Heart Health…The Yoga Way!

By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle

Happy Valentines Day! Valentines Day is synonymous with hearts, roses, and candy, but did you know that February is also Heart Month? Lets take some time to nourish and strengthen our hearts with yoga postures and breathing.

Yoga can be used to improve heart health as a preventive measure or after facing a cardiac event; yoga can lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate, boost circulation, and strengthen muscle tone. The mental benefits are immediately noticeable: You will feel calm, balanced, and focused.

In the spirit of nurturing your heart, here are some poses that are perfect for strengthening, awakening, and nurturing your heart:

1.  Heart Awakening Wall Stretch

Move to the wall and sit on your heels. Place one forarm and hand on the wall, roll your shoulder back, and gently lengthen and arch your back. Begin to mindfully rotate your body away from the wall until you feel a stretch around the chest and heart.

Breathe as you rotate, let the breath deepen the stretch and create space in your chest and shoulders.

2.  Cat and Dog Pose

    a. Table Top. On your hands and knees, wrists below shoulders – knees below hips.

    b. Cow. Inhale and lift both your chest and tailbone to the ceiling while curving your back and belly toward the floor; exhale back to a neutral position.

    c. Cat. Inhale and gently round your back toward the ceiling, lower your head toward the floor, chin toward the chest; exhale to a neutral table position.

 

Repeat 7-10 times, letting your breath lead the way; be sure to inhale and exhale fully, moving your body slowly and mindfully. This provides a gentle stretch for your spine, hip, and abdomen and creates space in your back and chest, which aids breathing and lung function.

 

3.  Supported Relaxation Pose (you will need a blanket/towel and pillow)

Lay in relaxation pose, arms resting comfortably at your sides, palms faced toward the ceiling. Be sure to keep shoulders on the ground and down away from the ears. You can extend your feet straight on the floor or on the mat with your knees bent (try both to see which feels better for your low back).

Place a rolled towel or blanket horizontally below the shoulder blades, creating a gentle arch in your back (support your head with a pillow). Make sure your heart is higher than your head. Breathe deep and keep your shoulders relaxed. This will open your chest and create space for oxygen to enter the lungs.

This posture calms the brain and reduces stress, headache, fatigue, and insomnia. It will relax the body and help to lower blood pressure. You can remain here for 10-30 minutes. To release, wiggle fingers and toes and stretch your arms overhead to lengthen the spine. Roll onto your side for a few breaths before moving into a seated position.

 

Ujjayi Breathing

Ujjayi breathing is a technique that helps calm your mind and body. Integrate it into your day whenever you are feeling aggravated or stressed. It will soothe and center you.

1.  Inhale slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. When done correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader. Once you have mastered this on the exhale, make the same sound while inhaling by gently keeping your throat muscles constricted.

You can also practice Ujjayi breathing when doing aerobic exercise to improve respiratory efficiency. Experiment with this breathing technique while working out or during strenuous activity to feel a reduction in the wear and tear of your body.

Through breathing and movement, you can create a calmness that will affect all aspects of your life. In this season of love, take time to nurture your mind, body, and spirit so that you can love and enjoy your friends, family, loved ones, coworkers, and community.

Namaste!

 


Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”

 

 

Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.

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