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Many people think of Yoga as working up a sweat while flowing to a musical beat or twisting one’s body into a pretzel. On the contrary, the Yoga practice used in the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) to reverse heart disease is about simplicity, gentleness, ease and stress management.

When choosing a Yoga practice to support your heart, remember to keep it simple

Its purpose is to guide us inward and then set us gently in the heart of stillness and peace. Through this practice, we begin to realize that peace is our own true nature. It can’t be achieved through the external world, or by acquiring possessions, positions, or people. It’s only by going inward that we connect to peace, and eventually recognize that it has been there all along.

These yoga practices don’t require that we work hard to break a sweat, or keep up with what someone else is doing. They only beg us to listen deeply and practice with consciousness and compassion. They help us to return to a place of balance, which is where healing can occur.

The yoga practices used in the Ornish program have roots in Integral Yoga, founded by Swami Satchitananda. This style of yoga favors a calm, meditative approach. It was chosen by Dr. Ornish because of the value the specific techniques have in reducing stress, which is a major risk factor in heart disease.

While the goal of this yoga practice is to reconnect to that place of peace deep within each of us, getting your heart rate up has certainly been proven to support cardiac health as well. While some might argue that yoga can do both, in our research we have used yoga as a way to manage stress, find balance, and explore our interior world. This calming and meditative approach to yoga helps lower blood pressure, improve the relationship between body and mind, and wake up an inner healer. Yes that’s right, we all have one; it’s just waiting to be asked to participate. Yoga is the invitation.

Research continues to show that yoga is a very helpful healing tool in cultivating a healthy heart. In the Ornish program, Yoga is one of the four basic lifestyle pillars that have been proven to stop and even reverse the effects of heat disease.

Practicing an hour of gentle yoga daily and getting a minimum of 3 hours a week of moderate exercise, eating a diet that is vegetarian and low in fat while maintaining supportive and loving relationships are all equally important to heart health.

When yoga is done in combination with these other three supporting pillars — exercise, nutrition, and love and support — it creates a powerful healing path.

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Keep it Simple

When using yoga for heart health, keep your practice simple to make it easier and more enjoyable.

Use a combination of all five recommended yoga techniques: Postures, breathing, relaxation, meditation, and imagery.

Start with this 1-hour stress management pod cast.

Each yoga technique prepares the body and mind for a deeper and more peaceful experience.

We recommend using the same seven postures: warm ups, cobra, half locust, seated forward bend, twist, legs up on a chair, and fish each day. (see our full library of yoga videos) The poses can have more of an impact on blood flow and energy patterns when they are repeated daily. By using the same poses over and over you can easily remember what to practice while also being able to detect subtle changes in the body that may need attending to.

Don’t push yourself to sweat or work harder. Pushing in yoga can actually raise blood pressure and heart rate and works against creating a safe environment to listen to yourself and your own heart. Just like you wouldn’t eat while exercising, don’t try to combine your cardio workout and yoga since they are really accomplishing different things.

While yoga has made its way into the mainstream, there are different types and styles that support different outcomes. When choosing a class or a practice to support the health and well being of your own heart, remember to keep it simple. Your goal should be a relaxed body, a smooth and rhythmic breathing habit, a quiet mind, and a calm spirit.

How has yoga helped you to manage stress?








Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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