According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, causing about 1.5 million heart attacks each year. Recent research has shown yoga and meditation to reduce blood pressure, lower the pulse rate, improve the elasticity of the arteries, regulate heart rhythm, and increase the heart’s stroke volume. Yoga, in short, is good for your heart.
Stress is considered a major contributing factor in heart disease. Stressful situations raise your heart rate and blood pressure, and release stress hormones, which all can injure the heart and the blood vessels, especially during prolonged or repeated exposures. Yoga is widely known for its ability to reduce stress and promote a calm relaxed state, which in turn reduces stress hormones, decreases the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, helping to control and prevent heart disease.
The breath has a strong influence on the rhythm of the heart through the inner connections in the central nervous system. Slow deep breathing is encouraged by hatha yoga, pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) and verbal recitation of mantras. And this smoothing and lengthening of the breath slows the heart rate, regulates the heart rhythm, oxygenates the blood, and induces a feeling of calm and well-being. All of the benefits of establishing a slow steady breath rhythm have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Because of their effects on both the physical and energetic bodies, specific types of yoga postures can be used to control and prevent heart disease. Upper back-bending poses open the chest to improve heart function and respiration. Side-bending poses open the energy channels of the liver, gallbladder and heart to help remove physical and energetic blockages in the heart and chest. Spine lengthening poses promote good posture to reduce compression on the heart and lungs and to facilitate proper functioning of the heart. Shavasana (corpse or relaxation pose) is deeply calming and has been shown to reduce high blood pressure in just a few weeks. Inversions help to rest the heart muscle and improve blood circulation, but are contraindicated with unmedicated high blood pressure. Findings show that people who practice yoga and meditation at least three times a week may reduce their blood pressure, pulse and their overall risk of heart disease.
Meditation is renowned for its ability to calm the mind and reduce stress. It also can reduce heart-harmful emotions, such as anxiety, hostility and hopelessness. And studies have shown that a daily meditation practice can reduce the amount of fatty deposits in the arteries, as well as lower blood pressure.
Practicing yoga naturally leads one to choose a healthier lifestyle, which most often eliminates or minimizes heart disease’s dietary risk factors of refined sugar, alcohol, high cholesterol and fat rich foods, and caffeine.
While all of these yogic practices have been shown to help prevent and control heart disease, when they are practiced together they create powerful healing synergy on the heart. Dr. Dean Ornish’s famous study has shown that heart disease can not only be controlled, but can actually be reversed through diet, meditation, group support, and yoga.
A complete list of yoga postures that prevent and control heart disease is now available in our premium yoga therapy section. A yoga pose sequence for the Heart and Chest is available in our premium yoga sequence section.