5 Yoga Postures For A Healthy Heart
Find out the best yoga poses for stronger cardiovascular health, and improved cholesterol and hypertension metrics.
Heart ailments have become a silent epidemic for the Indian population. It has become quite clear that cardiovascular problems do not discriminate as they can begin arising at any age. Young Indians today (25-30 years) are more prone to developing heart problems, when compared to western countries, according to the Indian Heart Association. India accounts for more than 3 million heart-affiliated deaths globally, says a 2020 research cited in the Medical Journal, Armed Forces India.
Recently, there have been several instances of heart problems among young Indians. Many popular personalities such as actor Siddharth Shukla, 40, Bollywood's popular singer KK (Krishnakumar Kunnat), 53, and actor/comedian Raju Shrivastav, 58 in the recent past have passed away due to cardiovascular-related illnesses. The risk of heart disease can strike as early as 20s and 30s without any signs. 50 per cent of all heart attacks in Indian men occur under 50 years of age, and 25 per cent occur under 40 years of age. It may signify an underlying genetic inclination to cardiomyopathy, a cluster of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, strokes, and type-2 diabetes.
Let's first understand how heart problems start. Heart disease starts when there is a blockage or plaque deposited in the blood vessels and arteries which hinders oxygen flow to the heart. Several factors have been attributed in escalation of heart ailments in younger age such as:
- Excessive stress
- Lack of sleep
- Unhealthy diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Family history of heart disease
Since heart problems are rising at an alarming rate, different measures need to be undertaken to keep heart health in check. Healthier lifestyle choices should be adopted, like having a good diet, going to bed early and practising yoga regularly. A 2022 study issued in the International Journal of Yoga found that after 12 weeks of practising yoga—performing breathing exercises (pranayama) and yoga postures (asanas)—for about 60 minutes every day, patients with heart failure experienced significant improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction, which measures how well the left ventricle chamber of the heart can pump blood with each heartbeat. The same study also concluded that 8-week yoga training increased oxygen uptake by 7 per cent and reduced cardiovascular risk in healthy adults.
In conversation with UR.Life, Rina Hindocha, a renowned Yoga Alliance Instructor says that “Yoga definitely transformed my life. Practising yoga promotes overall physical fitness, but it also includes breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation which can help improve a person’s stress levels and minimise risk of heart conditions.”
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How Does Yoga Help Our Heart?
Yoga offers several health benefits, including heart health. Sedentary lifestyles have made us prone to heart ailments, however, practising yoga can get you moving. Rina Hindocha shares the benefits of yoga:
- Improves circulation and blood flow: Yoga improves heart health by increasing circulation and blood flow in the heart. Continuous and increased blood flow reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases, as per a 2022 study published in the journal Health.
- Lowers blood sugar: According to a 2022 study in the paper Diabetes, practising yoga improves lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as patients with known coronary artery disease. It also lowers excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduces their need for medications.
- Reduces stress: Yoga involves breathing asanas like kapalbhati and bhujangasana that minimises stress and improves mood-boosting endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones that can positively affect how you handle stress. Also, yoga makes you feel relaxed by regulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
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5 Yoga Poses And Their Benefits For A Better Heart
1. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
- Lie on your stomach with your feet hip-distance apart and place your hands beside your ribs.
- Extend your foot straight back and apply pressure on all ten toenails to activate your quadriceps.
- Pressing down lightly with your hands, slowly lift your head and chest, rolling your shoulders back and down.
- Keep the back of your neck straight and focus on lifting your chin at a 90-degree angle.
- Straighten your arms while keeping your shoulders remaining away from your ears. Keep a slight curve in your elbows.
- To exit the pose, release back to your mat.
Bhujangasana stretches the chest and invigorates the heart. It enhances body posture and neutralises the effects of prolonged sitting.
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2. Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
- Lie on your belly on a mat with a cushion underneath your pelvis if needed. Folding knees, bring your feet to a 90-degree angle or keep them as straight as possible.
- Clasp the outer edges of your ankles with your hands and bend your feet strongly.
- Upon inhalation, lift your chest and shoulders up, and upon exhalation, lengthen your tailbone and kick your legs back into your hands.
- From here, lift your head and heart. Look straight. Press down through your thighs to lift your chest.
- Stay lifted for 5 breaths.
Dhanurasana or the bow pose opens up and strengthens the heart muscles, lowers your heart rate, regulates blood pressure, and helps you relax. It extends your hip flexors and hamstrings (aka the muscles that are shortened and tightened, respectively, from sitting) while strengthening your back. It stimulates and makes the whole body flexible.
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3. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge pose)
- Push your feet closer to your buttocks. Press down firmly through both of your feet and inhale to raise your hips, lifting from the pubic bone or abdomen area. Grab your hands under your back on the floor.
- Expand your collarbones and get on top of your shoulders. Press down firmly through your heels and lift the back of your thighs and the bottom of your buttocks even higher keeping the thighs parallel.
- Exhale, release your hands, and lower your hips to the floor. Allow your back to rest in a neutral state.
Bridge Pose improves posture and eases muscle knots in the back and chest due to prolonged sitting. This pose facilitates deep breathing. It stretches the spine and the chest. It also improves blood flow to the chest region.
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4. Tadasana (Mountain pose)
- Stand with the feet parallel, heels a few inches apart.
- Raise and outstretch your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them back on the floor. Rock gently back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly across your feet.
- Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your chest straight toward the roof. Widen your collarbones. Allow your shoulder blades to draw toward each other.
- Relax your arms beside your torso. Balance the crown of your head directly over the centre of your pelvis, with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, throat, and tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Breathe slowly.
The mountain pose helps strengthen the vertebral column and the heart. The deep breathing involved also expands the lungs.
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5. Utkatasana (Chair pose)
- Stand with the feet parallel, heels a few inches apart. Inhale and raise your arms overhead so that your biceps are just slightly in front of your ears. You can keep the arms parallel, palms facing inward, or join the palms.
- Exhale and bend your knees, as if you are about to sit on an invisible chair. Make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your knees will project out over your feet, and your trunk will lean slightly forward over your thighs until your front torso forms approximately a right angle with the tops of your thighs.
- Keep your inner thighs parallel to each other and bring the thigh bones down toward your heels.
- Firm your shoulder blades against your back. Lower your butt toward the floor and keep your back stretched.
- Stay for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out of this pose, straighten your knees with an inhalation, lifting strongly through your arms. Exhale and release your arms to your sides into a standing pose.
In the Utkatasana yoga posture, you can feel the heart and respiration rate increase. This posture stretches the chest and stimulates the heart.
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