It was an honor to share the additional benefits of yoga with the California State Firemen’s Association in the March edition of CFSA. Thank you! http://www.multibriefs.com/briefs/csfa/csfayoga0312.htm

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While physical exertion, attention to detail, and promoting safety are at the forefront of the job, over a period of time, these factors can create havoc on the body. Being exposed to consistent patterns of sporadic stress, physical signs and preventable symptoms will begin to show up in a place that it matters the most: the heart. Without healthy navigational tools to help manage body and mind health, there is greater potential for heart disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, and heart attacks.

Matters of the Heart

Research findings from the March 22 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine report firefighters performing nonemergency duties are more likely to experience the following:

  • 12 to 136 times more likely to die of heart disease when putting out a fire
  • 3 to 14 times more likely to die of heart disease while responding to an alarm
  • 2 to 10.5 times more likely to die of heart disease while returning from an alarm
  • 3 to 7 times more likely to die of heart disease during physical training

There is a specific strategy that aids in the betterment of improved cardiovascular function, which involves three pivotal tools: breath, awareness, and movement (the foundation principles of yoga). However, the secret component is to accompany the tools together, which will allow the body to create a pathway to move from constant ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and digest’. This is the catalyst for heart health. Let the inquiry of combining three simple strategies into a one-stop-shop effort lead into the basic implementation of yoga and the unlimited benefits the practice has to offer.

Tips for Heart Health

  1. Start where you are. Can you become very aware of your body: the aches, pains, stiffness, lingering injuries, etc.? Techniques such as a 3-minute head to toe body scan(UCLA Mindfulness Research) while seated or lying down can offer insight to the exact sensations the body is experiencing. The yoga practice is about revealing those pieces and using mindful movement to gain overall peace and reduced stress.
  2. The breath is an instant stress reliever, but at the same time, can lead to disaster when done incorrectly or not at all. Inconsistent breath patterns, inhalation of smoke and fumes, or holding the breath, all place additional stress on the heart. Developing a practice of daily, mindful breathing can help offer the relief. Try taking five full rounds of deep breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the mouth to an even count (i.e. inhale count to five, exhale count to five). The fresh oxygenated blood will be a gift to your organs and blood flow circulation. Over time, gradually increase the count duration. An effective breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil known as the 4-7-8 or Relaxing Breath, offers an abundance of calming effects that aid in stress reduction, lower blood pressure, increased lung capacity, and improved respiratory function and heart rate.
  3. Any one can attempt to stretch. However, ‘yoga’ translates to mean yoke or unite. By moving with awareness and breath, the action of stretching the hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, and other parts of the body becomes a work of union versus separate actions. The movement involves going to a slower process, which aids in bringing balance to a fast paced job or lifestyle. The movement also builds strength, tones muscles, and boosts blood circulation throughout the body. Every yoga posture offers a therapeutic benefit. Briefly described below are four yoga poses that will help enhance the healthy state of your heart:
  • Big Toe Pose: Place feet hip-width distance apart. Inhale reach arms overhead. Exhale with bent knees to reach the toes or hold opposite elbows with the palm of hands. Engage the lift of the quads, draw navel up and in, and relax the back of the spine.
  • Forehead to Knee: Find a seat on the floor and extend both legs forward. With feet remaining flexed, bend the right knee to a 90-degree angle and press inner arch to inner thigh of left leg. Inhale arms overhead. Exhale find a gentle twist to the torso and lengthen the front of the chest over the extended leg.
  • Reclining Big Toe Hold Pose: Use a strap, towel, t-shirt or anything that will assist in extending to reach the big toe while lying supine. Begin on the back, interlace fingers and draw the right knee into the right side outer ribs. Place left hand on top of the left hip bone and gently press downward, keeping leg extended. Use strap (if needed over the arch of right foot) to assist in extending the right leg towards the sky.
  • Bridge: Find a supine position with bent knees and toes pointing straight forward. Align ankles directly beneath bent knees. With arms down at body side, gather the center of the shoulder blades together slightly elevating the chest and lengthening the back of neck. Press evenly into both feet, extend the tailbone forward and you elevate the pelvis off the floor. Release any tension formed in the glutes and soften the abdominal wall.

About the author: Christy is an Orange County based Yoga Instructor and school educator. She is an advocate of health both on and off the yoga mat. She has been influential introducing yoga and meditation to high school students and adults. Her passion is to help others find a way to make positive and sustainable changes in everyday living. Christy can contacted at: Christycurtisyoga.com or christycurtisyoga@gmail.com.