The Benefits of Yoga in Cardiac Rehab Journey

Written by KURA Guest Writer: Doris Lu-Anderson, PhD, E-RYT500, I-CAYT

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Yoga is a Sanskrit term meaning “union” or “connection”. It is a vehicle to unite body and mind. Yoga can be traced back to 5000 years ago. In the 21st century, some people perceived yoga as a workout and an opportunity to stretch before/after exercise. Other people practiced yoga to reduce stress. Some enjoy the benefits of yoga by developing it into their own style to match personal needs. For example, there is yoga for depression, anxiety, addiction, rehabilitation, and other various illnesses.

If we compare yoga to dancing, then we could say there are many different styles of yoga just as there are many different styles of dancing (e.g. waltz, cha-cha, etc.)

The Benefits of Yoga in Cardiac Rehab Journey

Dr. Ornish is a pioneer of lifestyle medicines in Western society using yoga or gentle stretching to assist in cardiac rehabilitation and recovery. Following Dr. Ornish, more practitioners and researchers throughout the world have gradually added yoga as part of their cardiac rehab intervention and found positive results (Guddeti, Dang, Williams, & Alla, 2019). Guddeti et al. reviewed studies from various databases until 2017 and indicated that yoga can help more than just release stress, it has other benefits such as:

Anti-Inflammatory

  • Lowers C-reactive protein
  • Decreases Interleukin-6
  • Lowers Leptin
  • Increases Adiponectin

Autonomic nervous system

  • Lowers sympathetic activation
  • Increases parasympathetic activation
  • Improves baroreflex sensitivity
  • Enhances heart rate variability

Immune System

  • Increases antibody levels
  • Improves telomerase activity
  • Enhances CD4+T Cell activity

Metabolic

  • Improves blood pressure
  • Lowers total cholesterol, LDL
  • Improves DM control

Neuro-Endocrine System

  • Decrease serum cortisol
  • Lowers serum aldosterone
  • Decreases serum adrenaline
  • Increases endorphins

What Types of Yoga Are Practiced in Cardiac Rehab?

People who are participating in cardiac rehabilitation need to have a special kind of “yoga” or “gentle stretching”. Most often, movements are slow and mindful. Breathing is natural and never strained.

Breathing is another key component to practicing yoga. When inhalation is longer than exhalation, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) is stimulated which raises the heart rate and blood pressure in preparation for action.. When exhalation is longer than inhalation, the parasympathetic system (calming response) lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga works at controlling the ratios between these two nervous systems (Mcinerney, as cited in Barrett, 2017).

Depending on an individual’s health condition, yoga may be performed in a seated position. Nischala Joy Devi, who is a master yoga teacher, helped Dr. Ornish establish a yoga program that can be a life-changing intervention for cardiac patients. According to her experience, the yoga style for this special population should be gentle and accessible. But the gentle and slow stretching movements can sometimes be a challenge for some cardiac patients because they are not used to slowing down. They want to push, push, push. However, by slowing down, they can look for signals of pain and begin to heal, perhaps even feel a sense of accomplishment (Devi, 2017).

Yoga practice brings people’s busy minds to reconnect with their body and breath. Instead of always pushing the limit, they can engage in actions that feed positive energy, love, and compassion to the heart. The goal is to move one’s body gently so they can be calm and relaxed.

Is Cardiac Rehabilitation Yoga only for Patients?

Patients and their supporting family members are highly encouraged to practice yoga together. The rehab journey takes teamwork to complete. Therefore, not only do the patients need these healing movements, but the support team also needs this time to restore themselves. It is a perfect time to support each other while relaxing together. Yoga connects one’s mind and body, and it connects patients with their loved ones.

References:

Barrett, J. (2017, April 12). Heart to heart. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/heart-to-heart

Devi, N. J. (2017, October 1). Yoga of the heart: Cardiac and cancer certification training. [Workshop training]. Yoga of the Heart, Soul of Yoga, Encinitas, CA, United States.

Guddeti, R. R., Dang, G., Williams, M. A., Alla, V. M. (2019). Role of yoga in cardiac disease and rehabilitation. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, 39(1), 146–152.

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