All healing traditions recognize the crucial role of the heart in sustaining life and energizing the body.
We cannot survive long without a properly functioning heart. Cardiovascular health is a key area contributing to overall vitality in many ways.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S. and many other developed countries. Fortunately, there are many powerful lifestyle and prevention-focused approaches that can help protect and rejuvenate our heart health.
From a Western medical perspective, lifestyle choices including avoiding tobacco products, maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week, eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods and produce, limiting alcohol consumption, getting adequate rest and relaxation and managing stress all contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system.
The heart is a crucial energy center in the body where many physical and energetic pathways intersect and interact. This confluence of influences makes the heart impacted by and capable of affecting many other aspects of the body and health. As you look within and take time for self-observation, energize your heart center and connect with your creativity, self-expression and compassion.
One way to get in touch with and open your heart is through stretching and yoga. Stretch your spine and open your heart with some opening yoga poses like Wheel Pose (urdhva dhanurasana), Bridge Pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) and Reverse Warrior (viparita virabhadrasana).
Reverse Warrior (viparita virabhadrasana):
Reverse Warrior is a standing pose that opens the chest and heart area while increasing blood flow and circulation throughout the body. This can help reduce fatigue and calm the mind.
Other benefits of Reverse Warrior Pose include:
>>> strengthens the hip and oblique muscles
>>> opens the chest and shoulders
>>> strengthens the quads, arms and neck
>>> increases self-esteem
>>> enhances compassion for self and others
Bridge Pose (setu bandha sarvangasana):
This pose can be modified in many ways to work for different people. It opens the whole front body and helps to calm the mind and ease depression. As you open the heart in Bridge Pose, notice if you feel energized, relaxed, rejuvenated and/or open and loving.
You can try a more restorative variation of Bridge Pose which can allow you to rest longer in this opening by sliding a block or bolster under the sacrum and resting the pelvis on this prop for support. Take care to avoid stressing the neck.
Other benefits of Bridge Pose include:
>>> strengthens the back
>>> lengthens the hamstrings
>>> improves circulation
>>> promotes relaxation
>>> opens the lungs and chest cavity
>>> strengthens the core muscles
Wheel Pose (urdhva dhanurasana):
Wheel or Upward Bow Pose is a great way to fully open the front body and increase energy. As you strengthen the arms, wrists, legs and buttocks you simultaneously stretch the chest and open the lungs. This can helps balance hormones, relax breathing and assist with infertility.
As you extend the front body, draw the inner thighs towards one another and keep the feet and elbows parallel. Use caution if you have low back, shoulder or wrist issues or if you have heart or blood pressure problems.
Other benefits of Upward Bow Pose of Full Wheel Pose include:
>>> expands the chest and shoulders
>>> stretches the wrist flexor muscles
>>> strengthens the back and gluteus muscles
>>> opens the lungs and eases breathing
>>> stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands
>>> uplifts the mood
As you literally open your heart through your yoga practice, consider ways in which you can practice heart opening in the rest of your life as well. As you come into conflict, relationship challenges and disagreements, take a moment to visualize opening your heart and stepping into compassion or ahimsa. Notice how your relationships shift as you approach them with a kind compassionate and open heart!
Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MB