health club           A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that the practice of yoga can be as good for your heart as more traditional exercises, such as walking or cycling. Researchers analyzed the results of 37 separate studies involving more than 2,700 individuals. The study found that people who practiced yoga had

  • lower blood pressure
  • lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • lower body mass index
  • increased HDL (good) cholesterol

In fact, when researchers compared those who did yoga with those who did more conventional aerobic exercise, there was little to no difference in improving heart health.

How can this be? Key components of yoga are breathing and relaxation. While you are practicing these techniques you are turning off your stress response, which is usually in high gear most of the day. Turning off your stress response will allow you to lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate and respiratory rate, and decrease the stress hormones being released. Those stress hormones can lead to damaging inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is your body’s way of responding to injury and harmful situations. Inflammation is at the root of many diseases, including heart disease.

Most of us take very shallow breaths when we are anxious, stressed or afraid. Shallow breathing (chest breathing) causes a constriction of the chest and decreases the flow of oxygen to your tissues.  Yoga breathing techniques promote belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing.  This type of breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes what is known as the relaxation response.

Here is a simple belly breathing technique you can try at home or at work:

  1. Sit in a chair or lie on your back. If you are sitting in a chair, imagine a string is lifting up your chest.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen with the thumb near your navel.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Allow the abdomen to expand and fill with air like a balloon. You     should feel the hand on the abdomen rise while the one on your chest remains still.
  4. Exhale deeply through your nose pushing as much air out of your lungs as possible. Your rib cage         and abdomen should gently contract.
  5. Repeat this cycle 4 to 5 times. Be very mindful and focus only on the breathing process.