Yoga exercises you can try at home

Marie Toms introduces a chair-based yoga exercise sequence for a taste of yoga in your own home.

We’ve given some suggestions below for a yoga sequence. It is suitable for most people with heart disease, but see the ‘Before you start’ box and always check with your GP first.

This yoga sequence has been modified to make it chair-based, meaning that it may be suitable for people with limited mobility as well as the general population. It is part of the Cardiac Yoga ® programme devised by Dr M Mala Cunningham, founder and director of Cardiac Medical Yoga and Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing.

Before you start

If you have established heart disease or risk factors associated with heart disease, it is important to check with your GP prior to undertaking a new exercise regime.

If you are new to yoga, it is always advisable to attend some classes with a qualified instructor who can check your technique.

You should not practise yoga if your blood pressure is 180/100 mmHg or above.

Some postures may be unsuitable for people with heart failure or heart valve disease – check with your cardiac rehab specialist or your cardiologist before you begin.

Keep the breath flowing – breathe in and out at a count that is comfortable to you. Avoid holding your breath as this can increase blood pressure.

1) Brief relaxation – in a chair

Begin your practice with a few minutes of quiet time. If you feel comfortable, gently close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breathing. If possible, inhale and exhale through your nose, but if this is difficult, try breathing out through your mouth. Begin to deepen the breath, and have a go at breathing in and out for the same amount of time. This is known as even breathing. If you become short of breath at any time, stop the practise and revert back to your regular breathing pattern. 

2) Warm-up –  part 1: Mobilising

Sitting in a chair, begin with a full body warm-up to ensure all the body’s major joints are taken through their range of movement. Start at the neck and work down the body to the ankles. Ideas for warm-ups include: neck stretches, shoulder rolls, arm curls, wrist circles, flexing and arching the upper spine, hip circles, knee extension and ankle circles.

During the warm-up, you should keep moving and avoid holding any position for an extended period.

3) Warm-up – part 2: Modified Chair-Based Sun Salutation

The sun salutation is a wonderful pose to warm up.

Modified Chair-Based Poses

Triangle variation 1

Variation 1: Sit on the front third of the chair, facing forwards. Gently stretch the right arm up towards the ceiling, keeping the left hand on the left thigh, fingers facing inwards. First lean the torso forwards before twisting to the right shoulder, right arm and head towards the wall on the right. Hold for 3-5 seconds.

If keeping the right arm stretched overhead is a strain, place the right hand to the right hip, but still maintain the twist.

Release by bringing the torso back to the centre position and the right arm down the side of the body before sitting upright.

Repeat on the left side.

Variation 2: Follow the instructions for variation 1, except the hand slides down the outside of the leg and is placed above the ankle, on a block or on the floor (depending upon flexibility). The other arm can still be outstretched overhead or can be placed on the hip.

With both variations, the head can be turned to look up towards the outstretched hand or the ceiling, however, if this causes dizziness or is a strain, a neutral head and neck position should be maintained.

When the right hand is on the thigh, ankle, block or floor, gently press down on the right foot and vice versa for the left side. Squeeze the shoulder blades together when holding.

Seated Spinal Twist

Sit sideways on a chair starting with the right side of the body against the back of the chair. Place feet flat on the floor. If the feet do not reach, place a block, blanket or pillow under the feet. If the knees are positioned above the hips, place a pillow or blanket under the buttocks.

Gently stretch the ribcage upward and turn towards the back of the chair and place both hands on the back top of the chair.

Gently twist the torso, shoulders and head to the right. Push with the right hand and pull with the left hand on the back of the chair as you twist to the right. Hold for 10-20 seconds each side or 10-15 calm breaths or to capacity. Breathe deeply. Gently release and come back to centre.

Repeat the twist on the opposite side.

Seated Overhead Stretch & Seated Forward Stretch

Sitting on front third of the chair, spine erect, bring the right arm to your side and stretch the arm overhead.

Lift the ribcage slightly as you stretch overhead and gently arch the lower back.

Take a deep breath and as you breathe out, bend forward at the hips with the arm stretched in front of the body. Fully stretch the arm, all the way to the fingertips.

Keep the arm alongside the ear as you hold the stretch.

Slightly push down on both feet as the pose is held. Hold for 3-5 seconds.

To release, keep the straight arm alongside the ear and gently stretch up towards the ceiling. Lift the ribcage and gently arch the back. Gently bring the arm down to the lap.

Repeat twice on each side.

Ending your practice

Always come out of your practice slowly and mindfully in order to maintain the positive effects which have been created during your yoga practice.

It is recommended to always finish on a positive note. This could be through a gratitude moment paying thanks to something positive going on in your life or something you are grateful for.

Alternatively, you may wish to dedicate your practice to someone who means a lot to you or simply end by bowing your head.

Read our introduction to yoga

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