Yoga is a practice of integration of body, mind, and spirit which emphasizes meditation, breath work, and yoga poses or asanas that work through the whole body, both internally and externally.
Cardiovascular benefits of yoga can range from cholesterol profile improvement, to vital capacity increase, and improved circulation. These effects may be related to yoga’s benefits on vitality and longevity too.
- Yoga: Types & Intensity
- What intensity is Yoga Training?
- Cardiovascular Health Factors
- Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga
- 11 Studies on Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga
- Cardiovascular effects of Yoga in adults over 40 years
- 12-Week Hatha Yoga on cardiorespiratory endurance
- Yogic Lifestyle on Ischemic Heart Disease Reversibility
- Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation of Cardiorespiratory Performance & Melatonin Secretion
- Hatha Yoga & Vital capacity of College Students
- Yoga as a technique to control cardiovascular diseases
- Best Yoga Poses for the Heart
- 11 Studies on Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga
Yoga can improve strength, flexibility, and mobility from its physical aspect, but it can also have lots of other positive effects on a spiritual and mental level.
Besides this, yoga is a great tool for improving your heart’s health and cardiovascular performance. While it may not make your heart beat as much as running, it can be pretty efficient as an aerobic workout too, if you choose the right type.
Yoga: Types & Intensity
Different yoga practices and styles with different duration will offer different effects on cardiovascular health.
When measuring the activity level, we can use metabolic equivalent like MET or energy expenditure, usually measured through calorie calculations.
We must be aware of the fact that different people will have an individual response to the same workout. This means that a light 20-minute vinyasa flow will do nothing for a professional runner in terms of cardiovascular endurance, while it can specifically improve the performance of an old lady with a sedentary lifestyle.
This is why we will look at different studies to see what kind of intensity different yogic styles will be at for the majority of the population.
Intensity Measurement: MET, Calories & VO2max %
There are more levels when it comes to specific training, however here I’ll show you the basic 3 stages of light, moderate and vigorous exercise. Keep in mind that these are basic measurements meant for the whole population and are not specific. This means someone’s ratio of HRmax vs VO2max percentage will differ.
Light exercise is considered the one with around 1.1-3.0 MET, 50-75% HRmax or 45-80% VO2max. The effort exertion from 1-10 should be around 1-3 in the light exercise zone. Usually, people train in this zone for recovery, warm-up, fat-loss, or longer-duration workouts for aerobic endurance.
Moderate exercise is considered training around 3.0-6.0 MET, 70-80% HRmax or 75-105% VO2max. Training in this zone will improve cardiovascular performance, speed, endurance, fat loss, and aerobic fitness.
Hard exercise is training done submaximally or maximally at zones of 6.0+ MET, 80-100% HRmax or above 105% VO2max. This zone will result in improved speed, and maximal performance will cause fatigue and EPOC effects, cardiovascular performance improvement, and more. It is the zone where professional athletes spend a lot of time training.
What intensity is Yoga Training?
Yoga practice can differ a lot since many styles have different postures, rituals, and transitions. Overall, we can separate the lighter, easier, and more passive types of yoga with the moderate, medium intensity ones and vigorous, hard & sweaty yoga sessions.
Once again, keep in mind that the same yoga will be of different intensity for different people, this is an overall measurement for the population.
Most of the yoga practices will fall into the category of light exercise intensity. These include Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Hatha Yoga, Iyengar yoga, or any type of Restorative, Passive, Stretching–Dominant practice of yoga.
The other category of yoga practices that fall into the category of moderate exercise intensity will be those that are more dynamic and include faster-paced-flows and strength work. Types of yoga such as Ashtanga, Kundalini, Hot Yoga, Dynamic Vinyasa, and Bikram Yoga. Even though some of these yoga styles may look easy, they do involve pretty intense breath work and focus which pump your heart.
