Whether you suffer from heart disease or simply want to maintain a healthy heart, you might want to give yoga a try. A growing body of research shows yoga can significantly boost heart health. M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., Founder and Director of Cardiac Yoga, explains how yoga can help both prevent and reverse cardiac disease. She also shares a few gentle yoga poses to try at home.
Benefits of Yoga on Heart Health
“In general,” says M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., Founder and Director of Cardiac Yoga, “research has shown a yoga-based model can help prevent as well as reverse heart disease and can impact many health issues. The Cardiac Medical Yoga Model helps assist patients in all areas of health stabilization and/or recovery, which includes the physical, mental and emotional components.”
Cunningham explains that heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and other medical issues can be debilitating, not just physically, but also are very challenging on a mental and emotional level. She says yoga provides tools, strategies and techniques to help patients prevent heart disease as well as rehabilitate from heart disease.
“Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental and emotional well-being,” explains Cunningham. “Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits.”
Yoga poses for heart health
Here are a few cardiac yoga postures provided by avid yogi, Angela Wozniak, that you can try at home.
Chair spinal twist
Sit in a straight-back chair with a flat seat. Sit sideways on the seat with your feet flat on the floor. Use a pillow under your feet or bottom if needed in order to make sure your knees are level with your hips and your feet touch the floor. Place your hands on the chair back as you gently stretch your rib cage upward and gently allow your upper body to twist as far as it is comfortable. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds as you breathe in and out deeply. Gently release, then turn your body so you are sitting on the opposite side of the chair and repeat the twist in the opposite direction.
Place your hands and knees on the floor with your knees directly below your hips and your hands directly below your shoulders. Gently tuck your chin while arching your back toward the ceiling. Breathe deeply and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Slowly release, then lift your chin toward the ceiling and your tailbone upward, allowing your spine to curve toward the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds while continuing to breathe deeply.
Floor spinal twist
Sit on the floor and stretch your legs straight out in front of you. Feel free to place a pillow or towel underneath your bottom for comfort. Place your right ankle over your left ankle. Place your right hand behind your back, a few inches from your spine, with your fingertips pointing away from your body. Gently turn your body and lift your ribcage to the right. Rest your left arm in your lap or on the floor next to your right hip if it is comfortable to do so. Gently twist your torso, shoulders and head to the right while breathing deeply in and out for 20 to 30 seconds or until you have had enough. Gently release, return to center and then repeat this sequence on the opposite side.
Modified shoulder stand
Begin by sitting sideways on a blanket or pillow in front of a chair. Gently turn your body, lie on your back and place your feet on the chair as shown. Let your arms rest gently on the sides of your body. Relax and breathe deeply for 2 to 3 minutes or until you have had enough. Release by gently releasing your legs from the chair, rotating to one side and coming to a seated position.
Need more balance in your life? Learn how to do a balance-building Tree Pose here.