Mind, body, soul and…anahata?
While many people explore adding yoga to their health regimen for its physical and mental benefits, there is an additional benefit that sometimes gets overlooked: a healthier heart or anahata.
Because yoga has the ability to manage stress and reduce blood pressure, while also achieving physical strength and mental balance, the cardio results of yoga therapy are encouraging. In fact, to get that ticker in tip-top shape, experts, such as the The American Heart Association, suggest yoga can do the trick.
Even people who have faced cardiac arrest, heart attack or other cardiac conditions can benefit. Yoga strengthens the heart and body physically, but also has the uncanny benefit of helping post-cardiac patients overcome feelings of depression, anxiety and even grief.
With all the physical and heart-healthy benefits of yoga, there is little reason not to consider yoga as a powerful antidote to a variety of ailments.
We talked to Steven Cartacki, a Certified Yoga Teacher and Activities Director at our Deer Park Retirement Community in Novato, California, to find out more about how introducing a yoga practice to a senior’s health routine can benefit the heart. What we found was that yoga has the incredible ability to strengthen the heart’s functions not just physically, but also psychologically and emotionally.
This enlightenment process of the heart region, defined by yogis as the anahata, or heart chakra, is the fourth primary chakra, and translates as the strengthening of the heart’s qualities, so it is “unhurt, unstruck and unbeaten.” Read on as Steven takes us through a journey of discovery about the healing effects of yoga on the core and how strengthening this chakra through yoga practice can impact both physical and mental strength.
Specifically, what is your title and training in?
I currently teach chair yoga to seniors and have formally taught yoga practice at a sports club, township building and the library. I learned my practice at MOYO Yoga in Pennsylvania and earned my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training credential there.
What are some of the heart-healthy advantages to yoga?
Breathing exercises or any resting or yin pose has heart benefits because they help you relax, meditate and breathe. When you rest, you surrender, and many seniors find that this resting meditation helps relieve anxiousness and stress, both of which are hard on the heart.
Yoga also has the benefit of physical exercise that is not too strenuous on the heart. By coordinating breath with movement, yoga will speed the heart up gradually, putting less stress on the heart.
What is a good target heart rate for a senior’s yoga practice?
For a senior, I would shoot for 100-120 beats per minute, but this is just an estimate.
Are there any conditions or age restrictions at which you feel yoga is not a good idea?
I think yoga can be adapted to benefit any age or fitness level. Some people may be limited or unable to do certain poses because of particular ailments, in which case they should modify the pose or eliminate it altogether. As a whole, however, there is always something to be gained from yoga.
What type of yoga practice is most beneficial for the heart?
Anahata yoga literally means “heart” chakra and concentrates on the poses to balance the heart and open the core. Kundalini yoga is also great, incorporating breathing techniques, holding poses longer, meditation and chanting.
What are the best poses for a healthy heart?
Any pose where your arms are raised and you’re reaching for the sky. Warrior 2 is good for opening the heart because you are pulling arms away from the centerline, and cat/cow flow is also a great pose, almost massaging your core. Even child’s pose is beneficial to the core because the outstretched position of the arms and shoulders allows the chest to open.
What’s your favorite heart-opening position?
My favorite is camel pose. It opens the chest by pushing your chest out and pushing your heart forward. Anytime your shoulders are pulled back and your chest is pushed forward you can improve airflow and breath easier.
What pose produces the highest level of emotional response from your students?
I have my patients hold a squat pose in their practice, which is probably their least favorite pose. The inside of the hips is a very emotional place, and holding it firm can get uncomfortable. This urges students to want to come out of the pose, but pushing though it creates a mental response of success and prepares them to mentally push through other obstacles both in practice and in life.
Would you recommend yoga practice for couples?
Yes. Yoga practice can not only be a great way to experience something together and bond over an activity, it can also open up the communication lines and teach students to have a better understanding of themselves and their partners. Self-awareness and healthy boundaries are a large part of yoga practice and benefit all relationships.
Strengthening the anahata chakra through yoga practice has powerful cardio, emotional and physical benefits. Understanding how the heart is affected by introducing a yoga practice to your health regime can elicit a mental and physical response that strengthens your being to a state where you become unhurt, unstruck and unbeaten.