Fitness Magazine

Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Heart health should be at the top of almost everyone’s priority list for the simple fact that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause for death in the US each year. More people will die this year from heart disease than will die from all the cancers combined! So, keeping your heart healthy can translate into a longer, more vital life for many of us.  The practice I am sharing with you today assumes that you do not have any active heart problems at this time. If you are not sure of your heart status, it would wise to visit your primary care doc to have a good physical exam and ask you doctor if you have any limitation on your physical activity. If you get the green light, than this practice should be both beneficial and safe for you to do. 

There are 4 basic components to this practice: 

Dynamic Yoga Sequences. Linked sequence of poses that you move fairly quickly, such as, the Sun Salutations, gradually warm up your body and your cardiovascular system, both strengthening and stretching the muscles and connective tissue that your body’s blood vessels pass through, thus exercising your heart and encouraging more efficient flow through the piping of your system.

Static Poses. Poses that you hold for longer periods increase what is known as the “work load” of your heart, providing a different kind of exercise and challenge for your heart. Those with high blood pressure and diabetes will have to approach these with poses caution and work into the holds very gradually, preferably under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Gentle Inversions and Restorative Poses. These poses quiet and rest your cardiovascular system and your heart, which is equally important to testing and stressing your system. They allow your heart and nervous system to quiet, and as a result can nicely lower your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.

Pranayama and Meditation Practices. These practices support the effects of the inversions and restorative poses.

Let’s get started!

Dynamic Cardiovascular Practice

1. Modified Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar): Practice a Mini Sun Salutations as described at Featured Sequence: Mini Sun Salutation. As you stand in Mountain pose at the front of your mat, take a moment to check in with your body and your mind, setting an intention for your heart practice. Since this part of the practice will likely get the heart rate up a bit, feel free to do several rounds—anywhere from two to six.

Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
2. Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): From Mountain pose, step your feet wide apart, turn your right foot and leg out 90 degrees and kick out your back heel an inch or so. Bring your arms up parallel with the floor and bend your front knee. Then side-bend your hips and torso over your right leg and put your right hand on a block on its highest height, placed snug up against the outside of your front shin. Swing your top arm up and overhead, completing the side angle from your back leg through your torso and into your top arm. Push down firmly into the block with your bottom hand, and feel your right shoulder blade firm into your chest and slightly down toward your waist. Reach your top arm and shoulder blade strongly forward towards your fingers. Since this is a static, held posture that will increase the workload of the heart, aim to stay in it for at least six breaths, and work your way up to 90 seconds over time. Inhale as you come up, relax your arms at your sides and repeat on the second side. 
Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
Note: you can always create a “dynamic” version of any of the standing poses, moving into and out of the pose with your breath, as a warm up to doing it statically.

3. Side Plank Pose (Vasithasana): on the Wall and on the Floor: Although the classic version of this pose (Vasthithasana) is done on the floor, the wall version of the pose is much more accessible because you stand on the floor and bear less weight on your arm. In addition to it being an upper body strengthener, it also opens up the area of the chest that surrounds the heart! 

To come into the pose, start with your right side to the wall, and reach your right arm out to your side, parallel with the floor, and place your palm on the wall with your fingers pointing up. Engage your right shoulder blade into your chest wall and down slightly towards the right side of your waist. Then, step both feet out away from the wall, until your right foot is positioned directly under your left shoulder. If your balance is good, try bending your left knee and bringing your left foot into Tree pose. Then take your left arm up and overhead, reaching strongly towards the wall with your left arm and shoulder blade, aligning it like the top arm in Extended Side Angle pose. Stay for 6 breaths and work up from there. Repeat on the second side.

If you are feeling strong, try coming into the full pose from Downward-Facing Dog pose. From Downward-Facing Dog, swing your shoulders forward almost into Plank position while keeping your hips lifted. Make your right arm stronger by contracting the muscles of the arm to the bone, and tip your heels to the right, bringing the outer edge of your right foot and the inner edge of your left foot to the floor, with your feet slightly apart. Turn your chest away from the floor and bring your left hand onto your left hip. Since this takes a lot of strength, stay just few breaths at first, and gradually add more time with more practice. To come out, swing back into Downward-Facing Dog pose and repeat the pose on the second side. Afterward, rest in Child’s pose a few breaths.

4. Locust (Salabhasana):  See Locust Pose for instructions on how to do the pose dynamically. Practice the pose dynamically as a way to warm up for the full, static version. In the full, static version, you will lift both legs, your chest and your head, and hold the pose for 10 seconds to start. Gradually add more time until you can do a 30-second hold. Rest for a few breaths before moving on. Because this is a backbend, it will open your chest around your heart and lungs.

Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
5. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha): Start in Constructive Rest position (on your back with knees bent and heels about four inches from your hips) with a block close by, and establish the normal, slightly arched shape of your lumbar spine. Then lift your hips straight up as you push down into your feet, like an elevator going up a few floors, maintaining the neutral arch of your lower back. Once in Bridge pose, bring some focus to your arms. Press the upper back of your upper arms (right where your arms meet the shoulders) firmly down into the floor while actively lifting the lower tip of your breast bone up to the sky. Then press your arms—which are lengthening towards your feet—firmly down into the floor as well. This will begin to encourage extension of your shoulder joints. Now, grab the block and place it under your pelvic bones, positioning it where a belt would be if you were wearing slacks, at whatever height feels good for your body. Stay for 1-3 minutes. 

This supported, partial inversion will encourage the benefits described above. To come down, lift your hips slightly off the block and move the block out of the way, and then lower your hips straight down, like an elevator returning to the lobby floor. Then, gently roll to your side and come up to sitting.

6. Simple Seated Twist (Sukasana Twist): Take whatever props you need to sit comfortably, from a folded blanket to a block or even a chair (see Learning to Sit on the Floor, Part 2). When you are comfortably seated, inhale and encourage an upward lift through your spine. Then, as you exhale, turn your chest and upper belly to the right, bringing your right hand to the floor behind you and your left hand to your right knee. Try to create the twist from the center of your body and allow your arms to simply support the shape. Stay for just a few breaths, and then release to center and repeat on the second side.
Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
7. Pranayama: In your seated position (see Learning to Sit on the Floor, Part 2), or if you are fatigued, in a supported reclining position, turn your attention to your relaxed breathing pattern. At this point in your practice, it’s time to encourage relaxation and quieting of the heart and nervous system. So working with the gentle lengthening of your exhalations is a simple and excellent way to support that goal. In this breath practice, the classic ratio of the length of your inhale to exhale is 1:2, which could be a one-second inhalation and a two-second exhalation or a two-second inhalation and a four-second exhalation—you get the idea. The key is to keep your breathing relaxed so you are not over-efforting.  I like to do a set number of repetitions, such as six rounds or twelve rounds. Then let your breath return to its natural length and depth, and notice how things feel internally. 
Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
8. Easy Inverted Pose (Viparita Karani modified): Finish your practice with this partial inversion. See Featured Pose: Easy Inverted Pose for complete instructions. While in the pose, focus your attention on the area of your heart, visualizing your heart as strong and steady, and also relaxed and rested. Try keeping your attention in this general area as you rest for five to ten minutes before returning the your day.
Featured Sequence: Cardiovascular Health Practice
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