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March 2015

Can Yoga Help Your Heart?

Woman in a yoga pose

Despite its popularity, yoga is no exercise fad. The practice has been around for thousands of years. Poses like Downward-Facing Dog and Lotus speak to a balance between the body and mind. Many people who do yoga believe it promotes better health. This perk may even extend to the heart, suggests a recent review.

For the heart?

In the International Journal of Cardiology, a group of scientists looked at 49 past studies on yoga and its effect on heart health. The studies included more than 3,100 people. From their analysis, the researchers noticed some positive findings. Yoga may actually lower a person’s blood pressure. It may also cause a drop in heart rate.

How might this be? Yoga fuses body motion with meditation. It also focuses on breathing exercises. Together, these techniques may help reduce stress—a definite boon for the heart. The practice may also prompt people to take up other healthy habits. In doing so, it may help fend off heart problems, such as heart disease.

Despite these results, the researchers aren’t fully convinced. More and better quality studies are needed to know for sure how yoga affects the heart. Most studies in the review were short in length—an average of only 12 weeks. Many also enrolled only small groups of people.

For the whole body

Heart health aside, yoga may help you in other ways. It may ease back pain, headaches, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It can also help build strength and expand flexibility. Plus, those who do yoga report feeling happier and more energetic.

There are many styles of yoga. They have names likes Bikram, Ananda, and Kripalu. Some of these styles can be physically demanding. Other forms focus more on relaxation. The best one for you may depend on what you prefer.

In general, yoga is safe. But if you have a health problem, check with your health care provider first before starting a routine. Some poses or styles can be harmful to people with conditions like heart disease or diabetes.


Learn more about the styles of yoga.


A Brief Intro to Yoga

Breathing is central to yoga. The practice encourages deep, rhythmic breaths. It combines that with slow, steady movements.

You don’t have to do yoga every day or for long periods of time to benefit from it. Try the following:

  • Sit either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Close your eyes, inhale deeply, and feel your diaphragm move downward, toward your abdomen. Exhale slowly, contracting your abdominal muscles. Focus on each breath as you lengthen your spine. Repeat several times.

  • For a warm-up stretch, try shoulder rolls. These help reduce tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Stand up straight with your arms at your sides, and breathe normally. Lift both shoulders up, roll them forward, down, and back up toward your ears. Repeat in the opposite direction. Do these 3 to 5 times each way. Relax your arms afterward by shaking them out.


Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
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