Yoga: Why does it make us feel so good? Benefits Part 1 – Circulatory System
We’ve all worked out the yoga makes us feel pretty darn amazing when we’ve struggled through our first couple of classes and broken the barrier labelled – That’s weird. The reasons for this go beyond the physical realm and our egoic minds want science so for those of you who’d like to understand on a bodily level, exactly what’s going on, my next few blog posts will cover the benefits to the nervous system, circulatory, muscular and skeletal systems.
From a physiological point of view, the health and functioning of the human body depends primarily on the adequate supply of glucose and oxygen for energy production. We get glucose through the process of digestion in the digestive system and oxygen from the air we breathe in through the respiratory system. The glucose and oxygen should reach every cell in the body via the blood. The blood is continuously in motion, never static or stagnant. Proper blood flow to all body parts is essential as they are dependent on the blood for the supply of glucose and oxygen so any exercise which can improve the circulation of blood flow to these body parts will by default, improve our overall health.
The heart carries out the vital function of pumping the blood in the arteries and keeping it in circulation. On the other hand blood from various body parts is collected through the venous circulation and returned back to the heart so that it can be re-oxygenated.
When the heart pumps the blood in the arteries it is under pressure, but as it circulates through the body the blood pressure gradually decreases until it reaches the heart where the pressure once again increases.
The overall health of the human being is dependent on the optimum functioning of the body cells, which in turn are dependent on a proper blood supply.
From pranayama to asana practice, yoga benefits the circulation system in a number of ways:
When we inhale, the diaphragm is pulled down, reducing the pressure in the chest and on the other hand the pressure in the abdomen is increased. This causes the compression of veins in the abdomen and pushes the blood towards the chest and into the heart. During the process of breathing out the diaphragm goes up to the normal position so the pressure in the abdomen reduces. This reduction in pressure causes the blood from both the legs to be pulled towards the abdomen. In the next cycle of breathing the same blood is pushed towards the heart and the cycle continues. During the practice of deep breathing the, effect is enhanced so that the action of the muscles in the body assists the job of the heart.
There is however, exceptions to this are the practice of kapalbhati and bhastrika breathing have slightly different effects. They also increase the venous return to the heart but as it is practiced with a jerk there are chances of increasing the blood pressure. So practice is contraindicated in those suffering from high blood pressure.
During the day we are standing or sitting and it causes some accumulation of blood in the lower parts of the body. The distance from the heart to the legs is more than any other body part. At the same time gravity always tries to pull the blood downwards away from the heart. Due to all these factors the venous return from the legs to the heart slows down. In the inverted postures like the shoulder stand and the headstand the legs are higher or above the heart so the blood flows towards the heart under the influence of gravity. This means the venous return is increased at a faster rate, improving the circulation.
On the other hand there are chances of increasing blood pressure. In the inverted position the heart has to pump blood against gravity in order to make blood reach the feet so the blood pressure can increase and inverted postures are contraindicated in those suffering from high blood pressure.
The warrior pose and triangle pose for example, help in improving the muscle tone of the legs. The efficiency of the muscles is increased causing effective contraction and relaxation of the muscles. It causes compression and decompression of the veins in the legs. This produces a pump effect and the blood is pushed towards the heart. On the other hand the tree pose and the mountain pose increase the elasticity of the blood vessels which further improves the circulation. The stretch produced during a standing posture prevents the deposition of cholesterol and thus prevents the thickening of the blood vessels and maintains the blood pressure.
In savasana or any relaxing position the body is completely relaxed. The capillaries and the muscles are relaxed which helps the flow of blood through the capillaries and maintains a proper circulation. Relaxation of mind and body in these positions helps to reduce the blood pressure. In the end it is important to note that the practice of yoga can improve and maintain proper blood circulation without increasing the heart rate and the blood pressure. i.e. It is a great cardiovascular work out even though it doesn’t increase the heart rate which is what makes it such as safe and effective exercise.