Smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are well known risk factors for heart disease, still the number one killer for both men and women in the western world. There is also strong evidence of another, less well known, contributing factor: so called 'Type A behaviors'.
We all know people that are Type As, chances are good that you are one yourself. The behaviors associated with Type A in these studies are: anger and hostility, a focus on achievement and a sense of urgency about time. Of course, we all feel similar emotions now and then, but for some people the fire burns too hot and their bodies give out.
Exercise is a wonderful way to release emotional stress and help your body get healthy. Unfortunately, many Type As are drawn to the kind of exercise that fuels their fire, rather than banking it. They are extremely competitive (bringing their ambition and anger into what should be their downtime), and choose exhausting activities that are hard on their bodies, such as weight lifting, running, triathlons etc. 'No pain, no gain', 'no guts, no glory', that's your average Type A working out.
Many Type As aren't attracted to yoga, which they consider just a bit of breathing and stretching. The slightly more informed ones may have heard yoga is good for you and will jump into a power yoga or hot yoga class, being naturally attracted to the fast-paced, strength based forms of yoga to keep their fire going. Instead, they would benefit much more from a slower, more mindful yoga practice that would help calm down their stress response. Sometimes it's hard to know what is good for you.
Many heart attack survivors are recommended to follow the 'Ornish Lifestyle' (named after Dr. Dean Ornish), whose program has been proven to vastly improve heart health. It's about diet, yes, and exercise (moderate), as you'd expect. The other two pillars, however, are 'community', in which the survivor is required to work on his social relationships, and 'stress management'. That's what Ornish called his gentle yoga (asana, breathing and meditation) routine to make it sound more palatable for the mainstream at the time.
Whether you are Type A or not, take a moment to figure out what the attitude is that you're taking with you into your yoga practice these days. Are you doing what you can, however little it may be, enjoying the process? Or does ambition sneak up on you, running a nasty little commentary in the back of your head telling you you should be stronger, be more flexible, should be doing more? Awareness is the first step in letting go and replacing these thoughts with more self supporting ones. And letting go may be just the thing you need to keep yourself healthy, now and in the future.
"If you can listen to your body when it whispers, you will not have to hear it scream".