Practice of Yoga

Stretching the Boundaries of Sports Cardiology

An ancient art turns into modern medicine.
In the United States, the practice of yoga has increased tremendously, and South Florida has been no exception.

The art involves promoting health and wellness through three important components of the human mind and body: 1) Asana (posture), 2) Pranayama (breathing), and 3) Dhyana (meditation and devotion). While yoga has only recently experienced large growths in participation, it is an ancient art that dates back over 5000 years to India. In the western world, the most common type of yoga is a branch known as Hatha that emphasizes enlightenment through the body. This has led to the growth of several styles of Hatha including Bikram, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Iyengar yoga, all with a slightly different focus towards mind-body awareness and improvements in physical and mental health. More and more people are now turning to yoga as a component of a healthier lifestyle both from a cardiovascular and holistic perspective.
The heart in downward dog.
In general, the practice of yoga does not lead to an improvement in cardiovascular fitness simply because it does not cause a high enough increase in your heart rate to be considered moderate or vigorous intensity exercise. There are of course some exceptions to this rule. Certain styles of yoga such as Ashtanga focus less on the alignment of postures and more on fast paced changes between a series of postures creating a more vigorous work out. This is in contrast to styles such as Iyengar where the pace is much slower and the emphasis is on detailed attention to posture alignment. Additionally, in adults older than 60 years old, yoga may yield more pronounced benefits in terms of improved body composition (less fat and more muscle) as well as cardiorespiratory fitness.
Many small studies have evaluated the beneficial effects of yoga on the heart. Since these studies are very small, there is still a lot we do not know; however, some of the proposed effects of yoga on the heart are intriguing. Some studies have demonstrated that yoga practice may be associated with improved heart rate variability, a sign of a healthier cardiovascular system. It may also decrease blood pressure compared to conventional measures as well as reduce the incidence of irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. In fact, a recent medical review from Harvard Medical School summarizing a large number of yoga studies in the scientific literature shows that yoga is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular risk on par with conventional exercises such as walking. This benefit comes from improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.
The potential mechanisms for yoga improving cardiovascular health are not known but are less likely to be associated with physical exercise itself as it is with running or cycling. Instead, yoga has several secondary effects that are likely beneficial to the heart and may contribute to the changes in cardiovascular risk factors seen with yoga practice. These effects include:

·         Improvements in muscle strength and flexibility.

·         Decreases in stress and anxiety levels.

·         Lowering of inflammatory markers within the body.

 Incorporating yoga into your healthy lifestyle.
The practice of yoga itself cannot substitute for the benefits of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. However, it may be a wonderful complement to our usual work out routine. Yoga is an excellent way to cool down or warm up prior to more intense aerobic exercise sessions and the mindfulness component of yoga is critical in helping us make better choices in our daily living especially when it comes to coping with stress as well as choosing to eat healthier.
The first steps of introducing yourself to yoga may be intimidating. It can be helpful to go to a class with a friend or to start with styles that are more gentle in their level of exertion allowing you to focus on learning the poses and breathing exercises. One particular type of yoga that is excellent for older individuals is called silver yoga. This yoga discipline focuses on combining hatha yoga with principles of gerontology that take into account physical limitations such as arthritis or neuropathy. And finally, always remember if you have any heart or vascular conditions, problems with your spine or glaucoma, consult your physician before embarking on a new and exciting yoga practice.
Namaste and best of luck for your mind and body journey.
Jeffrey Lin

Dr. Jeffrey Lin

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