Extra Research: Yoga Intensity – Vinyasa, Hatha and Low-Intensity
- Vinyasa Flow was tested for its intensity in relation to heart rate, for a flow of 50 minutes (35 minutes active) with 5-10 minutes of breath work or seated positions/preparation. Vinyasa was at a light-exercise and moderate exercise for the majority, with mean average heart rate dominating at 50-76% HRmax. (1) In another study it was also shown that yoga meets the criteria for moderate-intensity activity. (2)
- When Hatha yoga was tested for its intensity, they found out that most of its motions were at around 1-2 METs, except for a couple of poses that were higher than 2. Ventilation was higher in Dhanurasana, Halasana and Utthanpadasana, which also had higher energy costs. (3)
- Another study focused on whether yoga will satisfy health maintenance numbers based on its intensity, they found out that in 20 intermediate to advanced-level practitioners, yoga session was in the low-intensity category, similar to walking on a treadmill at 3.2 kph. This wouldn’t meet the needed recommendations, however if there were sun salutations for more than 10 minutes in the yoga session, this would offer sufficient intensity for cardiovascular health. (4)
Choosing a higher-intensity yoga such as Hot, Ashtanga, Dynamic Vinyasa, Kundalini or Bikram may result in cardiovascular health improvements. Other passive and restorative styles will most likely be in the low-intensity category which won’t affect the heart that much. Most of the yogic styles offer the intensity of light or moderate exercise.
Cardiovascular Health Factors
In order for us to find out whether yoga can improve heart health, we should know the basic metrics of cardiovascular health. I’ll explain the basic metrics very briefly so you can have a better understanding when looking at the scientific evidence.
Body Mass Index, shows body size measurement. Uses individual weight and height ratio. Watch out for muscular individuals, it will show that they are overweight. Normal weight is around 18-25 kg/m3, under 18 is skinny and over 25 is overweight. Being over 40 BMI is Extreme Obese Class 3 and can be a serious potential risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Heart Rate shows how many times per minute your heart pumps blood. Usually it’s around 60-100 bpm, in trained individuals it gets closer to 40-50 since they have bigger volume and need less pumps per minute, which is good. This is a side effect of aerobic exercise which improves heart efficiency and oxygen transport with it.
It indicates artery pressure number during heart contraction (blood pumping). Normal systolic is around 120 mm Hg, higher blood pressure can increase the risk of heart events, and if only systolic is high, that’s called isolated systolic hypertension.
Diastolic blood pressure is the number that indicates artery pressure during heart relaxation, it’s usually 80 in healthy individuals. Lower number indicate lack of blood pumping and oxygen transport called hypotension.
It is a fatty component found in your blood, cells and organs in your body. Total cholesterol is a combination of all 4 types, CM, LDL, HDL and VLDL. Total cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL are considered healthy, above 240 mg/dL are high and may be detrimental.
Also known as “the bad cholesterol” LDL carries cholesterol to the cells. Higher number of 130-160 are serious and may be detrimental, while less than 100 mg/dL is normal and considered healthy.
Also known as “the good cholesterol”. HDL functions as a LDL transporter (to the liver) but can also have athero-protective and anti-inflammatory properties. Higher HD can be better, levels of 60 mg/dL are healthy while below 50 for women and 40 for men can be detrimental.
Other factors such as genetics, nutrition, activity level, smoking, and gender may play an important role in developing or increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease or event.
However, it is known that a normal range of cholesterol, healthy weight, physical activity, healthy diet rich in plants, healthy lifestyle, and stress management can cut the risk of CVD.
Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga
Yoga can have positive effects on the heart, even if its main goal is not improving cardiovascular endurance and performance.
While many people think that yoga by itself has nothing to do with cardiovascular performance, there is evidence-based data that shows us the opposite.
Whether through stress hormone balancing, strength & flexibility improvements, sun-salutation sweating or breath work, and meditation, yoga can have a couple of potential effects.
Here are the main evidence-based, potential effects of different yoga practices on the heart:
- Improvement in heart-health-related blood markers
- Reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Reduction in resting heart rate
- Reduced triglyceride & LDL levels
- Increase in heartbeat volume
- Improvements in cardiovascular performance & endurance
- Improvements in the Valsalva ratio
- Increased VO2max (maximal rate of oxygen consumption)
- Ischemic heart reversibility
- Stress management reduced cortisol and adrenaline
- Improved myocardial perfusion
- Increased lung volume (exhalation/inhalation)
- Improved vital capacity
- Coronary lesion regression
- Improved melatonin secretion & sleep
- Increased energy levels and oxygen transport
- Improved mood, reduced depression & anxiety
- Reducing inflammation & oxidative damage
- Reduced mortality stroke
- Hormone balance & parasympathetic activation
- Improved symptoms of patients with heart failure
11 Studies on Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga
Cardiovascular effects of Yoga in adults over 40 years
Comparing 50 control group subjects vs. 50 study subjects who practiced yoga for more than 5 years, we can draw a conclusion on the positive effect of yoga on heart health. In fact, all these subjects were older than 40 years and were tested for heart health-related markers.
