By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Can Yoga lower blood pressure? Yes, and Yoga has a few different methods that keep practitioners coming back. Stress has an impact on the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of an individual. This can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure or hypertension, in addition to other factors. Hypertension results when there is an increased amount of pressure in the arteries of an individual. Yoga techniques, such as relaxation, calming asanas, and deep breathing, can help alleviate high blood pressure due to the positive effects gained during a practice session.
This is not always the case, but blood pressure often rises as a result of the fight-or-flight response being activated. The impact of chronic stress tightens the muscles and constricts the blood vessels, which leads to high blood pressure. Regular practice of any form of Yoga can relax the muscles and reverse the impact of increased pressure in the bloodstream. In addition to the consistent practice of Yoga having a direct impact on reducing blood pressure, this practice can help reduce the risk factors of developing hypertension. One of many risk factors is obesity. Regular Hatha Yoga exercise, and a Yogic lifestyle, can contribute to weight loss, which reduces the hypertension.
The practice of Yoga breathing techniques (pranayama) can help in relaxing a person, which reduces the effects of stress on the body, as more oxygen enters the bloodstream. Deep breathing can then contribute to a decrease in blood pressure. An intentional focus on a Yoga practitioner’s breathing keeps the mind off stressful events, which leads to decreased anxiety and stress. The alternative nostril breathing technique helps to relax the body, and mind, as a person inhales through one nostril – followed by the exhalation out of the other nostril.
The practice of Yoga poses can contribute to deep states of calm and inner peace. When a person alternates between tightening and relaxing of the muscles, the body becomes in tune with the relaxed mental state. This practice leads to a focus away from worrying. Yogic breathing is also connected directly with the Yoga poses, which relaxes the body and mind further. Yoga poses, which can be helpful in alleviating hypertension, are: Half Downward-Facing Dog, Half Spinal Twist, Cat Pose, and the Knees-to-Chest pose.
Asanas (Yoga poses) in a flowing sequence, such as the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) have an energizing and relaxing effect on the body, which decreases the effects of stress on the body, including hypertension. As a person focuses on the breathing and sequence of movement, stress is released constructively. Sun Salutations are recommended during the morning hours for many reasons. If we view these Yoga exercises similar to the Sun Salutations, only from a medical and scientific viewpoint, we lose sight of the entire purpose.
Yet, for the sake of scientific skeptics, let’s indulge in analyzing Yogic exercise with sequential movements for therapeutic purposes. The movement of Sun Salutations, Vinyasa Yoga, and Moon (Lunar) Salutations (Chandra Namaskar) have a positive effect on the entire body – by increasing the oxygen flow to the bloodstream. At the same time, any movement, which is performed on a regular basis, for two or three times a week, is not enough to promise a moderate “calorie burn.” However, as Yoga becomes a lifestyle, the practitioner is bound to make healthy choices, due to an internal change, which occurs within the mind. This change can be classified as Yoga in practice.
What About Inversions and Blood Pressure?
Yoga poses are called inversions when the head is positioned at a lower level than the heart. Such positions as the Downward-Facing Dog, Wheel Pose, Bridge Pose, Shoulder Stand and Headstand bring the head below the heart level. Those with normal blood pressure should not experience any significant issues with fluctuating pressure, but those with high blood pressure should consider the possible complications. Consulting one’s physician is strongly suggested. Students should let teachers know. Modifications or eliminating some postures are usually suggested.
Affect of Inversions on Blood Pressure
Inversions always affect blood pressure. Gravity increases pressure inside the head, brain, and the neck’s arteries, veins and capillaries. Many of these capillaries and veins are submerged in a protective fluid. This inner fluid exerts a pressure, which counteracts the pressure being exerted from the outside when in an inverted position.
The outer blood vessels of the eyes, skull and nose do not have the same protection. In fact, the only protection they have is the ability to contract the surrounding muscles when the blood pressure is elevated, preventing the vessel walls from stretching beyond their limits. Keeping the heart even with the head prevents potential problems. Using a chair, wall, blocks, blankets, or bolster can keep students safe. Students should seek out qualified teachers who show compassion and know how to modify Yoga poses.
Commonly, an increase in blood pressure is dependent upon how far the head is below the heart. The steeper the position, the more risk is involved for practitioners with high blood pressure. For example: Headstand and Bridge Pose are technically considered inversions, but Headstand is a steeper inversion and presents more risk. Students are strongly advised to consult with their physicians before practicing Yoga. Can Yoga lower blood pressure? Yes, but students want to do their research before coming to class. If a teacher refuses to modify techniques, or doesn’t know how to modify for students who have health conditions, it would be wise for them to move on and find a teacher who can help them.
What About Pranayama for Blood Pressure?
For advanced practitioners, a lower heart rate seems to naturally follow a steady practice of gentle and calming pranayama. Granted, a Yoga lifestyle will change one’s health profile for the best. It would be safe to practice a gentle variation of Nadi Shodhana, Dirgha, Ujjayi, Bhastrika or Brahmari pranayama. The first goal is to achieve a reduction in resting heart rate. Therefore, pushing or straining are counter-productive to practicing pranayama for cardiovascular health. Breath awareness meditation is a natural progression as one becomes familiar with pranayama. Meditation and/or relaxation sessions make a big difference when monitoring blood pressure and heart health.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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