The beauty of yoga is that it’s for everyone. You can always customize it to fit your needs, whether you want to lose weight, de-stress or even focus on a specific area of the body. Today I want to focus on the heart. This precious organ in our chest that acts as a symbol of our love, keeps our blood pumping and beats to the rhythm of our every action, reminding us that we’re alive.
Our fast-paced culture paired with our love of delicious cuisine in large portions, are a few of the reason heart disease is one of our country’s leading killers. Luckily, there are ways to prevent heart issues, and even begin to heal them. The following five poses are an easy way to begin yoga for the heart. Aside from this, balance is key. Eating more whole foods, portion control and cardio exercise of any kind are the other factors that must also take place. But take it one step at a time, be patient with yourself.
Standing Forward Bend
Begin in downward facing dog, just to stretch everything out and feel where you are. Are your hamstrings tight? Are the hips open? Breathe into these areas and just take your time.
Now, step the feet up between the hands, inhale to look up with a flat back, and as you exhale fold forward letting everything release. You can bring the palms or fingertips to the floor. Close the eyes or gaze at the big toes. Focus on your breathing, folding deeper into the pose with each exhale.
Try to imagine all of that tension we hold in our back falling out of the shoulders, out through the top of the head, and back into the earth.
On an inhale, begin to roll yourself up to standing one vertebrae at a time.
Legs up the Wall
This pose is great for those with high blood pressure, and slowing the heart.
Come to the back, pressing the bottom up against the wall. You can take the sitz bones (or sits bones, think: the bones you sit on) an inch or two away so you can bring the legs up comfortably. Legs are straight up the wall with back flat on the floor, so you’re making an L-shape with your body. Arms can come up over the head or spread like airplane wings. Rest here. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. The legs may become tired so feel free to slightly bend at the knee, and even take the legs apart for a few breaths.
For this sequence, dolphin plank is what I call a gateway pose, because it begins to prepare our body for a greater step in reaching our end goal. Plank strengthens our core and reduces belly fat. Belly fat increases your risk of heart disease, which is why we’re taking a simple step in getting rid of or preventing it now.
Start in downward dog. Come to your forearms, then lower the body until you’re in the plank position (your body is parallel to the floor, not dropping or raising the hips). Push back through the heels.
The shoulders should be directly over the elbows with palms flat on the floor. Try to hold for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing the knees to the floor on an exhale. Do three sets.
Note: It’s common to hold your breath in this pose. Always stay present with your breathing, let it guide you. We want to send oxygen to the areas that need strengthening and release.
Bridge is one of my favorite chest openers, and it also releases the lower back. Come to the back with feet flat on the floor and begin to walk the heels towards your sitz bones. With arms and palms flat on the floor, begin to tuck the shoulder blades under the chest, bringing them closer together. Now lift the hipbones towards the ceiling. Interlace the fingers under the back to get more lift. Your entire torso should be up off the floor, with the chest pulling towards whatever is above the head and your hipbones pulling in the opposite direction. Hold for three breaths then lift higher for one to two breaths before releasing to the floor on an exhale.
Corpse Pose or Savasana is a wonderful gateway to meditation and the best way to end a yoga sequence. It allows the body to relax and take in the work it has done. Come to the back and let the hands and feet fall out naturally. Relax the fingers and the toes, release the shoulders and the neck. Close your eyes and come to your natural breathing in and out through the nose. Try to clear the mind, sometimes paying attention to the breath helps to begin this process. When your mind wanders, that’s fine, let the thought come and go, come back to your breathing. Take rest.
Practicing relaxation and meditation are not only incredibly beneficial in the moment but we carry it with us throughout our day. When stressful situations arise, whether it be work-related, parenting, or relationships we can come back to that state of mind and take some of the stress out of the equation before it even begins. Let the situation come, let it be what it is, then just breathe.