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Heart Healthy Benefits of Yoga

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Heart disease is one of the more interesting conditions of our generation simply because there are many actions we can take proactively to help prevent heart disease from developing, or if we have heart disease, to improve our outcome.

One of the ways to improve heart health is by lowering stress levels, controlling high blood pressure, and improving blood cholesterol levels. If you’re looking for a fun, relaxing activity to spice up your day and keep your heart healthy, why not consider yoga?

More than 4000 years old, the practice of yoga originated in India. Using breathing, meditation, stretching, and poses and postures, yoga focuses on the mind-body connection promoting both physical and emotional well-being.

The founder of Cardiac Yoga, and president of Positive Health Solutions, M. Mala Cunningham, PhD, believes that the practice of yoga will prevent and even reverse heart disease.

“Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits,” said Cunningham. (AHA 1)

Yoga practitioners exhibit an increase in flexibility, strength, and muscle tone. Practitioners report lower stress levels and improvement in blood pressure levels.

Yoga has also been demonstrated to improve lung capacity, heart rate, circulation, and respiratory function.

It’s proven particularly effective for dealing with the stress associated with a cardiac event such as a heart attack and post-heart attack depression which is frequently experienced by some cardiac patients.

A 2009 study conducted at the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, in Uttrakhand, India, found that yoga practitioners had higher rates of heart rate variability, or HRV, than non-yoga practitioners.

HRV is an indicator of how healthy the heart is. People with cardiac problems generally have lower HRV rates than those with healthy hearts. In the Institute’s study, HRV rates were higher in yoga practitioners even when no cardiac condition was present and had healthier hearts than non-yoga practitioners.

There are many different types so if you’re new to yoga, it’s important to select the class that’s right for you. For those concerned with heart health, Cunningham recommended selecting a trained cardiac medical yoga instructor to maximize the benefits to your heart.

Despite the fact that some types of yoga, such as Ashtanga, can be quite vigorous, the American Heart Association does not consider yoga to meet the requirements for weekly physical activity so yoga should be treated as an addition to your lifestyle and not a substitution for your regular workout.


Yoga and Heart Health. American Heart Association. 02 Feb 2012. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/Yoga-and-Heart-Health_UCM_434966_Article.jsp#.Ty9IHPnYEos

Inderscience Publishers (2009, November 9). Yoga boosts heart health, new research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 5, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091109121216.htm

Deepak Chopra, M.D. Weekly Health Tip: Yoga’s Health Benefits. The Huffington Post. 18 Jul 2011.

Reviewed February 6, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment6 Comments

Flowing with breath helps to reduce anxiety thus reducing blood pressure--pranayama (breath control) has the same effect. Inversions (downdog, forward fold, headstand, shoulderstand) require the circulatory system work harder and in unusual directions thus strengthening the heart and associated systems.

June 15, 2012 - 11:14am
Blogger (reply to World Vitae)

I completely agree with you - yoga is a wonderful activity on many levels with many benefits. I used to work in a pretty stressful high-tech job and they actually brought a yoga instructor on campus at lunch twice a week. It was always full to overflowing!

July 8, 2012 - 9:45pm
EmpowHER Guest

This is such a great blog post! Very good information! Appreciating the hard work you put into your site and detailed information you present. It’s awesome blog.

June 15, 2012 - 8:03am
Blogger (reply to Anonymous)

Thanks so much...I love writing and am always so glad when a reader takes the time to let me know that I'm on the right track and the info helped.  Please keep reading! Again, THANK YOU! Mary 

July 8, 2012 - 9:42pm

Hi Sondra.... Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience about yoga!  I was introduced to yoga a number of years ago when I was still working in a high stress high tech job. They allowed a yoga instructor to come on campus twice a week to teach a class over lunch. My girlfriend and I signed up simply so we'd be able to take a break during lunch! What started as an endeavor simply to be able to get away from the desk for an hour, turned into a real joy.

Like you, I was really surprised that the AHA doesn't consider it "physical activity." I certainly always felt like I'd had a good workout after our yoga sessions so this was a surprise to me as well.  The AHA site didn't provide a criteria of why they took this position so it's a mystery.

Again, thanks so much for sharing!


February 8, 2012 - 9:10pm

Thank you for sharing this! As a regular yoga practitioner I love spreading the word about the benefits for both mind and body!! The HRV fact was great to learn as well.

I find it interesting that the AHA doesn't consider yoga to meet the requirements for weekly physical activity. I take hot power yoga classes 3-4 times a week, and I surely don't see it as an addition to my lifestyle, but part of the fabric that is my lifestyle. The specific type of yoga that I do, is vinyasa yoga in a heated room (95 degrees with 45% humidity) which is a flowing series of sun salutations, lunges, twists, balance postures, backbends, core strengthening, hip openers and inversions often referred to as Power Yoga. Designed to build core strength and flexibility while still maintaining focus on a meditative practice.

I do think that it's valuable to do multiple types of physical activity, still I may check with the AHA just to see their research angle on this as well :)

February 6, 2012 - 10:01pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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