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The Yoga Heart Connection

Female Teacher Leading Group Of Mature Men And Women In Class At Outdoor Yoga RetreatYoga has been around for millennia and is a time-tested therapy for conferring well-being on its devotees. However, in recent years, yoga’s potential benefits for the heart and mind may be even more important because of the frenetic pace of modern life. One of the most significant ways yoga helps the heart is by reducing emotional tension. Out-of-control stress levels can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related illnesses. The practice of yoga, with its emphasis on deep breathing, relaxation, and mindfulness, has been found to be an effective way to neutralize stress and improve heart health. Yoga is an excellent way to reduce anxiety and depression by promoting relaxation and bestowing a meditative state. The practice of yoga encourages people to be fully present at the moment, which can help diminish feelings of worry and angst.
Studies have shown that yoga can also help lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, both of which are key factors in heart disease. A regular yoga practice will also reliably augment balance, flexibility, and strength. Moreover, yoga is an excellent way to improve sleep quality, which is essential for maintaining good mental health. James often does 20 minutes of yoga just before going to bed. He streams one of the hundreds of free Yoga With Adriene sessions available online. Adriene Mishler has been called the patron saint of the pandemic and now has 12 million followers on YouTube. At least four times a week, James rolls out his mat on the back patio under the stars or in front of the
flames from a gas fireplace.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic (or vagal) nervous systems are two branches of the autonomic nervous system that work together in a yin-yang relationship to regulate various bodily functions. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which is activated when the brain perceives a threat or danger. This response stimulates cortisol and adrenaline, which increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. On the other hand, the parasympathetic (vagal) nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Vagal stimulation slows the heart rate, calms breathing, and lowers blood pressure while increasing blood flow to the digestive system and other organs involved in metabolism and immunity.
Opposing energies create balance. An equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is crucial for maintaining optimal mental and physical health. Our frenzied, over-stimulated 21st-century lifestyles tend to tip our autonomic balance towards the “fight or flight” response. Regular yoga practice is an ideal way to balance the yin-yang energies that constantly ebb and flow through your autonomic nervous system. The slow deep breathing, gentle mindful stretching, and spiritual grounding that are the essence of yoga work harmoniously to induce a state of relaxation, and when done regularly can improve both physical and mental health, and boost overall well-being.
Belonging to a group that meets regularly has been shown to be good for your health and happiness by brightening your mood and improving overall mental health. If the group is focused on physical activity, such as yoga, a team sport, or a fitness class, you may be more likely to engage in regular exercise, which can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Being part of a group that shares your interests or engages in activities you enjoy can contribute to a sense of purpose and life satisfaction, and help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Yoga postures and breathing exercises can help improve blood flow throughout the body and brain and may reduce chronic inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, depression, and dementia. Some studies suggest yoga may be helpful for preventing atrial fibrillation (AFIB), a condition where the heart beats irregularly and rapidly. This may in part be because yoga tends to reduce risk factors that predispose to AFIB, such as hypertension, obesity, and stress. One study published in 2018 found that a 12-week yoga intervention was associated with a reduction in AFIB symptom burden and improvements in quality of life in people with intermittent paroxysmal AFIB. Another study published in 2019 found that in people with high blood pressure, a 6-month yoga intervention was associated with reductions in blood pressure, body weight, and stress levels.
Yoga is beneficial for heart health. Whether you are looking to reduce stress, boost cardiovascular fitness, or improve your overall well-being, yoga is an excellent option. By practicing yoga regularly, you can enjoy the many benefits it provides and reap the rewards of a healthier body and a more focused mind.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD and Kathleen O'Keefe