Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Specialized yoga can reduce cardiac risk factors

Many patients at the Heart Center benefit from specialized yoga. This type of yoga can reduce cardiac risk factors.

There is flow yoga, hot yoga, power yoga and even laughter yoga. There are variations of yoga for every type of person, level and interest. And it seems that yoga is offered everywhere, from specialized schools to your local fitness center.

So it should come as no surprise that for 25 years Massachusetts General Hospital has recommended yoga to some heart disease patients. Yoga at the Heart Center includes physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and meditation in a way that emphasizes heart health. This type of yoga can reduce cardiac risk factors and enhance lifestyle choices.

"It is an approach that’s safe for patients with heart disease and multiple cardiac risk factors," says Christie Kuo, RN, of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center at Mass General, "and it takes into consideration the many medical issues patients may have."

These medical issues include cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and most yoga students at the Heart Center are recovering from serious conditions such as coronary artery disease, valve disease, congestive heart failure or rhythm disturbance. These patients are often hard on themselves when beginning to make changes in their eating habits or starting an exercise program.

"This type of yoga emphasizes a cultivation of compassionate self awareness as patients move forward with their lifestyle changes," says Kuo.

Nurses are trained to modify poses so they are safe for patients. For example, they might replace a standing sun salutation series with a series of seated poses. Sitting in a chair reduces the effort required, provides a stable support and increases the number of yoga poses patients experience.

At Mass General, nurses incorporate yoga into three unique programs, all intended to treat different types of patients:

  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Program: Patients who have already experienced heart disease are eased into yoga during exercise sessions, relaxation sessions and classes on stress management and heart healthy eating.
  • Heart Attack Primary Prevention Program: On a consult basis, nurses often include yoga and meditation into a patient’s treatment plan.
  • Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program: In addition to weekly education and exercise sessions, patients in a group setting are guided by nurses through yoga poses, relaxation exercises and meditation that complement their efforts to reduce cardiac risk factors and prevent heart disease.

According to Kuo, yoga is only successful when it is carefully tailored to a patient’s needs. For example, when a patient visits Kuo, she starts the treatment plan by figuring out what the patient hopes to accomplish. Often this process begins with discussing their exercise goals.

"So already you’re starting to pull together threads that will help them in a more specific practice," explains Kuo.

She also incorporates meditation into the warm-up and cool-down time. An important part of yoga, meditation encourages patients to think about how they are feeling at that moment versus how they feel at other times of the day. Also known as self awareness, patients can apply this to stress reduction.

"I used to say yoga was stretching with an attitude," smiles Kuo. "It’s really stretching with awareness."

When patients are in a meditative state, they send signals to their mind and body that things are ok. If they can apply this meditative state to other, more stressful times of the day, then they greatly reduce stress levels. Kuo explains that the heart has a natural resting state called cardiac diastole. Just like the heart, people need to rest too.

"Allow yourself to rest and to find stillness. Accept where you are." says Kuo. "When you give your mind a rest, you’re really only doing what your heart wants to do naturally, rest for a period."

Back to Top