Reducing the heart rate through the practice of hatha yoga is beneficial for those with hypertension, those who have suffered a stroke, or have heart disease. Hatha yoga consists of controlled postures that gently move from one to another. The breathing is slow and methodical, and the body stretches with each movement. This alone is calming to the nervous system.
By engaging in such poses as the sun salutation, savasana (corpse pose), locust, and lotus, Yoga practitioners with heart problems will diminish both the systolic and diastolic pressure of the blood pumping to and from the heart muscle. This is a direct correlation with significantly reduced blood pressure levels. Hypertensive Yoga students will become and feel much more relaxed in every day life. Their heart muscles will be under much less tension and in a less tightened state during pumping action.
If students have a heart condition, you should encourage them to speak with their doctor first to ensure that yoga will benefit them, rather than increase their risk. You want them to be healthy, and sometimes even starting slow can aggravate the heart. By getting the okay from the doctor, you are ensured that your students are going to be okay during exercises, but you are also protecting yourself if a student were ever to have a heart attack in your class.
In addition to limited research on the benefits of Yoga, scientists have studied the effects of other techniques, such as meditation and biofeedback, on heart rate variability. Some studies show that an action as simple as placing our hand on our heart and feeling a state of gratitude can aid in stabilizing the autonomic nervous system and regulating the heart beat.
Using therapeutic yoga poses involves primarily those that open the chest and shoulders. These poses are usually those that are standing or bending, and they should be held for extended periods of time with slow, deep breathing to allow for more oxygen intake. Standing and bending poses also help tone cardiac muscle. The mountain pose, the tree pose, and the cat stretch pose can be used therapeutically to greatly benefit circulation and help to prevent the onset or further development of heart disease.
Yoga helps to control heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of the heart’s response to changes in the autonomic nervous system. Indian researchers examined the electrocardiograms of 42 healthy Yogis and 42 people who did not do Yoga. Participants ranged between 18 and 48 years old. Findings showed that Yoga practitioners not only had greater autonomic control over heart rate; they also had healthier hearts.