Did you know heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for adults in the United States? A healthy heart is essential for a long life. Fortunately, a review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published by the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology shows that healthy heart yoga poses help strengthen your heart and lower the risk of heart disease as much as conventional exercise. Yoga does this by combining stretching, breathing and cardiovascular exercise. All three elements have positive effects on maintaining a healthy heart.
“Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental and emotional well-being,” according to Dr. Mala Cunningham, psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. “Hand in hand with leading a healthy heart 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.” According to Dr. Cunningham, yoga helps lower blood pressure, improve your heart rate, increase lung capacity and boost circulation and muscle tone.
It’s also one of the best ways to manage and reduce stress. Stress is directly correlated to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. By practicing yoga poses daily, you can drastically reduce your stress levels and maintain a healthy heart. While a 60-minute yoga class one to three times a week is recommended to see major improvements in your health, studies have shown that just 12 minutes of yoga a day is enough to reap the stress-reducing benefits.
Yoga can be less strenuous than other types of exercise, making it a good place to start if you’re not used to exercising regularly. If you already have a workout routine you’re committed to, try adding these easy healthy heart yoga poses at the end of it to stretch your way to a healthy heart. You can do these yoga poses in a slow sequence, holding each pose for one to three minutes. Or try this yoga routine by expert yogi Rodney Yee that combines them all in a 30-minute practice.
5.) Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
While the name makes this pose sound easy, it can actually be challenging to hold for more than two minutes if your spine is out of alignment. This pose is done at the beginning and often at the end of a yoga practice. It focuses on deep breathing, which reduces stress, increases lung capacity and helps regulate blood pressure. Aside from its healthy heart benefits, this pose also calms your mind, strengthens your back and stretches your knees and ankles.
If you’re a beginner, start this pose by sitting with your back against a wall for added support. You can also put a yoga block under each of your knees for added hip support.
Cross your shins, widen your knees and slip each foot beneath the opposite knee as you bend your knees and fold the legs in toward your torso.
Either stack your hands in your lap, palms up, or lay your hands on your knees, palms down. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor, firm your shoulder blades against your back to your upper torso, but don’t over-arch your lower back and poke your lower front ribs forward.
You can sit in this position for any length of time, but if you practice this pose regularly, be sure to alternate the cross of the legs.
4.) Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose is a great pose to help improve your posture as well as regulate your blood pressure. This yoga pose helps with low blood pressure issues, insomnia and headaches by increasing circulation and reducing stress levels. If you’re a beginner, stand with your feet about 3 to 5 inches apart to start.
Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.
Firm your thigh muscles and lift the kneecaps without hardening your lower belly. Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches. Then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groin and from there through the core of your torso, neck and head, and out through the crown of your head. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel.
Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.
Balance the crown of your head directly over the center of your pelvis with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, your throat soft, and your tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Soften your eyes.
Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, breathing easily.
3.) Big Toe Pose (Padangusthasana)
Big toe pose sends a rush of blood to your heart, helping to stimulate and strengthen it. This yoga pose also calms your mind, reduces anxiety, improves digestion, stimulates the liver and kidneys and improves digestion. It’s also great for runners to do at the end of a workout because it stretches out your hamstrings and softens your lower back.
If you can’t reach your toes, don’t worry; you can simply place your hands as far down your legs as you can go without straining. You can also bend your knees or use a strap around the middle of your arches.
Stand upright with your inner feet parallel and about 6 inches apart. Contract your front thigh muscles to lift your kneecaps. Keeping your legs completely straight, exhale and bend forward from your hip joints, moving your torso and head as one unit.
Slide the index and middle fingers of each hand between the big toes and the second toes. Then curl those fingers under and grip the big toes firmly, wrapping the thumbs around the other two fingers to secure the wrap. Press your toes down against your fingers.
With an inhalation, lift your torso as if you were going to stand up again, straightening your elbows. Lengthen your front torso and on the next exhale, lift your sitting bones.
Lift the top of your sternum as high as you can, but take care not to lift your head so far that you compress the back of your neck. Keep your forehead relaxed.
Exhale, bend your elbows out to the sides, pull up on your toes, lengthen the front and sides of your torso and gently lower into the forward bend.
2.) Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward dog is probably the first pose to come to mind when people think of yoga. It’s one of the most iconic yoga poses, and rightfully so. There’s a long list of health benefits associated with this pose including: regulating high blood pressure, easing carpal tunnel symptoms, soothing digestive issues and regulating hormones. This healthy heart yoga pose also calms your nervous system, which reduces stress and helps prevent heart disease.
Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groin.
Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front ofthe pelvis.
Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points, lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.
Downward dog is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from one to three minutes.
1.) Head To Toe Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana)
Forward bends are therapeutic for high blood pressure. The goal in this yoga pose is to try to bring your head lower than your heart, which reduces your heart rate, slows your breathing and allows your nervous system to relax. This healthy heart yoga pose regulates blood pressure, eases symptoms of asthma, improves digestion and helps you get a more restful sleep.
If you can’t touch your toes, you’re in good company! You can still reap the healthy heart benefits of this yoga pose by modifying it and building flexibility over time. Simply place your hands as far as you can reach down your legs without straining. With practice and time, your flexibility will increase.
Begin in a seated pose with the legs extended. Bend the left leg, drawing the sole of the foot to the upper inside of the right thigh. The left knee should rest comfortably on the floor.
Bring both hands to either side of the right leg. Inhale and turn towards the extended leg. Exhale and fold forward.
Breathe slowly and deeply for five breaths.
To come out of the pose, inhale back to the start position. Repeat on the other side.
Try this 30-minute sequence that combines all five healthy heart yoga poses:
For more health benefits of practicing yoga click here.