Health Benefits of Yoga for Heart Patients

Healthy Heart|Aug.10, 2017

Say ommm to a healthy heart!

Heart patients can enjoy the health benefits of yoga — and even prosper from them.

In fact, physical activity helps lower blood sugar, so people with heart conditions who may reap the rewards. But it seems like yoga, in particular, can help out people recovering from cardiac episodes.

According to a 2014 study published in Indian Health Journal, researchers found that those who participated in yoga as part of their cardiac rehab program showed significant improvements in blood flow and cholesterol levels as compared to people treated with a more traditional cardiac rehab routine.

What's important is choosing a yoga practice that's safe and suits your physical capabilities. This happy medium is where "restorative yoga" comes into play, explains registered yoga coach Dana Santas, speaking to CNN: "Although some forms of yoga, such as power and vinyasa, can be quite strenuous, restorative yoga is much gentler, encouraging the use of props like pillows and blankets to facilitate relaxation. It's all about initiating our parasympathetic nervous system, the 'rest and restore' aspect of our autonomic nervous system that stimulates the body's processes for restoration and recovery, such as digestion, sleep and tissue repair."

Blankets and pillows in an exercise regimen? Yes, it's a thing. A good thing.

Where you're at in your heart health regimen will dictate the best way for you to enjoy the health benefits of yoga. According to the American Heart Association, it may be beneficial to start a yoga program as a preventative measure for those at higher risk of a heart event.

After a cardiac event, people can use yoga to heal, especially as many may experience stress, anxiety and/or depression. The good news: even after just one yoga class you may start to notice the calming benefits.

So how can people recovering from a heart event start enjoying the health benefits of yoga?

1. Talk To Your Physician

Some yoga poses are more strenuous than others. Before starting, it's important to talk with your doctor, whether your yoga routine is in response to a cardiac event or as a preventative measure. Be sure to note any other surgeries and physical therapies.

2. Avoid Certain Poses

Not all yoga poses are advisable for people who've experienced a heart event. According to Yoga Journal, some heart-intense poses that may need to be modified include handstand, supported headstand, wheel, and low and high lunge.

3. Allow Recovery Time

Even if you were doing headstands and more flexible positions before your cardiac event, your body will be in recovery mode following one. You might be surprised at how poses that seemed easy before are now hard. Don't push it. Instead, start simply and build slowly.

4. Relax

I radiate beauty and joy ... I honor my unique path and the paths of others ... Ommm ...

Start with a mantra. Then, instead of speeding through a vinyasa flow, try holding a few simple (read: relaxing) poses. Santas notes: take long, deep breaths while lying on your back with a bolster under the legs to raise them above the heart. While doing this exercise, repeat your chosen mantra in your mind and remind yourself how strong, healthy and capable you are. Because you really are.

5. Note Pain Points

"No pain, no gain" is not your mantra here.

During your yoga practice, record any pain points so you can let your physician know. They may need to adjust your practice accordingly. While before your heart event you may have been ultra competitive, now is not the time to test your limits.

6. Have Fun!

Because your focus after a cardiac event is on repairing your body, take the time to slowly re-learn — or discover for the first time — what poses bring you the most joy. Experiment with props and music, and maybe even treat yourself to a new mat. Take the time to create a space that truly speaks to you, whether that be lighting scented candles or adding more natural light.

Keep in mind, there's a direct correlation between happiness and health, so adding joy is time well spent. In fact, The New York Times says a positive mindset may help control weight, lower blood pressure, keep blood sugars healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease. You may want to even start a gratitude journal to complement your practice!