Four Reasons To Practice
Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. It is responsible for pumping oxygen- rich blood to your other organs and muscles, fueling your every action. Keeping your heart healthy and functioning optimally involves diet, exercise and stress management, amongst other factors. How does yoga support optimal heart health?
1. Yoga for cardiovascular exercise: Cardiovascular exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping hard and is typically associated with treadmills and spinning classes, is vital to maintaining and improving heart function. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise per week, at a minimum of 10 or more minutes at a time. Can yoga count towards this? It depends.
Vinyasa or “Flow” classes that include sun salutations and link postures together in playful and intelligent sequences can get your heart rate up to that “moderate” level for short periods of time. Heated yoga classes (typically 30-35 degrees Celsius) add an extra layer of physical challenge and require your heart to work even harder. However, if you are already relatively fit and active, yoga alone might not be enough to improve cardiovascular function.
2. Yoga lowers blood pressure: High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (aka heart disease), the leading cause of death in Canadian men and women. Numerous studies have shown that yoga practices, including breath awareness meditation, physical yoga postures, and mantra recitation, help lower blood pressure, even after just a few weeks. Also, you don’t necessarily have to break a sweat to benefit from these health-supporting practices: Restorative Yoga, Yin and Meditation classes, and Gentle Hatha classes are great options and are accessible to students who are just beginning their yoga practice, and those who are more experienced.
3. Yoga reduces stress: Chronic and acute stress also put strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart disease. Yoga is a terrific intervention often prescribed by health professionals for its ability to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Many students of yoga begin precisely for these mental and emotional benefits. Specialized programs like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) have been teaching participants meditation and gentle yoga for over 30 years in hospitals and non-clinical settings.
4. Yoga for a happy heart: A yoga class with a friend or loved one makes for a fun date! If you are feeling extra daring, take your special someone to a partner-yoga or acro-yoga class. With a yoga studio on every major corner in this town, you have no shortage of options.
Ruby Knafo, OT Reg. (Ont.) is an occupational therapist, yoga teacher, and meditation coach. She is the founder and studio director of Union Yoga + Wellness in Toronto.