I Heart Yoga! How Yoga Benefits Your Heart
If you’ve been to a class at IPY, you’ve invariably heard the instruction, “lead with the heart, lift the heart, open the heart.” Why do we say these things so much? The answer is simple, the reasons are many. It’s just good for your heart to do so. When you practice yoga, a number of things occur within our five koshas (coverings of the true self which range from the outer Anna-maya kosha, which represents the physical layer, to the innermost Ananda-maya kosha, where the soul resides) when we expand through the chest.
- Vinyasa flow consists of spine lengthening, side and back bending, inversions and rest (a favorite – Savasana!); all of which help to control and prevent heart disease. Spine lengthening asanas promote good posture and reduce compression on the heart and lungs. Side bending asanas open energy channels of the liver, gallbladder and heart to remove energetic blockages. Upper back bending asanas improve heart function and respiration. Inversions allow the heart to rest and improve blood circulation (note: contraindicated with un-medicated high blood pressure – check with your doctor). Savasana is deeply restorative and has been shown to reduce high blood pressure.
- Your capacity to breathe fully into the lungs increases as you practice Ujjayi pranayama (or breathing). Ujjayi breathing is conducted through the nostrils with the throat constricted; which emanates an ocean-like sound as you inhale and exhale. We teach this form of breathing in all of our classes.
- When you bring awareness to your breath, your the heart rate slows and becomes regulated. Your breath also influences the rhythm of the heart through inner connections in the central nervous system. This results in more oxygenated blood flow and feelings of calm and well-being.
- Asana (physical) and pranayama practice have been found to reduce stress hormones.
Energetically speaking, the heart chakra (the fourth of our seven chakras) represents compassion, selfless love and devotion. An unbalanced heart chakra results in despair, jealousy, abandonment, isolation and lack of empathy for us and others. When we work to bring this energy center into balance, we can let go of these feelings and enjoy emotional empowerment. We also feel the welcome embrace of prayer and cultivate more awareness towards the higher powers of the universe; which invite a sense of hope, more open connections with others and increased compassion.
As if the above are not reason enough to come to your mat, add meditation to the mix! Meditation is known for its ability to also calm the mind and limit stress by reducing heart-harmful emotions such as anxiety, hostility and hopelessness. Studies show that a daily meditation practice can also reduce the amount of fatty deposits in your arteries, as well as lower blood pressure.
So the next time you are asked to “lead with the heart, lift the heart, open the heart” know that all of these benefits and more await you!