Systolic and Diastolic blood pressure difference was significant in-between groups. The ones who practiced yoga had significantly lowered heart rates.
Valsalva ratio is defined as the maximum heart rate during the maneuver divided by the lowest heart rate that’s obtained for 30 sec of the peak heart rate. It was shown to be significantly higher in yoga practitioners, which confirms that yoga can have a positive effect on aging. (5)
12-Week Hatha Yoga on cardiorespiratory endurance
Testing Hatha yoga in Chinese adults gave some pretty good results in cardiorespiratory function. In fact, respiratory function is highly related to heart health.
173 adults were split into the yoga intervention or the control wait-list group. Major differences in the yoga group were shown. Cardiorespiratory endurance improved, along with resting heart rate (HR) and maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max)
There were also improvements in strength and muscular endurance and flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back in the yoga group. All in all, Hatha yoga style improved strength, endurance, flexibility, and heart health. (6)
Yogic Lifestyle on Ischemic Heart Disease Reversibility
Since a yogic lifestyle has the potential to change persons eating habits & diet, along with stress and mood improvements, it may reduce the risk of artery and heart-related diseases.
In patients with coronary artery disease, yoga was tested for its effects on cardiovascular health and ischemic heart reversibility.
- After a year of a yogic lifestyle, cholesterol numbers went down. Total serum cholesterol, serum LDL dropped by 23.3% and 26% respectively. Yoga also helped with coronary lesions regression and improved myocardial perfusion. (7)
Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation of Cardiorespiratory Performance & Melatonin Secretion
Both Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation were investigated for their effects on psychological profile, cardiovascular performance, and secretion of melatonin in 30 healthy young volunteers, separated in two groups of 15, the control and experimental one.
|First Group (3 Months)
|Second Group (3 Months)
|40 minutes of body flexibility exercises (morning)
|45 minutes of yogic asanas (morning)
|20 minutes slow running (morning)
|15 minutes of pranayama (morning
|60 minutes of playing games (evening)
|30 minutes of preparatory yogic postures & pranayama (evening)
|30 minutes meditation (evening)
After 3 months there were significant improvements in melatonin, psychological profile, and cardiorespiratory performance. In conclusion, yoga may improve sleep, melatonin secretion, and overall health & well-being. (8)
Hatha Yoga & Vital capacity of College Students
Since lung function and respiratory system activity is associated with cardiovascular health, there is a good study on the vital capacity of young college students in relation to yoga.
Vital capacity is the measurement that tells how much can you exhale after maximal inhalation, normally around 60-70 mL/kg. In asthmatics, smokers, and people with heart or lung conditions, it is pretty important.
Yoga postures may improve the volume of your lungs and increase inhalation/exhalation since the right posture can increase the volume of the chest, and make more space for your lungs.
- In 287 students 50-minute yoga classes twice a weekly lead to improved vital capacity. They did breath work, yoga poses, and relaxation. (study)
Yoga as a technique to control cardiovascular diseases
Considering studies or not, yoga is a well-known practice for improving overall health & well-being, along with boosting energy, improving mood, and reducing inflammation. It is a holistic practice that connects the mind, body, and spirit, promoting many benefits for the emotional, physical, and spiritual body.
Since it can help with chronic inflammation, pain sensations, body detox, and energy traveling through our channels, it may potentially be beneficial for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Studies show a modest reduction of blood pressure (3 mm Hg) which can reduce the risk of stroke mortality by 8%. It has the potential to reduce sympathetic activity and stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Yoga can also help with metabolic syndrome and other CVD factors like lipid profile, blood pressure, stress, type 3 diabetes, and body weight. (9)
Modifying cardiovascular disease risk factors and metabolic syndrome with Yoga
The yogic lifestyle is known to cut cardiovascular disease risk, so these systematic reviews & meta-analyses are here to specify its effects.
