By Lynn Allison | Wednesday, 24 Aug 2016 02:48 PM
More Americans are practicing yoga than ever before, and health experts say the reason is that it has practical health benefits — especially for the cardiovascular system.
More than 36 million U.S. residents regularly engage in the practice, according to the Yoga in America Study 2016, conducted by Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance. That’s up from 20.4 million practitioners recorded in a 2012 survey.
Yogis spend $16 billion on classes, clothing, and accessories — compared to $10 billion four years ago.
“One of the main reasons yoga is so beneficial is that it can be a cardiovascular activity as efficient as walking, running or aerobics in improving heart fitness,” notes Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, assistant professor and medical specialist with the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Since many people are unable to participate in traditional forms of exercise, yoga is the perfect gentle solution for cardiovascular health.”
Chiaramonte tells Newsmax Health that technology provides many benefits to modern life, but also brings significant downsides
“Once upon a time people would be ‘done’ with work at a certain time but now, for many people, the work day never ends,” she explains. “The pace of life has sped up and we don’t have the down time to distress and regroup which takes its toll on our heart.
“I think yoga fulfills this need buy giving us the time to slow down, breathe, focus inward and reconnect to the body.”
Bonnie Tarantino, director of yoga programs at the Center for Integrative Medicine, says that breathing is a crucial key to yoga’s heart-healthy benefits.
“Dr. Arthur Guyton, a leading American physiologist and expert on heart disease believed that heart disease and stroke are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cellular level,” she notes. “Heart disease patients consistently use shallow, chest breathing instead of the deep diaphragmatic breathing we teach in yoga.”
This type of breathing, says Tarantino, massages the heart with each breathe and helps pump fluid and nutrients into the vascular system as well as eliminates toxic waste.
A Dutch study compared two groups of heart attack patients. The first group was taught simple, diaphragmatic breathing while the second group received no training. The group that learned how to breathe deeply had no further heart attacks while seven of the 12 members of the second group had second heart attacks over the next two year.
Another recent study, published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, showed that after only six months of yoga practice, participants had decreased levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL “bad” cholesterol, while increasing their HDL “good” cholesterol.
“In another very interesting study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, effective smoking cessation and yoga were associated with the greatest 10 year reduction in cardiovascular risk over such interventions such as following a Mediterranean diet and walking,” Chiaramonte says. “For the highest risk patients, yoga was associated with a 16.7 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk.”
Yoga lowers blood pressure, according to research published this year in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension. Of the three groups — one did yoga, another followed a program of health education and walking, and a third did yoga and followed a healthy lifestyle — the yoga practitioners showed the greatest reduction in blood pressure readings.
The American Heart Association says that in addition to the physiological benefits the medication component in yoga may also have a positive effect on lowering high blood pressure.
“We know that stress, anxiety and depression are associated with cardiovascular disease and yoga may be helpful to manage these emotions,” says Chiaramonte.
Tarantino says that is essential to focus on your breathing throughout the day so that the body responds to this stimulus by relaxing and understanding it is not in a life-threatening situation.
Some yoga she recommends for cardiovascular health include the standing poses and sun salutations. Balancing postures also help quiet the mind and lower the heart rate.
“Move slowly at first and build up to longer holds,” she says. “Patrice poses that are the chest and heart openers like cobra, bridge and camel…. However, if you do have cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, avoid inverted poses such as headstand or plow.”
She adds: “Gentle yoga is can also play an integral role in recovery from a heart attack as well as preventing one. Heart attacks can often leave one feeling split, broken and vulnerable. Yoga, which comes from the Sanskrit word which means union, can help reconnect the mind and body. You may experience that you are growing an entirely new heart, stronger and healthier than ever before.”