Can Yoga help in the fight against heart disease? The American Heart Association recommends at least two hours and thirty minutes of “moderate intensity aerobic physical activity” per week. Unfortunately, traditional Yoga’s stretching, breathing, and meditation don’t meet those specifications, but that doesn’t mean Yoga can’t help.
According to M. Mala Cunningham, the counseling psychologist who founded Cardiac Yoga, the ancient healing art definitely improves physical, mental, and emotional health. Together with a healthy lifestyle, Cunningham thinks Yoga may actually help to reverse or prevent heart disease. At the very least, it benefits cardiac function.
We know that Yoga affects the nervous system in ways that benefit physical health. It strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation. Studies show that people who continue the practice for at least three months receive long-term benefits. Cholesterol and insulin levels go down, muscles grow stronger, and people feel happier and healthier overall.
Stress is a big factor in heart disease, but people who have heart problems also experience anxiety and depression related to chronic health conditions. Both disorders are common and respond quickly to Yoga. People also sleep better and have more energy, factors that make it easier to keep up healthier lifestyles, such as diet and connecting with friends.
The Scientific Evidence
· Meditation and Heart Attacks
Small studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation, which was introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s, has the ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. When tested by researchers at the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa and the Medical College of Wisconsin, patients in the group who practiced Yoga for several years had almost half the risk of heart attacks as the group who did not practice Yoga.
· Electrocardiograms and Yoga
At the Indian Institute of Technology, in India, researchers compared electrocardiograms of 42 healthy Yoga practitioners with 42 healthy non-Yoga practitioners. Ages ranged from 18 to 48. They found that “autonomic parasympathetic vagal control,” was stronger in those who practiced Yoga training, a factor that leads to healthier hearts.
Scientists at the University of Kansas Hospital studied a group of 49 patients with atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart beat. Subjects who practiced Yoga three times a week for three months reduced their episodes of irregular heart rhythm by approximately 50 percent. Yoga participants also had fewer problems with depression and anxiety.
Although it doesn’t treat the body in the same way that high impact aerobic exercise does, Yoga is definitely good for the heart. On top of that, it complements other exercises and reduces the risk of injuries.