Keep Your Heart Healthy
During the hot summer months, it can be hard to psych yourself up to "get out and sweat." But according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), intense cardio isn't the only way to boost heart health.
Gentle poses can tone this life-giving muscle, too, by stretching and compressing the torso and rib cage, which house and protect the heart, and by activating the meridian (energy path) that carries the heart's energy.
"When you hold a pose and relax into it, you stimulate the connective tissues that the deeper meridians run through, improving their ability to function," says Sarah Powers, author of "Insight Yoga."
Powers developed this sequence of poses to address the major body parts through which the heart meridian flows. "The idea is to relax, release stress, and let your body rest," she says, "so it can balance and heal itself."
For optimal heart health, alternate between a day of quiet practice and a day of more active exercise like Vinyasa yoga or traditional cardio. Balancing physically demanding exercise with a gentler routine works your heart in new ways, while nourishing your whole being.
Find a cool spot to spread out your mat, and use whatever props (pillows, blankets) you need to make each pose comfortable. Breathe naturally when performing this routine -- don't strive or push -- and let your muscles soften. Start by spending 1 to 3 minutes in each pose, and then gradually work up to 3 to 5 minutes.
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What it does: Compresses the front of the torso, nourishing the heart meridian. Also opens the hips and lower back, and decompresses the spine.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with knees bent and soles of the feet touching. Move your feet away from your hips so that your legs form a diamond shape. Lift your spine tall and bring your hands to your ankles, palms together. Fold forward at the hips; at the same time, extend your arms as far in front of you as you can, keeping your palms together. Let your head fall forward or rest it on a firm pillow (or stack of pillows, depending on your flexibility) placed on your feet or lower legs (again, depending on flexibility). Hold for 1 to 3 minutes.
What it does: Lifts and broadens the chest, which stimulates the heart meridian. Temporarily puts pressure on the lower back, releasing tension and stimulating the kidneys, which promotes vitality.
How to do it: Lie on your belly on the floor with your legs, buttocks, and feet relaxed and arms folded (palms down) by your sides. Prop yourself up on your forearms, with your elbows shoulder-width apart and 1 inch ahead of your shoulders. Bring your palms together. The buttocks, legs, and feet remain relaxed. Gaze straight ahead, keeping your chest lifted and shoulders back. Hold for 1 to 3 minutes.
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What it does: Applies gentle pressure to the shoulders and upper arms, stimulating the heart meridian as it travels to the fingertips. Also relieves tension in the neck and upper back. How to do it: Start on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and palms below your shoulders. Drop your left forearm to the floor; it should be horizontal in relation to your body, with the upper arm perpendicular to the forearm. Reach your right arm straight out with fingers spread and extended. Stretch your spine until it is as long as possible, keeping your hips directly above your knees (adjust your arms to accommodate the length of your spine), and rest your head on your left forearm. Relax for 1 to 3 minutes. Come back to all fours, reverse the placement of your arms, and repeat the move.
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