Yoga is known for improving flexibility and balance. But did you know that yoga can also boost cardiovascular health?
Yoga is an ancient practice that involves holding and moving through a series of postures or poses. It focuses on flexibility and strength-building and can also include meditation and breathing exercises to help calm the mind.
The poses and stretches performed in yoga can also reduce chronic pain. Many of the postures are weight-bearing postures, which help strengthen bones and muscles. Yoga for cardiovascular health includes simple poses to promote flexibility, stress relief, and relaxation.
Yoga also improves heart health by increasing circulation and blood flow. In addition, practicing yoga can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, as well as the heart rate — which can all add up to a lower risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
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Yoga for Heart Health
Exercise that gets your heart rate pumping isn’t the only way to help improve your cardiovascular health. Managing stress also is critical to your overall heart health. Yoga’s clearest benefit to heart health is its ability to relax the body and mind. The practice of yoga also can increase strength, flexibility, and overall stamina, making it a great fit for a healthy lifestyle.
Here are 10 yoga poses for a healthy heart:
Poses to Increase Flexibility
Standing forward bend
In this pose, you engage a deep stretch by bending forward from a standing position with your legs straight and feet together or hip-width apart. Bring your head toward your knees and place your palms or fingertips on the floor in line with your feet. If you can’t reach the floor, you can rest your palms or fingertips on a yoga block in front of your feet. This pose stretches the spine, hamstrings, shoulders, and groin. It can relieve pain and increase flexibility.
Extended triangle pose
From a standing position, step your right foot 3-4 feet from your left foot. Turn your left foot about 45 degrees to the right. Place your right foot at 90 degrees. Shift your left hip back toward your left heel and lean your torso to the right. Reach your left hand down, either to the floor (or a block) outside of your right foot or against your right shin. As you turn and look up, raise your right arm to the sky, with fingers pointing upwards. Inhale and exhale for three counts, while keeping your legs straight and thighs firm. Repeat on the opposite side. This pose stretches and strengthens the chest, torso, and legs to promote increased stamina.
Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, place your feet about hip-width apart and bring your knees over your ankles. As you press your feet into the floor, lift your bottom off the floor and hold it in the air while lifting your hips toward the ceiling. You can rest your arms on the floor at your side, or you can roll your shoulders under your body and clasp your hands below your pelvis on the floor. This pose will help stretch the spine and chest and relieve stress. It also can be therapeutic for someone with high blood pressure.
From a standing position with your feet together or slightly apart and toes facing forward, raise your arms overhead and bend your knees. With your thighs touching (or slightly apart), bring your thighs nearly parallel to the floor. Your knees will protrude forward, and your torso will slightly lean forward over the thighs. Hold this position for up to a minute before returning to the starting position and repeating. This pose engages the leg and arm muscles, while stimulating the diaphragm and heart.
Head to knee pose
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your right leg so the bottom of your right foot rests on the inner thigh of your left leg. Reach both arms toward your left foot, keeping your left leg straight on the ground, and come into a forward bend. Lower your forehead toward your straight leg as you breathe into the stretch. Repeat on the opposite side. This pose will help stretch the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groin. It may also help relieve anxiety and fatigue.
Poses for Relaxation and Sleep
Begin in a seated, upright position with your feet crossed underneath the opposite thigh. Place your hands in your lap, with your palms facing up or on your knees, and breathe in this pose for several minutes. This pose can help relax the body and mind while strengthening the back. You can use your time as a mini-meditation.
Supine spinal twist
Lie on your back and bring your right knee to your chest, then across your left side. Extend your right arm out to the side and take several deep breaths. Repeat on your left side. Another variation focuses on raising both knees across each side. This gentle twist helps to relieve tension in the spine and relax the body.
Begin by kneeling on the floor and sitting on your feet. Separate your knees as wide as your hips and bring your big toes together. Lay your torso forward between your thighs, extending your arms in front of you on the floor. Lay your forehead against the floor and rest in this position for a few minutes. This pose stretches the hips and thighs while relaxing the mind and reducing stress. It can also help relieve back pain.
Legs up the wall
This pose is exactly as it sounds. Lie on your back on the floor and position both legs against the wall. Lie this way for several minutes. The blood flows to the heart, providing a soothing, relaxing experience. It is especially helpful for better sleep.
Lie on your back with your arms and legs relaxed. Reach your arms out to the sides with your palms facing up. Close your eyes and take a few minutes to focus your attention on your body and your breathing. This can help relieve stress.
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About Heart and Vascular Institute
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.