If there is a health problem which can be reversed through yoga, it is that related to the heart. Yoga can prevent and also cure heart conditions quite effectively. The best part is you don’t have to get into any rigorous or difficult practices for keeping the heart healthy.
Most heart problems are related to poor dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle and personality problems like tendencies towards stress, anxiety, anger and fear. It can be one or a combination of these. The heart beats around 1,00,000 times and pumps 10 tonnes of blood in a day. This hard-working organ faces challenges when due to stress, anxiety, the breathing becomes irregular and shallow. The heart does not get its proper nutrition of oxygen from the lungs and its rhythmic beat is disturbed. Similarly, foods rich in fat and sugar thicken the blood, resulting in calcification of arteries around the heart, causing angina or even heart attack and heart failure.
Whether the person is young and healthy or in old age and infirm, the beauty of yoga for the heart is that it involves practices like Shavasana, Yoga Nidra, mantra chanting and simple meditation techniques which all can practise. Besides this there are some asanas which again are simple but effective. After a few months of these simple practices, if the doctor certifies that a heart patient has crossed the danger mark for the heart, then he can start doing Surya Namaskar. If the person follows the regime of some simple asanas, Suryanamaskar, Shavasana, pranayama, mantra and meditation, then he will never look back and move towards a perfectly health life.
Start with your eyes closed, relax your body and centre the mind within. Chant mantra Om three times. Then start your practice.
If done with eyes closed and awareness inside the body, then asanas are powerful practices impacting your joints, muscles, blood circulation and stiffness. Yoga believes that prana, the vital life force, cannot function smoothly because of various blockages. This simple practice is the initial step in removing energy blockages. Keeping the eyes closed helps you break away from externalities, leading to relaxation in the mind-body complex.
Begin with pranayama and chanting routine
If doing pranayama after a heart diagnosis, then do avoid Anulom Vilom, or alternate nostril breathing, and Kumbhak or breath retention. The recommended pranayama practices are Ujjayi, which is a diaphragmatic breath and Bhramari, where you breathe in while blocking your ears and make a humming sound before expelling the air through your nose. The sound helps you focus better.
After pranayama, chant “Om”, beginning with 11, then 27, going up to 54 and finally 108 times. Om chanting induces meditative states, calms the mind and the nerves and spiritually it is said to clean your sub-conscious and unconscious mind. This is a phenomenal benefit as heart ailments are closely linked with faulty breathing patterns due to fear and anxiety, which are partly a result of unresolved deep seated psychological problems.
Asanas that you can graduate to after the initial routine
After a couple of months of these simple practices, a heart patient can introduce the following asanas:
Shashank asana: Sit with your hands resting on your knees. Relax whole body, inhale deeply, straighten your arms over your head, then, with exhalation, drop your body forward from the waist so that the hips remain resting on your heels while keeping your arms straight and finally resting on the floor in front. In the final position, your forehead will be resting on the floor with arms stretched out. For some this may not be possible initially but with practice, the spine and muscles free up and you will be able to achieve perfection. Remain in the rabbit pose for as long as it is comfortable or for a minimum of five rounds of gentle inhalation and exhalation. Finally, with inhalation sit back with hands over the head and then finally lower it on your knees.
Makrasana: After this forwarding bending asana, practise Makrasana as a counter pose. This is again a gentle backward bending practice which improves lung functioning, thereby affecting the heart, and also strengthens the lower back.
Lie down on your stomach and cup your jaws in your palms in such a way that the elbows meet under the chin or are a little apart whichever is more comfortable. Relax whole body, then as you inhale, fold your right legs at the knee maximum. With exhalation, place it back on the floor. Repeat with the left leg and then with both legs together. This makes one round. Do a minimum of five rounds.
Naukasana: Lie down on your back so that the spine and head are in a straight line. Relax your body. Visualise the final position, inhale deep and as you exhale, lift your legs, upper torso and arms to 45 degrees to the floor with fingers pointing towards the toes. Keep your gaze fixed at the toes and hold the position as long as it comfortable. You may breathe in and breathe out in the final position on some days as a variation.
Inhale, come back to starting position and relax. This asana is a bit strenuous so should be practised after you have done other practices. It tones and strengthens the body. This is a good asana to practise last and follow it up with Shava asana.
A practical yoga routine with a good diet and lifestyle will ensure health and vigour.
(Kamini Bobde is a Kundalini practitioner who follows the Swami Satyananda Saraswati tradition of yoga. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga for All: Unlock the Power of Your Body and Brain. Published by Penguin)