daily routine if we can't get to a gym. We often hear how beneficial it is for our body to take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, so do so; when cleaning the house, think of it as a circuit class called 'House Attack'; vigorously walk your dog (or borrow one!) and don't just sit watching your kids play in the park, join in. There are lots of easy, quick and proven ways we can increase our daily activity levels - there really is no excuse.
To improve and maintain our healthy heart, we need to regularly raise our heart rate and break out in to a sweat (but still be able to have a conversation). Check out your health club or leisure centre's class schedule and look for cardio classes and strength and endurance sessions. The new HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions are great if you are time short - just 20 minute or 30 minute blasts 3 times a week improves cardio health and body shape and tone in no time.
Aim to incorporate Pilates and yoga into your schedule too. Pilates offers you a chance to lengthen and strengthen your body and although not strictly called cardio exercise, is still a tough and doable workout that improves core strength, flexibility, co-ordination and most importantly our breathing. Yoga helps us become more aware - more aware of what's going on for us on the inside as well as the outside and learning breathing exercises helps improve concentration, circulation - rejuvenating the blood - and lifts our mood.
It is a fact that heart disease kills more people than any other illness, and by taking a holistic approach (diet and exercise), the pharmaceutical companies (who make billions and billions of pills and billions and billions of pounds) are starting to shake in their big factories and flashy offices. Notice how quickly your doctor writes out prescriptions! I'm not in any way suggesting if you are on medication to just stop, but by incorporating an enjoyable exercise programme into your life, including some yoga, you may well be able to reduce the need for medication.
Stress is the biggest contributor to heart disease and as Dr Dean Ornish, the founder of the Preventative Medicine Institute in California explains, "Chronic emotional stress makes plaque build-up twice as fast in the coronary arteries that feed the heart. Stress also causes the coronary arteries to constrict, reducing blood flow to the heart. It makes the platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots that may precipitate a heart attack." He goes on to say that yoga is probably the most effective stress-reduction method ever invented.
In yoga we improve our heart health, our mind and our body, and yoga helps us heal by smoothing away emotional pain, leading us to lightness, balance and openness. Particularly backbends can help shine the light from our hearts, bringing past pain to the surface to acknowledge and diffuse, creating expansion and softness. Yogic relaxation helps us feel calmer and quite, and the methods learned in yoga helps us deal with the life-sucking stress and anxieties going on in our world. Our self-esteem and confidence improves and we become more aware of our inner-power, becoming more patient, better able to deal with anger constructively and intuitively, more accepting and more loving. Helping others less fortunate than ourselves (even if it's cute animals) and doing charity work also improves our heart health.
Take up yoga; it's good for the heart - in many more ways than one!