Fitness Magazine

Techniques for Improving Cardiovascular and Heart Health

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter and Nina

Techniques for Improving Cardiovascular and Heart Health

Nancy Ruby, Age 58, by Melina Meza

In today’s post, we are providing recommendations for using yoga tools for their preventative benefits on your cardiovascular system and heart. So start by considering your health status as it relates to heart and cardiovascular health. If you’re healthy then you can follow our recommended techniques. But if you’re having cardiovascular problems or have risk factors for developing heart problems, such as untreated hypertension (high blood pressure) or coronary artery disease or angina, then you should consult your family doctor or better yet your cardiologist about whether you can practice yoga. If your doc clears you to try yoga, we recommend you then consult with a yoga therapist for special techniques and recommendations for your unique situation. See About Yoga for Heart Health and Circulation and Heart Health and Yoga: An Overview for background information about yoga and heart health.Cautions: While you are practicing these techniques, if you become short of breath, break out in a cold sweat, experience chest pain with or without nausea or have any other symptoms that are worrisome, stop practicing immediately. If you are in a class, notify your teacher, And if your symptoms don’t resolve promptly, seek medical attention right away.
How Often to Practice. In general, we recommend that you practice 5 to 6 days a week to promote cardiovascular health. Practice a vigorous sequence, including active poses and/or flow sequences, at least 3 days a week but no more than every other day (your body needs time for recovery and repair). On other days, you practice gentle or restorative sequences, which are safe to practice every day, or pranayama, meditation or philosophy studies, which are also safe on a daily basis. 
How Long to Practice. If you are newer to yoga, start out with shorter sessions of 10-15 minutes. Then, if your schedule allows, gradually lengthen the amount of time you spend each day in practice, working you way up to 30-60 minutes sessions to increase the effects of both exercising and relaxing your cardiovascular system. For more experienced practitioners, you can start off with longer practices of 30-60 minutes. For everyone, feel free to shorten or lengthen a practice on any given day to accommodate changes in your work and home schedules. Balance Your Practice. To vary the effects and challenges to your heart and circulatory system, we recommend that vary your active practices by including both static poses and dynamic sequences. And include as many of the categories of yoga poses as you to ensure your practice is well rounded.To rest your heart and lower overall stress, we recommend that you also add in gentle and restorative poses, if time permits. And allocate a few minute of simple breath work near the end of your practice, practicing both stimulating forms that emphasize the inhalation, such as 2:1 ratio breath, to work your heart and relaxing forms that emphasize the exhalation, such as 1:2 ratio breathing. Finally, remember to practice Savasana, either with simple breath awareness or with a guided relaxation, to finish your practice. It’s also a good idea to include a short meditation of 3 to 5 minutes, either at the start or end of your practice, or at both times. (Of course, you can always meditate at another time in the day, if that works better for you.)Stress Management. One of the most effective ways to influence your CV system over time is to practice stress management techniques, including meditation, pranayama, restorative yoga, and focused relaxation, as often as you can manage, every day, if possible. While we can’t say that any of these techniques are better than others, you may find that one or two work best for you. So, if possible, practice all of them periodically to be familiar with all of them. You can practice any of these stress management techniques as a part of your regular asana practice or alone, at a different time of day.Static Poses. The more physically challenging a pose is, the greater the workload is for your heart, which is a particularly good way to exercise the heart and CV system. So try to practice the following on a regular basis:
  • Standing poses that are challenging for you to maintain, such as the Warrior poses and Extended Side Angle pose (Uttitha Parsvakonasana)
  • Poses where you bear weight on your arms, such as, Plank pose, Side Plank Pose (Vasithasana) and Downward and Upward-Facing Dog poses.
  • Any strength building poses (see Techniques for Strength Building)
  • Inverted poses (see below)
How Long to Hold Poses. If you are newer to yoga, start out with shorter holds of 3-6 breath cycles, and gradually work up to longer holds of 90 to 120 seconds over time. If you already are experienced, hold the poses until you become slightly fatigued, and gradually work your way up to longer holds. For everyone, always come out if you start to have any symptoms of muscle fatigue or the warning symptom listed above. Dynamic Poses and Flow Sequences. If you are not already practicing dynamic poses or flow sequences, start by practicing short mini-vinyasas, such as Downward Dog to Plank or Mountain to Arms Overhead to Forward Bend, for 6-10 rounds to begin to get used to more continuous movement. Next, begin to link several mini vinyasas together into longer sequences with sustained movement. For the classic flow sequences, Sun and Moon Salutations, we recommend starting out with 2-4 rounds and gradually working up to 10-20 rounds.
For pacing, start out by moving at a more leisurely and mindful pace, with your breath rate comfortable. As you become more accustomed to these longer vinyasa style practices, you can increase your pace of movement gradually to increase the work on your CV system, which would be reflected by a reasonable increase in your heart rate and breath rate. But maintain mindful awareness as you practice.
For more experienced practitioners, you can challenge yourself by starting out a faster pace than you normally would take, but maintain a mindful awareness of how your body is handling the new pace. 
Inverted Poses. Because inverted poses help return blood from parts of the body below the heart, and also can affect the blood pressure feedback system of the body (see Why You Should Love Your Baroreceptors), we recommend that you include these poses in your practices. In your active practices, include active inverted poses, even partial ones, such as Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and Widespread Standing Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana). Work your way gradually up to longer holds of 90 to 120 seconds, as you would with other active poses.We also recommend that you practice restorative inverted poses, such as Legs Up the Wall pose and Supported Bridge pose. You can include these in your active practices, practice them as part of a restorative practice, or even practice them on their own. Try to include them in a general practice or a dedicated practice 2-3 times per week. If you are new to yoga, start out by holding these restorative inverted poses for 30 seconds and gradually work your way to longer holds of 5 to 10 minutes, as long as the pose is comfortable. For experienced practitioners, use your present practice times as a starting point and, if it works for you, gradually increase your time in the poses. For the restorative inverted poses we recommend that work toward 10-minute holds to trigger the Relaxation Response. And if you are still comfortable, feel free to stay in poses even longer For example, some experienced yoga practitioners will stay in Legs Up the Wall pose for 20 minutes (Nina does!). Restorative Poses. We recommend that you integrate 1-2 restorative poses into your active practices, either at the very start or finish the practice. We also recommend that you practice a full restorative sequence periodically to fully rest your heart and cardiovascular system. Try this once a week to start with. If you enjoy it, do it more often.If you are newer to yoga, hold the poses for 1-2 minutes and gradually lengthen your time in the poses. For experienced practitioners, use your present practice times as a starting point and, if it works for you, gradually increase your time in the poses. You may need to experiment a bit to refine your timing for these poses. For some restorative poses, such as Supported Child’s pose (Balasana) or a supported twist, you’ll find that 4-5 minutes is long enough and that you become uncomfortable after that. However, for Savasana and Reclined Cobbler’s pose, which are typically very comfortable for longer holds, we recommend that work toward 10-minute holds to trigger the Relaxation Response. And if you are still completely comfortable, feel free to stay in poses even longer. For example, some experienced yoga practitioners will stay in Reclined Cobbler’s pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) for 45 minutes (Baxter does!).Equanimity Practices. Because these practices may help you avoid getting stressed out in the first place, they are helpful for promoting cardiovascular health. Start by finding which practice or practices work best for you: meditation, pranayama, and studying yoga philosophy. Then practice as often as you can, even daily if possible.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog