The Most Effective Stress Reducer Ever Invented For Your Heart
Author: Puja Shah
If you keep your armpits open, you won’t get depressed.”
The area where your arm attaches to your chest meets and meets your heart is quite often the area we tend to guard and close off the most. Notice how you are sitting as you read this. Are your shoulders, even the slightest bit, rounded and slouched forward? Is your your chin pointing down? Take a minute and roll your shoulders up, lift your head…and open your heart.
Notice how this makes you feel.
As yoga guru BKS Iyenger says, opening your heart is a way to stay happy. Doing simple heart excises that release tightness in your chest can make you feel lighter, brighter and more receptive to love.
What’s even more fascinating is that your heart is the area of the fourth chakra in the chakra system, so it gets replenished in these expansive poses as well. The fourth chakra, Anahata, means “unstuck” or “unhurt” in Sanskrit.
It implies perhaps, that deep beneath our heart pain, we are whole, bound and full of love and compassion. This chakra’s element is air which can take on the shape of whatever it fills. A closed, withdrawn ribcage is one that brings feelings of loneliness, versus an open and expansive body, which can invite harmony and connection to our inner selves. Through the flow of our chakras, we establish a connection to our higher self.
But it’s not all spiritual.
Even science can explain the yoga-heart connection. As Dean Ornish M.D. explains to Yoga Journal, “Chronic emotional stress makes plaque build up twice as fast in the coronary arteries that feed the heart. Stress also causes the coronary arteries to constrict, reducing blood flow to the heart. It makes the platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots that may precipitate a heart attack.”
Yoga is, perhaps then, the most effective stress-reduction method ever invented.
Dr. Ornish had run a trial back in 1986, which included President Bill Clinton, where with a plant-based diet and strong yoga practice, 82 per cent of the participants experienced a reduction in arterial blockages after just one year.
So what’s not to LOVE about that?
You don’t have to be a seasoned yogi to do these three simple poses, so give them a try.
Pose 1: Chair Pose: Utkatasana: Physically, this pose strengthens the thighs, but it stimulates the abdominal organs, diaphragm and the heart. It also opens the shoulders and chest. Be sure to consult your physician if you have headaches, insomnia or low blood pressure before trying this pose.
Stand tall with your feet together or hips distance apart and a straight spine. Inhale through your nostrils and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. Join the palms or have them facing one another, or you may even keep them parallel. Find what feels most comfortable to your neck and shoulders. Exhale through your nostrils and bend your knees, keeping the thighs as parallel as they can be to the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against the back and keep the lower back long. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute and to release, straighten your knees on the inhalation and exhale to release your arms to your sides.
Pose 2: Cobra Pose: Bhujangasana:This is a wonderful heart opening pose, but be sure to avoid if you have had a back injury, have carpal tunnel syndrome or are pregnant.
Lie prone (face-down) on the floor or yoga mat. Stretch your legs back, resting the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Legs can be hip-width apart or zipped together if there is no pinching in the lower back. Spread your hands flat under your shoulders as you hug your elbows back into your body. As you inhale, begin to straighten the arms and lift the chest off the floor, keeping a connection with your hips to your legs. Make sure you are lifting with the strength of your back, not from the strength in your arms. Firm the shoulder blades against the back and puff the side ribs forward. Do not push the front ribs to be able to distribute the backbend evenly throughout the spine. Hold for 15-30 seconds and breathe fluidly. Release back to the floor on the exhalation.
Pose 3: Bridge Pose: Setu Bhandha Sarvangasana: This pose is contraindicated for those with a neck injury.
Lie supine on the floor and bend your knees to set the feet on the floor, bringing your heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Feet should be hip-width apart. Exhale and press your feet and arms into the floor as your push your tailbone upward toward the pubis. Firm the thighs as you keep the legs and inner feet parallel. If your knees drift out, bring them back in. Roll the shoulders underneath your body to support your heart center. If comfortable, clasp your hands below your hips and extend the arms to help you stay on the shoulders. If this does not serve you, keep the arms extended straight out, pressing into the floor. Avoid moving the neck side to side, keep your gaze up and lift your chin away from the sternum. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To exit the pose, relax the muscles and release with an exhalation as you slowly roll the spine down back onto the floor, one vertebra at a time.
The best part of these poses is that they can be done anywhere you feel comfortable as you open up for more love. Just remember to breathe and be ready to receive as you open your heart to the world. And tell us, what will your heart attract today?
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