Self-care tips for a healthy heart!

In our modern day life, feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed tend to be the norm. This can put a strain on our circulatory system, nervous system and ultimately our hearts. In this post, I will offer you some tips on how to take special care of your heart by creating rituals using yoga poses, breathwork, and meditation to bring you into to a place of contentment, time and time again.

It is becoming a daily ritual of mine to take more walks in nature. My walks offer an opportunity for me to relax into the present moment and lean into the sounds and sights. I take off my shoes and walk barefoot just to feel the wet ground beneath my feet; to connect with the soil. I’ll find somewhere quiet to sit and then look with my eyes to see what I see. I feel the warm sun on my skin and the cool wind at my back. I listen to the birds and even watch the behavioral patterns of bugs. The clouds are always making some kind of interesting picture to entertain my imaginative mind. Nature holds space for me to let go into this moment, and just be. When I am there, I don’t feel overly eager or bored; enthusiastic or disinterested. I just feel full of peace and full of pure joy. I am practicing Santosha or contentment.

Take a few moments for your self to step out into nature and discover that happy medium between the two polarizing feelings. See how what is usually mistaken as a humdrum feeling can instead be seen as one of balance, happiness, and aliveness in the heart center.

ASANA – Yoga postures for a healthy heart

Let us start by learning about some yoga poses designed to regulate heart rate, improve breathing, boost confidence, reduce anxiety and manage depression!

Soft Fish Pose (Matsyasana) -Effects* – Supporting the body with three folded blankets allows for you to relax completely into the pose. Keeping the knees bent is a kind choice for an achy lower back. Taking full breaths into the heart space is comforting and will help to relieve anxiety or nervousness.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – Effects* – This pose can be done in a passive or active way, therefore the effects will vary depending on how you implement the pose in your practice. Pictured is a version of bridge pose with one leg extended upwards (Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). This version tones your muscles strengthening the shoulders, back, and legs. It reduces back pain, regulates your heart rate and can help with symptoms of depression.

Upward Facing Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) – Effects* – This exhilarating pose can give you a rush! It promotes a feeling of joy by opening up the whole front of the body. This pose improves breathing and blood circulation around the heart. It also helps to build emotional stability and self-confidence. I am showing a version of the pose (Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana) by extending one leg upwards. Before attempting this pose, one must prepare the body and mind by learning and practicing the preparatory poses regularly.

PRANAYAMA – Breathwork for a healthy heart

Next, let us discuss breathing practices. The heart center is governed by the element of air. Yoga postures aimed at balancing the heart center involve working with the supporting muscles and organs around the heart to give the chest cavity space in order to breathe fully! Taking conscious inhales and exhales relaxes the body and mind. One technique I like to use for this is alternate nostril breathing. By practicing alternate nostril breathing, we are working towards bringing balance to the polarized energies we each have within us: heating/cooling, male/female, fight or flight/rest and digest.  For those heart heavy days, it is amazing how a simple practice such as this one can change how you feel for the better! Heres how to practice two cycles of Nadi Shodhana.

Come to sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair with feet flat on the floor or on a cushion in a cross-legged position. Sit up tall. Using your dominant hand, fold the first and middle finger in towards the palm, leaving the ring finger, pinky finger and thumb extended. Now, take the thumb and ring finger to the bridge of your nose, and then slide the fingers down the nose until they meet the place where the nostrils flare.

  • Plug the left nostril and inhale through the right.
  • Plug the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Plug the left nostril and exhale through the right.
  • Inhale through the right nostril.
  • Plug the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Plug the left nostril and exhale through the right.

Let both hands rest on the knees and breathe normally for a few cycles of breath. Notice how you feel. You can practice this for more than two cycles at a time, but before you finish, make sure you exhale through the right nostril first, then relax and breathe normally.

ANAHATA – A meditation for the Heart Chakra

Anahata means unstruck or unhurt. This chakra is located behind the sternum bone in the center of our chest and it is associated with the glowing color of emerald green. Anahata is connected to our sense of touch so the hands directly communicate with our heart. To tap into your heart center, bring your two hands together in Anjali Mudra, a hand gesture that symbolizes love and peace. It looks just like prayer hands. Place your hands in front of your heart. In connecting the right side with left, we complete the circle of energy between the hands and the heart. This balances the right and the left side of the brain thus bringing us into a place of total awareness. Sit for a moment, breathing consciously and focusing your attention on the heart center to see what thoughts, sensations or emotions come up.  Allow yourself to just experience them for what they are, without any judgments and then let them pass.

*Reference – The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden

*Reference – Guiding Yoga’s Light by Nancy Gerstein