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Yoga is both a physical and mental practice that helps us achieve peace in our bodies and minds. By using yoga to manage stress and anxiety, it can help us achieve better heart health. Yoga, however, is not one size fits all. The yoga tradition includes a wide range of styles and practices that can vary dramatically. In fact, every practice should be modified to suit the needs of the individual. There are some nuances that are helpful when working with heart disease. Whether you are looking for a yoga class or practicing on your own at home, it’s a good idea to keep these tips in mind.

How we breathe affects how we think and feel, and how we think and feel affects how we breathe

1. Avoid Straining and Pushing

Stay relaxed while practicing and try to let go of pushing yourself. Find your comfortable edges and let go into them. Try not to think of it as exercise, but rather use your practice as a time to cultivate awareness and gentleness with yourself. Use postures that don’t create too much pressure in the abdomen or heart. This takes sensitivity in listening to your own body.

2. Try to Keep Your Breath Smooth. Try Not to Hold Your Breath

The breath is the link between the body and the mind. How we breathe affects how we think and feel, and how we think and feel affects how we breathe. When we retain the breath, it can strain the heart. When the breath flows, blood flows. Concentrate on smoothing out your breath and imagining the in-breath nourishing every fiber of your being. Let the out-breath be cleansing, as it washes away tensions and toxins.

3. Use Your Arms as Extensions of the Heart

The arms carry the action of the heart outward (giving and receiving). Let the blood and energy move freely between your heart and arms, but avoid holding your arms overhead for any length of time. This puts extra strain on the heart as it tries to “pump uphill.”

4. Remember the Restorative Qualities of Relaxation

Whenever you practice, always take time to relax in between poses. This helps with integration as well as providing training for the brain. Relaxation is a powerful tool. It can rest the body and mind better than sleep. Most of our healing occurs during rest. Make sure to take time to relax fully at the end of practice. A teacher once told me that practicing yoga postures without relaxation is like planting a garden and then leaving town when the crops come in.

5. Don’t Forget There is More to Yoga than Just Postures

In Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, we use many techniques from the Yoga tradition, including postures, breathing, relaxation, meditation and imagery. These five techniques support overall health and well-being. The most optimal benefits come from integrating not just the postures, but also relaxation, breathing, meditation and imagery.  Together, they have a powerful and profound effect on restoring health to the heart. Meditation helps to lengthen your fuse while imagery opens up new avenues for using the mind to heal yourself.

How have you modified your own yoga practice to suit you and your specific needs?




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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