September 27, 2019

Yoga and heart health

Madison, Wis. — Yoga is a healthy and healing habit that almost anyone can do. A regular practice can increase balance, strength and flexibility, as well as boost your immune system, respiration and bone health.

And recent research shows yoga can be especially beneficial when it comes to improving heart health – whether you’re a beginner trying out gentle or therapeutic yoga, or ready to swing from the rafters in an aerial class.

Why Practice Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient healing practice combining physical activity, breathing and meditation.

“Cardiovascular risk factors are positively affected by each of these elements individually, so combining them is a great way to maintain a healthy heart,” says Katie Schwartz, fitness coordinator and Wellness Studio instructor at UW Health at The American Center.

Evidence shows chronic stress – especially anxiety and depression – can hurt your heart and increase your risk for coronary artery disease. That’s why yoga can be a very powerful part of your fitness and mindfulness routine, explains Megan Knutson Sinaise, MS, RCEP, clinical exercise physiologist at UW Health.

Stress can elevate heart and respiratory rates, raise blood pressure and increase inflammation – all things that can be especially dangerous for your heart.

Yoga for Heart Health

This class combines physical activity, breathing and meditation.

Classes start October 4, 2019.

Learn more and register

“In all yoga practices, you will focus on paying more attention to your breath, and breathing more deeply, which naturally reduces negative physical and mental responses,” says Knutson Sinaise.

Newer research also shows yoga can lower blood pressure, reduce your resting heart rate, and help you become more resistant to stress, all of which can protect your heart and increase your life expectancy.

Yoga, along with 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise and a healthy diet, is also a great way to prevent problems down the road for those who have not been diagnosed with any sort of heart disease.

“With so many amazing benefits, yoga has become a popular core of personal wellness practice for many people throughout the world,” Schwartz says.

Yoga for All

“Yoga can be right for just about anybody,” says Knutson Sinaise. Here, she offers some tips for heart patients looking to begin a new yoga practice:

  • Talk to your cardiologist or primary care physician before beginning any new exercise. They can help you better understand the right level or intensity of practice based on your individual needs.

  • Start at home. If you’re new to yoga, you may feel more comfortable starting out in the comfort of your own living room, using a DVD or online instruction.

  • Ready to join others in a group practice? Remember: Classes can vary quite a bit depending on the studio, the instructor and the type of class (from therapeutic and gentle yoga, to hot yoga or power flow). Knutson Sinaise suggests looking for a free trial or introductory rate before committing to buying a membership.

  • Speak up. Arrive early and talk with your instructor ahead of time, so they’re aware of any limitations you may have and can suggest poses or postures to be mindful of.

  • Stay cool. Taking beta blockers? Knutson Sinaise says you will want to avoid hot yoga, as the high temperatures can trigger a negative reaction, and inversions (upside-down poses in which your head is lower than your heart, like a shoulder stand). The same is true for patients with high blood pressure or diabetic neuropathy.

  • Pick the right poses for you. If you have had open heart surgery and have sternal precautions, avoid upper body weight-bearing postures, such as downward facing dog or crow pose, until your surgeon and/or cardiologist have cleared you to do so (typically at least 12 weeks following your procedure).

Finally, Knutson Sinaise reminds all patients that while yoga can do wonders for overall mental and physical health, it is only a supplement, and you should never stop taking medications or following your doctor’s orders without speaking to him or her first.

Yoga at UW Health

UW Health offers a variety of yoga classes to meet a wide range of individual needs and interests. You’ll find classes at both UW Health at The American Center and at the UW Health Fitness Center located in the Research Park Clinic.

Kripalu (or compassion) yoga is a practice dedicated to listening to your body and coordinating breath and movement.

During mindful yoga, a conscious effort is made to stay present in the moment using the breath as a foundation.

Therapeutic yoga assists with healing injuries and supports those with special physical needs.

Chair yoga is intended for anyone experiencing limited range of motion and is an alternative yoga not requiring you to get down and up from the floor.

Aerial yoga adds the playful element of being suspended in the air. Aerial benefits decompression of the spine with the help of inversion. Bonus: It also offers tons of heart-healthy benefits, including improved blood pressure, lower cholesterol and cardiovascular fitness!