5 Yoga Poses for a Happy, Healthy Heart
Yoga is known for improving flexibility and balance. But did you know that a well-rounded yoga practice is an effective tool for maintaining heart and cardiovascular health?
Active yoga poses stimulate the heart, increasing both heart rate and blood circulation. Just as important are restorative poses which promote relaxation and stress relief. All together, practicing yoga can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, as well as heart rate — which can all add up to a lower risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
Here is a five(5) pose yoga sequence of active and restorative poses to help you maintain a happy, healthy heart:
Moving in and out of this pose warms up the body and increases your heart rate. Be sure to focus on maintaining a steady breath as you move.
Stand with your feet parallel and about hip distance apart. 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 both feet. Roll your shoulders back and down, allowing your arms to hang by your sides. Extend the crown of your head towards the ceiling.
Next, on an inhalation, lift your arms forward and up, bringing the upper arms by your ears. Extend through your fingertips and side body. Then slowly exhale the arms back down by your sides. For added challenge, try also lifting your heels as your arms rise. Repeat 3-6 times before staying with arms and possibly heels lifted for 3-5 breaths. Lower your arms and heels and notice how you feel.
Warrior II is an energizing pose that opens the chest and lungs, permitting deeper breathing. It also improves circulation while helping to develop balance and stability.
Step your feet 3-4 feet wide. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in slightly. On an inhalation, bend your right knee and lift your arms to shoulder height, palms facing down. Check that your right knee tracks toward the second toe of your right foot and stacks over the ankle. (If your knee goes past your ankle, lengthen your stance.) As you exhale, straighten the right knee and lower the arms back to your sides. Move in and out of the pose 3-6 time, coordinating the movement with your breath.
On the last repetition, stay in the pose, lengthening through the crown of the head and reaching dynamically through each arm. Feel the expansiveness and openness of the heart and chest. After 3-5 breaths, exhale the arms to your sides, straightening the right knee and turning the feet forward. Pause here to notice any sensations. Repeat to the left.
Often recommended for back pain, cakravakasana (also called “Cat Pose”) brings mobility to the upper back and spine opening the area behind the heart.
Come to all fours on the mat, placing your hips directly above your knees and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Knees should be about four inches apart, and hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
On an inhalation, draw the shoulder blades together, lengthening the spine. Keep the belly firm and the neck long, directing your gaze towards the front of your mat. As you exhale, engage your abs as you bring forehead and elbows to the floor and hips toward your heels. Observe the gentle lengthening of your entire spine, especially behind the heart. Use your inhale to return back to hands and knees. Repeat 4-5 more times. Then stay with your head resting on the floor, a block or folded arms. Breath into the space between the shoulder blades and behind the heart for 4-5 breaths.
Usually done on lying on the belly, cobra is gentle backbend that opens the heart area while strengthening the mid and upper-back. To make this pose more accessible, here is both a seated and a wall version.
For seated cobra, sit on a folded blanket with your palms resting on your knees and the spine long. Keeping the neck long, on an inhalation, visualize the breath lengthening the front of the torso, gently lifting the sternum. Imagine the ribs floating up from the waist as the shoulder blades move towards the center of the back, gently arching of back. As you exhale firm the belly to return to center. Repeat 2-3 times. Then stay with heart lifted for 3-5 breaths, noticing the expansion of the heart center with each inhalation. Exhale to a neutral position, taking time to observe any sensations.
For standing cobra, begin in Mountain pose with your feet 3-6 inches away from a wall or the back of a door. Place your palms on the wall at chest height, hugging the elbows into the sides of your waist. On an inhalation, lengthen the front of the body, lifting the sternum. Feel the shoulder blades draw towards the center of the back as you gently lift your gaze, arching the back. Exhale back to neutral. Move in and out of the pose 2-3 times. Then stay with heart lifted for 3-5 breaths before returning to Mountain pose. Allow your arms to rest by your sides and notice the sensations around the heart.
Legs Up the Wall (or chair)
This final pose is an inversion and a restorative pose. If you have unmedicated high blood pressure, stay briefly in the pose. Otherwise, feel free to stay for as long as 15 minutes.
Lay on your back with your buttocks near the edge of a chair, bench or couch. Bring both legs to rest on the chair, making sure your calves and ankles are supported. Place a folded blanket under your pelvis and another across your abdomen for added comfort and grounding. Allow your arms to rest at your sides and slightly away from your torso. Close your eyes or place an eye pillow or small cloth over them. Rest here for 5 minutes, focusing on your breath. Visualize your heart as strong, steady, relaxed and rested.
To come out of the pose, walk your heels to the edge of the chair and slowly roll to one side. Rest on your side for 3-5 breaths before rolling your chest towards the floor and using your arms to return to a seated position. It feels good to take care of your heart! Be well.