Yoga is a great way to stay fit, and numerous studies have shown that regular practice offers more than just toned arms. Yoga is a form of physical exercise that emphasizes breath, focus and meditation. Practicing yoga allows you to develop a deeper awareness of your body, mind and emotions and become more in tune with your physical and mental health. People who practice yoga receive many benefits, including building cardiovascular health, increasing lung capacity and improving respiratory function and heart rate. Here’s four yoga poses to improve your heart health.
Big Toe Pose
Start in a standing position with your legs straight and feet parallel to each other. Keep your legs straight while you bend over, stretching your toes upward. Be sure to bend from your hips and have a fluid body motion. Grab around your big toes with your pointer fingers, index fingers and thumbs. Put your toes on top of your fingers and continue stretch.
While holding your big toes, inhale and pull your body upward as if you were going back to the starting position. This position will stretch your body. Straighten your elbows. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles.
Modification: If you are unable to reach your toes without rounding your back, place a strap under the balls of your feet and hold the strap instead.
Benefits: Strengthens thighs, stretches hamstrings and calves, calms the brain, relieves stress, reduces anxiety and mild depression.
Head-to-Knee Forward Bend
From a seated position with legs extended forward, bend the right knee outward to a 90-degree angle and press the right foot into the inner left thigh. Grab the left foot, inhale, square the hips and lengthen the torso over the straight leg. Exhale, fold forward slowly from the groins. Extend the spine and lengthen through the chest. Keep your back long and flat without rounding, and pull left toes back toward you and extend through the left heel while firmly pressing the right foot into the left thigh. Allow your sit bones to press down toward the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles and switch sides.
Modification: If you can’t reach your foot, loop a strap around the sole of your foot and hold with your arms fully extended. Don’t pull yourself forward with the strap, but instead, use it to walk your hands forward while lengthening your arms and torso.
Benefits: Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings and groin. Calms the brain and relieves mild depression, reduces anxiety and fatigue, alleviates headaches and insomnia. Therapeutic for high blood pressure.
Reclining Big Toe Pose
Lie on your back with arms along sides and extend legs. Rest your head on the floor and inhale. Bend the right knee, draw thigh into your torso and clasp the right big toe with right fingers. Place the left hand on top of the upper left thigh to stabilize the left leg down. Actively reach through the pointed toes. Exhale and straighten the right leg as far as your flexibility allows. Inhale and lift head up toward the right leg and keep the left leg down. Hold for 5 breath cycles. Inhale head back down to the floor, and exhale right leg down.
Modification: Loop a strap around the sole of your foot and hold with both hands.
Benefits: Stretches hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins and calves. Strengthens knees, relieves backache and sciatica. Therapeutic for high blood pressure.
Lie on your back. Bend your knees with your feet on the floor hip-width apart. Bring your feet as close to the sitting bones as possible. Inhale and press your feet and arms actively into the floor and lift your hips up. Firm, but do not harden the glutes. Clasp your hands together, walk the shoulders down, and press into the floor with your feet and arms. Open the chest and reach the front of your legs and pelvis toward the sky. Hold for 5 breath cycles, exhale down. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Benefits: Stimulates abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid. Stretches the chest, neck and spine. Calms the brain, helps relieve stress and mild depression. Reduces anxiety, fatigue, backache, headache and insomnia.
If you’re new to yoga, start with some beginner classes. Hatha and Lyengar, two of the most popular forms of yoga in the United States, are great choices for beginners. Featuring slow, gentle movements and placing emphasis on body alignment and balance, these practices will help you ease yourself into yoga.
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