February is American Heart Month, when the focus shifts towards increasing awareness about heart health. The most active muscle in our bodies (by far) is the heart. Together, blood vessels and the heart make up the cardiovascular system. If you stretched your blood vessels out in one line, you would reach 60,000 miles-enough to stretch around the earth more than two times!
Needless to say, the heart plays a major role in the workings of the body. Yet heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in this country. And in most cases, heart disease is preventable or even reversible with dietary and lifestyle changes. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, while getting regular exercise and reducing stress, are all ways to support your ticker.
With a regular yoga practice, which offers both strength training and heart pumping aerobics (ask anyone who´s done the Primary Series if it didn´t get the heart rate up!), in addition to stress reduction, you already cover some of the lifestyle changes necessary to promote a healthy heart.
Recent research backs this up. In a study of 84 volunteers, experienced yoga practitioners were found to have higher heart rate variability (HRV) as compared to those people who did not practice yoga. Increased HRV is associated with good health, and is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. In addition to heart rate, the autonomic nervous system controls such processes as digestion, respiration (read: pranayama!), salivation, perspiration, and more. In contrast, low HRV is associated with congestive heart failure, depression, fibromyalgia and diabetic neuropathy.
It makes complete sense, of course, but it´s nice to see science discover the many benefits of the practice which ancient teachers have known all along is the key to good health-not only of the body, but the mind and the soul, as well.
May your practice this month bring energy and balance to your heart, and may that be filled with love.