Sherezade works closely with high standard medical practitioners and trained as a Hatha Yoga Cardiac and Cancer Therapist in the US. Here she talks about how she developed a programme on Yoga for Cardiovascular Health.

How did you get into teaching yoga for cardiovascular health and why is it important to you?

It was not until I stepped into the Cardiovascular Research environment that I realised that there are more subtle outcomes to pay attention to when we aim to achieve overall cardiac health. I remember been researching in diabetes and heart disease by then, and I was most passionate about learning more and more about the heart and its unique functions. Our research was grounded on the basics of how diabetes could damage the heart. However I started realising that despite the modern diagnostic techniques and the thorough clinical assessments, there was undoubtedly something more to pay attention to.

A year later, I decided to take a step further and incorporate with my patients what I already knew from my personal experience as a yoga practitioner. Prior to heir complex diagnostic tests, I used to encourage them to practice diaphragmatic breathing, pulse check with breath awareness, and to guide them through a visualization or body scan while they were inside an MRI or CTScan machine.

Most importantly I began my own mini-research study with interest in knowing why and how these patients developed a heart condition. Surprisingly, in a significantly high percentage the cause was much related to how they have dealt with their emotions, personality type, lifestyle, psychological support and purpose or meaning in life. Hence I realised that much of what I was learning in my yoga journey could be shared and appreciated by many people in real need of yoga practices.

Therefore, I actually started ‘teaching’ yoga for cardiovascular health in hospitals.

How can yoga practice directly positively impact on cardiovascular health? How can having knowledge of these conditions aid yoga teachers in their teaching?

It has been demonstrated by modern research that Yoga offers tremendous benefits for those living or at risk of developing heart disease. Yoga can be applied in many different areas within Cardiology, from one stream to the other, from prevention to cardiovascular rehabilitation or even palliative care. It has also been demonstrated that Yoga has the potential to modify major risk factors that contribute to the worsening or development of chronic conditions.

Moreover, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide and currently the second main cause of death in the UK. There is still a significant lack of awareness predominantly with minor cardiovascular risk factors. These are unfortunately not seen as real threats for overall health and wellbeing, and this is where Yoga can play an important role.

Knowing that cardiovascular disease is a common condition, it is not a surprise to encounter someone in class who could potentially have one or more risk factors. For yoga teachers and therapists, having an understanding of how yoga impacts the entire cardiovascular system -especially the heart- from a physiological, emotional, and spiritual approach, will not only broaden their knowledge but it will ultimately offer the opportunity to work safely and efficiently offering clear and harmless instructions most suitable for this special population.

Since ancient times the heart has been seen as the most important organ in the body. In the Upanishads, the heart is constantly invoked as the secret place of the immortal soul or atman. According to these old scriptures, ‘whatever we see in the outside world and whatever cannot see in the outside world – all those things are inside our heart.’ They also mentioned that ‘the heart seems to be a greater mystery than the outer world and it holds all the mystery of things.’ Likewise important is how the Rig Veda recognises that the heart is the axis mundi between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

The heart is an amazing, powerful and tireless organ that, not only supplies blood to the body but it is also a delicate instrument that when not in tuned or healed, can lead us to misalignments in body and mind affecting our decisions and life choices.