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There's nothing, it seems, that yoga can't do. Easing back pain and depression, helping cancer patients—and a growing body of evidence shows that maintaining the meditative poses can keep your arteries supple and heartbeat steady. In a Georgia State University study of 19 men and women with chronic heart failure, those who took yoga classes twice a week for two months along with their usual medical care not only improved their fitness levels but also reduced the markers of inflammation that are associated with heart disease. The people who got standard care but no yoga had none of these benefits. Previous research has linked poor flexibility with stiffening of the arteries. For each of the following postures (part of the program followed in the Georgia State study), clear your mind and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply so your belly rises and falls with every breath. Hold each pose for five full breaths. Repeat the sequence two to three times. You can safely do yoga every day. To learn more about this practice—and potentially gain many other benefits—try taking a class.
With your feet three and a half to four feet apart, turn your left foot out and bend your left knee so the shin is perpendicular to the floor and the left thigh is nearly parallel to the floor. Extend your arms to the sides, over your legs. Turn your head to the left and look out beyond the fingers. Hold, then switch sides.
Stand with feet slightly apart. Bend your knees and lower your hips until thighs are nearly parallel to floor. Raise your arms up toward the ceiling, palms facing each other or touching overhead, and hold.
Kneel on the floor (or sit on the edge of a chair) with shoulders relaxed and held back. Bend your left arm behind your back. Place the back of the left hand on your back and slide it up between your shoulder blades. Extend your right arm overhead and bend the elbow, reaching your right hand between your shoulders toward your left hand. Clasp fingers if possible; if not, use a rope or a towel to get your hands as close as possible. Hold, then switch sides.
Shift your weight to your left foot, lift your right knee to the side and place the sole of the foot against your left thigh. Bring your palms together in front of your chest and then slowly raise your arms overhead. Hold, then switch sides.
With your feet three and a half to four feet apart, raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them out to the sides, palms down. Turn your right foot in slightly to the left and your left foot out 90 degrees to the left. Keeping your arms extended, bend from the hip and extend your torso to the left directly over your left leg. Try to rest your left hand on the floor inside your left foot, while reaching toward the ceiling with your right hand. Turn your head to gaze up at the right hand. Hold, then switch sides.
Lie facedown with your feet together, toes pointed, and your hands on the floor palms down just in front of your shoulders. Lift your chin and gently press into palms, lifting your upper body off the floor and your head up and back as far as comfortably possible and hold. If you feel strain in your back, keep your elbows bent and forearms on the floor.
From the December 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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