The statistics on heart disease vary depending on the source, but no matter where you look they are grim: as of 2005, 80 million Americans affected by some form of heart disease. High blood pressure: 73 million; coronary artery disease 16 million; strokes 6 million; and heart failure 5 million. Statistics on emotional heart health either aren’t available or reliable, but intuitively, we know that a good portion of the population is depressed, disturbed, or searching for answers to the trials and tribulations of modern life such as loneliness, job dissatisfaction, marital issues, and the challenges of raising children, all of which can lead to stress and anxiety-bad feelings in and of themselves, but also risk factors associated with physical heart disease. If you want to heal your heart physically as well as emotionally, embrace yoga.
Let’s Get Physical. Yoga can help you decrease the chance of developing heart disease and, evidence now suggests, help you to reverse it by providing cardiovascular exercise and better oxygen uptake and utilization. Physical “asana” yoga practice can get you in better physical shape aerobically. Not all forms of yoga will get you in the “cardio” range and keep you there the entire time of practice. Notably, practices such as Ashtanga Yoga or Power Yoga are vigorous and tend to keep your heart rate elevated for long periods of time, getting the heart pumping and oxygen flowing about as well as a step aerobics class might. However, even a gentler, serenity style yoga class can provide periods of heightened heart rate and have this same effect. In addition, yogic breathing, called ujjayi breath or other forms of yogic breathing, called pranayama, alone likely will improve lung function enough to get more life giving oxygen to the heart even where arteries are partially compromised. In addition to being a form of exercise, yoga makes you more aware of your body and how you treat it, which may lead you to engage in other forms of beneficial exercise and to eat and drink better as well, each promoting greater health in general and less risk of being overweight, which is associated with heart disease.
Chill Out; Relaxation for Type A’s. Stress, anxiety, and anger flood the body with cortisol and adrenaline, raising blood pressure and heart rate and potentially inducing a heart attack, especially for someone whose arteries are already clogged. Yoga teaches you to relax, through physical asana practice, yogic breathing, and meditation. All three components engender feelings of compassion for yourself and others and teach you to be grateful for just the ability to be present in the world (even if it’s in the middle of the interstate and someone just cut right in front of you without warning). Yoga teaches you to see the big picture. These perspectives can allow you to stave off bouts of anger and equip you to deal with life’s stressors so that your system can maintain an equilibrium and not jack up blood pressure and heart rate to the point where it endangers your heart. Yoga can bring a new attitude of calm acceptance that is more healthy for your heart.
If you want to heal your heart physically and emotionally, try yoga. Yoga, including asana practice, yogic breathing, and meditation, leads to better physical conditioning of your bodily systems that affect your heart and helps you to weather the challenges of daily life without stressing out or damaging your heart. Give yoga a try; your heart will be happier and healthier for it.