February is American Heart Month, so we'd like to highlight some of the benefits yoga offers in regards to heart health.
Yoga is more than a workout, it is a lifestyle. It's embracing an attitude of letting go. It's taking control of the breath and slowing the respiratory rate. It's adopting a new viewpoint regarding diet. And, yes, it's strengthening, toning, and stretching the body. Yoga is about uniting the mind, body, and spirit, and when we do those that, our stress levels lower and we begin to retrain our body's response system. We learn, through practicing with the breath during yoga, to respond calmly to circumstances rather than giving in to the stress reaction. Lower stress means lower blood pressure!
The most common things you will hear in yoga class is "Breathe!"
The breath is the be-all, end-all of the practice. First comes awareness, then a slowing and deepening, followed by an evening of the inhale and exhale, until finally we unite the breath with asanas - or poses. Whether you're sitting calmly in easy pose or handstand, the aim is for the breath to never waiver. By practicing with a deep slow breath, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, and the body is told to relax. So by placing the body in a difficult pose, like chaturanga or dhanurasana, and activating the relaxation response, we are training the body to react differently to traditionally stressful stimuli.
If you're looking to really make a dent in your stress levels, meditation may be the answer. Stress is intrinsically linked to our health, and keeping it in check is important to our heart, brain, gut, and adrenals. Meditation is the most effective way to lower stress. Check this out from a Harvard Health Letter:
How does meditation affect you physiologically? "It appears to produce changes in brain activity. It also can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress..."
Not sure how to get started with a meditation practice? Ask your instructor after class, or schedule a private session. But all you really need is a quiet place and just 2 minutes of conscious breathing and you are well on your way!
Another factor aiding heart health is the recommended diet for yogis - an Ayurvedic diet. There is a lot of contradictory evidence regarding diet and heart health out there today. Whatever your stance on diet, you could likely find a "study" that backs up your views.
The Ayurvedic diet, however, has been practiced for thousands of years and with great results.
It is plant-based and consists of minimal animal products and, ideally, no meat. This is for health as well as energetic reasons. If you would like to learn more about this diet, check out our upcoming event, Food as Medicine: Introduction to an Ayurvedic Diet.