Friday, February 26, 2010

Yoga, Heart Disease, Lowering Stress Hormones, Cortisol and Yoga

Here is the Heart Disease Yoga Sequence I was referring to last night (and we did a bit of it too).

  1. Chair Neck Movements.  Neck rolls, neck towards side of chest.
  2. Chair Shoulder Shrugs.
  3. Chair Ankle Movements. Point, Flex, Foot on the outside, ball of foot, foot on the inside, foot on the heel. Lift leg parallel to floor.
  4. Chair Knee to Chest.
  5. Relaxation Pose on the floor.  Laying on our backs.
  6. Lying on our Front Side. Side Neck Stretch.
  7. Front Side.  Sphinx Pose - Supported Back Bend.
  8. Childs Pose.
  9. Seated Forward Bend (one leg at a time, used the strap).
  10. Relaxation.
  11. Here's where we didn't do something.  Supported Shoulder Stand.
  12. Relaxation
  13. Fish Pose with the small ball at the bottom of our shoulderblades, with optional block, underneath our head.
  14. Half Spinal Twist, with deliberate intention of where our chin/chest placement occurred.
  15. Didn't Do.  Yogic Seal Pose.  It is a easy sitting with hinged hips toward the floor, but you clasp the hands behind your back, then come back to prayer hands to chest.
  16. Relaxation.
  17. Three Part Breathing.
  18. Alternate Nostril Breathing 
  19. Warrior I pose with hands on hips
  20. Tree Pose with feet on the block, then feet off of the block
  21. Seated Cat / Cow (In Chair, and on the floor).
  22. Final Relaxation with legs on the chair, for a simulated Legs up the wall pose
  23. Upright seated tension tamer with the shoulders, jaw line.
  24. Simple twists, stretches as we end the yoga class.
How Yoga Fits In:
Because the stress response affects the heart in a number of harmful ways, yoga's proven ability to fight stress is a big part of the explanation for how yoga benefits people with heart disease.  Stress hormones raise the blood pressure and heart rate, putting added strain on the heart and increasing its need for oxygen.  Periods of either physical or mental stress can be particularly dangerous for someone with a heart whose blood supply is compromised by fatty blockages, through evidence suggests that stress can induce a heart attack in the absense of blockages by causing spasm in a coronary artery.  Stress hormones also induce changes that cause the blood to clot more easily.  Doctors now believe that heart attacks often happen when a clot gets lodged in an artery taht is already partially narrowed.  The stress hormone cortisol is known to increase both eating and the laying down of fat in the abdomen, Intra-abdominal fat can increase the body's resistance to the effects of insulin, raising blood sugar and further increasing the risk of heart disease.

     Yoga's ability to lessen anger may lower the risk of a heart attack.  "Anger is very strong emotion," Nischala (creator of this heart disease yoga sequence) says.  "It takes at least three hours physiologically for the body to get back in balance, to the place it was before an angry episode -- and many heart attacks happen within three hours of a angry episode,"  She says that anger was very common among the participants in the Ornish program (program to lessen heart problems), and most knew and admitted it.

     The regular practice of yoga seems to lessen anger by fostering greater psychological equanimity, increasing feelings of compassion for others, and increasing the sense of gratitude.  Yoga also helps people achieve a heightened awareness that puts the minor annoyances of life in a larger perspective, so that they are less likely to respond to the traffic jam or the difficult situation at work with the kind of agititation that Ron Gross described (who would yell, stomp out of a room, during a negotiation...great for the negotiation process, not so great for Ron).  And yoga provides specific tools, such as breathing techniques, which can dampen the first sparks of anger and prevent them from being fanned into an inferno.

     Yoga as a form of physical exercise, if done vigorously enough, can raise the heart rate into the aerobic range, potentially lowering the risk of a future heart attack (but there are safety considerations).  Even yogic breathing (pranayama) alone has been shown to improve cardiovascular conditioning.  The improved efficiency of lung function and better heart muscle even in instances where partial blockages  compromise blood flow.  Yoga can help people lose weight not just because of yoga poses burns calories, but because of lower levels of stress hormones lessen appetite, and because yoga practioners bring conscious attention to what and how they eat.

     Yoga is also a good antidote to depressions, which is a major problem after a heart attack, and greatly increases the likelihood of dying.  Doing yoga makes you feel better about yourself and more hopeful about your ability to get better.  The resulting increase in optimism can encourage you to keep up your practice and make other lifestyle changes that contribute to better health. 

     * Yogic Tool?  KARMA YOGA.  "My experience is that nothing opens the heart, whether it's a sick heart or a healthy heart, quicker than doing service." Nischala says.  "There is always an opportunity to serve."  More on that topic at a later email.....just to keep y'all curious!!

This exerpt was taken from the Yoga As Medicine Book, by Dr. Timothy McCall, in the Heart Disease section.

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