Valentine’s Day is special to me. Not because I’m particularly fond of sentimental cards, red roses and conversation hearts. Valentine’s Day marks an important, heart health anniversary for me. Fifteen years ago on Valentine’s Day I threw away my last pack of cigarettes. I had been really hard on my body for too long and with that one decision to stop smoking, to start loving myself enough to know that my long term health was worth working toward, a whole slew of other heart healthy habits have grown in my life.
I would like to credit my commitment to yoga as the reason I made this change, but I admit it was actually for a man–my then boyfriend, Greg, who is now my husband of 12 years and still helping to keep my heart healthily loving. From his concerned urging, I decided if smoking was going, it was time to get serious about practicing yoga and to give up a few other habits that were diminishing me. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how important heart health is–my father died at just 42 from a heart attack. Too, studies show that 1 in 3 women will die of a heart related issue. It was that I didn’t value my own life, my own precious heart, enough to really look out for my health.
I think February, the month with the day at its halfway point dedicated entirely to love, is a wonderful month to reflect on heart health and on the ways we can learn to love ourselves first. I’ve discovered through the years since that long ago Valentine’s Day that I like doing things that make me feel physically good, not just in the moment but in the long-term, like making wise decisions about what I eat and drink and how I spend my energy. I like to treat my body well, and it mostly reciprocates this by giving me lots of good energy and focus to sustain my often intensely busy days. I’ve had to work hard–I still must–to remember to love and honor this body temple. But when I do, I have a whole lot more love to offer the world.
I’m excited to offer our students the opportunity to commit to open-hearted connection and to personal health throughout the remainder of February with our “Love Yoga. Love You. Challenge.” (learn more here The benefits of a regular practice can contribute to feeling less constricted in the muscles around the heart, which can promote greater ease in breathing, moving, and I say even loving. According to the American Heart Association, our blood pressure is lower after just one yoga practice. With a mere 12 weeks of regular practice, the benefits increase and include lower cholesterol, increased lung capacity, improved respiratory function and heart rate, circulation and muscle tone. It can also improve your overall well-being and emotional health while offering strength-building benefits.
My yoga practice offers my nervous system a break and helps me to respond from the center of my heart rather than from the reactions of my over stimulated nervous system. In turn, this helps me to feel more connected and less fueled by anger or frustration. And in turn, this makes me want to love and care for myself. There are many ways we can honor our hearts with loving attention. Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. Pay attention to what you eat. Get some rest. And come practice with us.