In 37 randomized controlled trials and 32 meta-analyses comparing effects of yoga on cardiovascular health, this is what the results look like: (10)
|Systolic blood pressure
|-5.21 mm Hg
|Body mass index
|Diastolic blood pressure
|-4.98 mm Hg
The only two factors that were not significantly influenced by yoga were fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin. (10)
Immediate Cardiovascular Effect of a Single Yoga Session
This study shows which effects will immediate yoga have on your heart. It is a short-term effect that allowed the screening of more practitioners in a given period. This study lasted for two years, 2010-2012 in which 1896 patients were included. (11)
This is a pretty big number and will definitely show if a similar effect happens to more people. Practitioners had different measurements of heart rate & blood pressure.
With simple warm-ups, yoga poses and asanas, breath work, relaxation, chanting, and stretching, yoga training a resulted in healthy reduction of heart rate and blood pressure, more significant in those with hypertension.
Yoga’s impact on Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, an arrhythmia with rapid changes in heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke or heart failure, tested through ECG.
People with the condition are given beta-blockers, but sometimes medications are expensive and can lead to other side effects which may be detrimental in the long term.
Yoga may have the potential to naturally improve these symptoms and enhance heart health. A couple of studies have shown that yoga can reduce atrial fibrillation symptoms. Most of the studies are not long enough to draw strong conclusions and most of the results were self-reported. (12)
This means we would need more research in this specific department, however with all the previous positive effects of yoga-like hormone balance, reduced heart rate and parasympathetic activation, yoga may have the potential to improve AF.
Yoga for Heart Failure
Yoga, as one of the oldest traditional practices, has a history of health benefits, on both physical and mental levels. It has been proven and self-reported to improve well-being, quality of life, and energy levels, so there is a potential for yoga therapy for improving the symptoms of patients with heart failure.
There are many potential effects when it comes to yoga and improving life quality, due to increased strength, mobility, energy, and improved mood.
Cardiac patients should definitely be active, with doctors given plan. Since yoga is so versatile, offering lower or higher intensity depending on the type, it is definitely a good way to work with it. Besides stretching or strengthening, yoga’s metabolic demands can vary a lot.
Even though more research is needed, there is definitely a potential for yoga to improve heart health and it is an easy and practical practice you can have at your home with minimal equipment. (12)
*Studies have some limitations, important to evaluate the validity of their results. Here’s a highlight of some and NOT ALL studies (and limitation), shown in this article, for context.
- Studies that include specific, already trained (intermediate-advanced) individuals or instructors.
- Studies with small to moderate sample sizes, are hard to generalize.
- The insufficient measure of external factors *temperature, psychology, time of the day, sleep quality, eating habits
- A sample of 90% women makes it unclear to see potential alterations of results if more males were included, hard to generalize.
- Many studies done on young, healthy, and active individuals is not applicable in older individuals with health conditions.
- Lack of randomization, selection bias, and reduced comparability.
- The benefits comes as a secondary or indirect effect of yoga *related to something else
- Moderate quality of Randomized-Controlled Trials.
Best Yoga Poses for the Heart
When it comes to adopting a yogic practice that is great for the heart, besides the specific poses which can enable your heart to pump more fresh oxygenated blood, there are special types of dynamic yoga which you might want to consider heart-healthy.
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Bikram Yoga
- Hot Yoga
- Dynamic Vinyasa Flow
These 4 types of yoga are incorporating more movement, flow, and transitions between each posture. They are incorporating many heart rate-increasing activities, such as hard poses, deep and fast breath work, and fast dynamic transitions. This will definitely sweat you out and make your heart pump more blood.
Aside from this types of yoga, here are the top yoga poses for the heart:
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
- Downward Dog (Ado Mukha Svanasana)
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Savangasana)
- Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
- Half Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
- Shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
As you may have noticed, there are a couple of chest openers for volume and posture improvements, some inversions or downward-facing positions which allow blood to go back to the heart, and a couple of stable stance positions.
Yoga can have a lot of positive effects on one’s heart. By influencing on secondary factors yoga may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or improve cardiovascular performance. It can improve blood pressure, stress management, cholesterol profile, oxygen consumption, resting heart rate & heart volume. More intense & dynamic yoga styles are into the moderate exercise intensity levels, other more restorative & passive yogic styles will not have the same influence since they are mostly in the light exercise activity category.