Ok ladies, it’s time to get real about our health. From the look of things, the health marketing geared towards women tells us we should be concerned about two things: our breast and gynecological health. Very valuable topics, yes – no doubt about that. (I for one, rather enjoy having those parts of me be healthy and happy.) What concerns me, however, is the lack of focus on the one thing that statistically has a higher probability of causing health risks in women: our hearts.
Did you know that while breast cancer kills 1 in 31 women, heart disease kills 1 in 3 American women, which is roughly equivalent to one death per minute? You read that right: one death per minute. With all the hype around Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when everyone wears anything and everything pink, you might be under the belief that your boobs are out to get you, when in reality, your heart is really what should be paid attention to (or if you have one, your cat. Those creatures are always plotting).
Fortunately, there are many ways in which yoga can help to maintain a healthy lifestyle and heart. Yoga can be a part of your normal routine as a form or preventative care, taking care of yourself NOW before a health crisis happens. Research has shown that the mindfulness and breathing components of yoga help to reduce stress levels, which is a big plus for improving any health condition, and it can help lower blood pressure and heart rates. Yoga can also help to create a sense of community, something vital for those recovering from a cardiac event, which can often lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.
Research has shown that the mindfulness and breathing components of yoga help to reduce stress levels, which is a big plus for improving any health condition, and it can help lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Before we dive into ways yoga can promote a healthy heart, here are some simple steps we women (and men) can take to help ensure a happy and healthy heart:
- Schedule a checkup with your doctor. Have the run down of your family history so you know if heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure are things you need to be mindful of in your daily life. It is also good to know if you have any kind of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that can impact your ability to do certain activities. For example: I have a sinus arrhythmia – aka, my pulse changes with my breathing. It’s a pretty normal/common thing, but it could be misread on an EKG/during an emergency. Also, my heart freaks out when I consume an energy drink or too much caffeine – it’s super weird, but knowledge is power!!! (energy drinks even have a warning for people with an arrhythmia, FYI. Read them labels!)
- Create a healthy diet for yourself! You can consult with your doctor or a nutritionist to get something customized if you’d like. But general rules for a healthy heart include: reducing sodium intake, limiting added sugars, limiting trans and saturated fats, adding colorful fruits and veggies, drinking in moderation, and avoid smoking/second hand smoke. Again, read your labels. Salt and sugar like to hide in everything. I mean, everything.
- Get moving! The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of activity a week (sorry Restorative Yoga doesn’t count). Go for a walk, lift some weights, take an active yoga class, go dancing, JUST GET MOVING! Even if you break it down into 10-15 minutes chunks, that time adds up and makes a difference.
- Be well. Get enough sleep, practice mindfulness, manage stress, maintain social connections, schedule time just for you, volunteer, keep a journal, do the yogas! Eating healthfully and exercising aren’t the only two factors of being well-you need to also take care of yourself mentally and emotionally. “Healthy body, healthy mind,” and vice versa. Or so my dad tells me all the time.
Unfortunately, many of the things we’ve learned about heart disease and heart attacks is different when it comes to women, giving the false sense that it’s something we don’t need to worry about. While the classic symptom of chest pain is the most common symptom in both men and women, women are more likely to experience lesser known symptoms such as light-headedness, nausea, fatigue, and and pain in the back, neck, and jaw. These symptoms can be mild and come about slowly, causing women to believe that they have the flu or acid reflux and therefore they don’t seek medical attention. Furthermore, the chest pain (medically known as angina) stemming from blockages in the arteries typically occur in different places for men and women: in men, heart disease tends to occur in their coronary (main) arteries, but in women, the blockages frequently occur in the very small arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries. So this is one issue where gender does play role, so it’s important to know the differences for yourself and for others, both men and women.
Here is a list of poses that are beneficial for the heart, as well as some poses to avoid or modify-not all poses are appropriate for every health condition!
**This is NOT an extensive list. The “avoid” postures apply to heart issues and high/low blood pressure and will be either safe/unsafe depending on the individual person – you’ll need to consult with a doctor to determine whether or not these postures are safe/should be modified**
- DO: Bridge pose, Forward fold/big toe pose, Head-to-knee forward bend, Reclining big toe pose, Tadasana(mountain), Chair, Cat/Cow, Cobra, Legs at the Wall, Downward Facing Dog, Bound Angle Pose, Gentle Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga
- AVOID/or MODIFY: Boat pose, Extended Triangle, Hero Pose, Low/High Lunge, Warrior 1, Uddiyana Bandha/Upward Abdominal Lock
- CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR: Hot/Bikram Yoga, Power Vinyasa, inversions such as Headstand, Pincha mayurasana/Feathered Peacock, Handstand, Wheel
When in doubt, ask your doctor! There are so many kinds of yoga practices from which to choose and not all are safe for those with heart problems. BUT there is most likely (or at least hopefully) a form of the physical (asana) practice that is safe for you to do, and at the least the aspects of mindfulness and breathwork are recommended for a happy and healthy heart. So ladies, don’t forget about your heart-take some active steps to protect it now, whether on or off the yoga mat. And if you need a fun way to care for your heart ON your mat, you know where to find us =) <3
Contributed by Mo Taylor: Growing up an athlete, Mo dabbled in yoga to keep her muscles healthy. But in 2014 she discovered yoga as a means to reconnect with herself in mind, body, and soul. It became an integral part of her daily life and a vital tool in building resiliency and relief from the stresses of everyday life and her work in Special Education. She became a teacher through Yoga Buzz in Spring of 2016 and has been teaching ever since! She also wants you to know that trying to do chair pose with an adorable fuzzy puppy licking your face is hard. Connect with Mo on her Facebook page, MO Yoga and More.
American Heart Association www.heart.org