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At Ornish Lifestyle Medicine we recommend an hour of gentle yoga a day, alongside at least three hours of aerobic exercise a week. (See Ornish Living, “What is the Purpose of Yoga in the Ornish Program?”). Last month, new evidence emerged that combining yoga with aerobic exercise is ideal.

When conflicts arise a yoga practice makes it easier to respond with understanding

I’ve been practicing the calm style of yoga for years and it’s fundamentally changed me. Yoga improves all the measures of heart disease risk in healthy adults. In fact, you’re likely to do as well practicing yoga as engaging in other kinds of exercise, according to Harvard and Dutch researchers in a 2014 review and meta-analysis of more than thirty quality trials, published in the European Journal of Preventive Medicine.

This study found that the combination of yoga and exercise was an effective strategy for patients coping simultaneously with three of the most common diseases of modern life: obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart trouble.

Wisdom from India

Researchers at HG SMS Hospital in Jaipur, India presented their findings in October at the 8th Emirates Cardiac Society Congress in collaboration with the American College of Cardiology Middle East Conference in Dubai.

After recruiting 750 obese heart patients with Type 2 diabetes, the team divided them into three groups. One participated in an aerobic exercise program, another practiced yoga, and the third did both. All of the volunteers enjoyed improvements in blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol, as well as other key measures. But the group that combined yoga and aerobics improved twice as much as the other two. In addition, the volunteers in the combination group came out with healthier scores on left ventricular ejection fraction, diastolic function and exercise capacity.

My Yoga Life

For centuries the term “yoga” in Indian writings referred to meditation and spiritual concepts. The postures we know today– cat pose, child’s pose, and warrior I—first appeared in Buddhist texts around the eighth century.

When I encountered yoga as part of my training to teach Ornish Lifestyle Medicine in 2003, I thought of it as “foreign” and “spiritual“ and was a tad uncomfortable. I have my own religion and beliefs, so how were these new practices going to fit in?

Calm Your Mind, Relieve Your Stress

You don’t have to adopt the cultural package to practice yoga. Once I realized this, I became much more open to the practice. The purpose was to calm my mind and body—and it worked in spades for me.

I especially love the “fish” pose, which relaxes my back and neck and opens my chest area. You can see what it looks like here in Yoga Journal. They say that if you practice it in the water, you’ll float like a fish (I haven’t tried it, though!).

As with all yoga poses, you can modify “fish” for your comfort, usually by putting a block under your shoulder blades for support. I now practice “fish” in every yoga session and in my cool-down from aerobic workouts.

Sometimes you need to find calm before you understand just how stressed-out you are day-to-day. My clients tell me that yoga is one of the most valuable tools they have ever learned, portable and helpful in every situation.

I see the change in myself: I am clearer on my priorities and know what isn’t worth being disturbed by. When conflicts arise it’s easier to respond with understanding.

I’m lucky that my job required me to learn a stress-management tool! For some people, a health challenge is the teacher. Every day I see people enter the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program closed, hard and unhealthy, unsmiling and stressed to the max. I see them practice yoga and other stress-management techniques and I see them soften and heal.

Go ahead and laugh—pretending to be a floating fish is one of the best moments in my day.

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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