Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yoga and the Heart

By Vivian A. Kominos, M.D., FACC
Integrative Medicine Physician
Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine

I started practicing yoga over 20 years ago while training for my first long distance race, a half marathon. I noticed that I was becoming stiff after my runs. I thought that yoga would help me regain flexibility. I quickly realized that yoga’s benefits exceeded the physical: yoga made me calmer and less anxious. My muscles became stronger and my mind became tranquil. Soon I was craving my yoga practice as much as my runs. 

Yoga originated in ancient India for physical and spiritual fitness. Yoga incorporates movement poses known as asanas, breathing exercises or pranayama and meditation or dhyana. Recent studies found that yoga reduces many of the risk factors for heart disease: it improves glucose, reduces blood pressure, decreases weight and even increases lung capacity. Even more important may be the relaxation that results: yoga reduces stress, one of the most potent risk factors for heart disease. 

Yoga has become very popular in the United States and the number and types of classes available can be confusing. The important thing to remember is that yoga is not a competition and that you do not have to twist like a pretzel for it to be effective. Anyone can practice yoga regardless of fitness or flexibility. Look for a class suited to you. This may be a therapeutic class where you may be sitting on a chair or it may be an energetic power flow with advanced poses. All good yoga classes begin with the teacher asking if there are any injuries or problems. The class starts with breath work and meditation followed by poses and movements that gently stretch and strengthen the muscles. The ending incorporates a closing meditation called savasana

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is a good resource to learn more about the benefits of yoga: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm. And remember, anything that is good for the heart is good for the entire body, mind and spirit. 

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