Physiology

Yoga and the Cardiovascular System

Anyone who’s been through several rounds of Sun Salutations knows that yoga will quicken your pulse. The heart-healthy practice of yoga positively affects the cardiovascular network and its relationship to clean, oxygen-rich blood.

cardiovascular-system3

Cardiovascular network

A healthy cardiovascular system is one that moves blood efficiently. A healthy heart carries nutrition from food and oxygen to fuel your muscles and organs, including your brain. The blood also discards waste products.
More important than medical benefits, a healthy cardiovascular system increases mental alertness and vigor. A healthy heart equals a happy life.

Yoga for a healthy cardiovascular system

Yoga’s impact on cardiovascular health is multi-dimensional. While not all yoga movements raise the heart rate to suggested aerobic levels, yoga has a positive impact on how efficiently blood moves. An asana practice can increase blood circulation and decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body. In fact, a 2014 report confirmed a significant decrease in the heart rate and blood pressure of people who practiced yoga compared to a control group.

The lower levels of stress enjoyed by yogis has a significant impact on creating healthier blood pressure. Yoga has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, thus reducing the interference of blood flow. Low-impact, meditative poses can also reduce potentially artery-clogging stress hormones. Examples of such poses are like Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or Child’s Pose (Balasana). These poses also contribute to mind-body awareness that impacts lifestyle choices, such as mindful eating and knowing when to remove yourself from stressful situations.

Child's Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Heat-building and core-focused poses can strengthen the heart when held for long enough. Core power creates a solid foundation for the rest of your practice, letting you work your heart. Poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Navasana (Boat Pose), and Dolphin Plank pose work your heart while they develop core strength.

Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Flowing yoga poses, such as Sun Salutations, increase your heart rate, thereby reducing your resting heart rate. This helps the heart more efficiently pump the blood it needs to the rest of the body. Yoga styles like Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow bring enough continuous, rhythmic movement to elevate the heart rate. As each yogi is unique, it may take some experimentation to get into a “cardio zone” in your yoga practice. To elevate the heart rate, you should be moving at a consistent and quick enough pace to feel your heart pumping noticeably harder than when you’re at rest. Yoga asana also calls for a full range of motion throughout the entire body, which increases circulation and enriches the blood with oxygen.

Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)
Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)

Finally, heart-opening backbends stretch the front body and stimulate blood flow through the chest. Expanding the chest while drawing powerful pranayama facilitates the movement of blood-enriching oxygen through the heart space to be guided through the entire body. Gentle heart-openers such as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) can offer just as much benefit as more intense backbends like Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Wheel (Urdhva Danurasana).

Cobra Pose | Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose | Bhujangasana

Yoga is an art that connects mind, body and soul. It’s also credited with being a healing practice for the heart in how it makes us more aware, compassionate people. Thanks to its health benefits to the cardiovascular system, it is quite literally a heart-healing practice.




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