Yoga Poses for a Happy, Healthy Heart
Heart disease is an increasingly common health issue across the world today. It is the leading cause of death in the United States, and can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Risk factors for developing heart disease include diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Additionally, sitting too much can lead to both heart disease and depression, as it creates tension in the body and limits blood flow. Fortunately, there are many actions that can be taken to prevent the onset or manage the existence of heart disease, such as increasing physical activity and managing stress. Practicing yoga is a perfect way to take action, as exercises in yoga are proven to increase movement, blood flow, and manage stress.
One of my favorites moves to counter the impacts of being seated all day is the Cat/Cow pose. This is a great stretch to try at the beginning of your day or practice, and works to open up your spine, back, abdominals, shoulders, hips, and pelvic muscles. To begin, sit tall with your feet hip-width apart, and with your hips toward the edge of the chair and your back straight. Place your hands on your knees and inhale, lifting your chest and sticking your hips out behind you. Lift your gaze, open your chest, and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. On your exhale, round your chest, scoop in your belly, and curl down as you drop your head toward your sternum. Repeat ten times.
Another great move is the Downward Facing Dog. This is a full-body stretch that opens your upper back, shoulders, head, neck, and legs. It also helps to refresh your mind and connect with your breath. Start by facing the back of your chair and placing your hands on the back of the chair, shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back until your chest is parallel to the floor. Next, engage your abdominals as you lift your ribs away from the floor. During this phase, think about arching out of the lower back and lifting your hips up and away from your shoulders. Bend your knees to pull back even more, then straighten your legs again. Hold this for 8 to 10 breaths.
Finally, try the Lion’s Roar pose, to really let go and reduce stress and manage anger. I love having my students try this pose to help them loosen up and break out of their comfort zone. Start by squeezing up your entire face – eyes, forehead, mouth, jaw – the works. Next, release by sticking your tongue out, opening your eyes wide, gaze upward, and roar as loud as you can! Repeat as many times as you want.
These poses, and many others that help fight the risk factors for heart disease, are detailed in Chair Yoga, available on Amazon. The book also includes full five to ten minute circuits that put all the moves together for a complete, but quick, workout. These moves will really make a difference when practiced over time, and you’ll feel improvements in your stress levels right away!
Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. She is the star of over 100 videos, a contributing editor at Health Magazine and a spokeswoman for many brands and causes she believes in. Kristin also appears frequently on television. A proud mom to three, she sure keeps herself busy!