High blood pressure (hypertension) is fast becoming the number one health issue in India. Yoga can Help.
Yoga works for people suffering from High Blood Pressure. There are chances that at least one person around you, may be a family member, a friend or collogue is suffering from hypertension; high blood pressure.
Why so? Because one in three Indian adults has high blood pressure (bp). Anyone, including children, can develop it,” says interventional cardiologist Dr Nilesh Gautam.
Hypertension or high blood pressure, as it is commonly known as, is a medical condition in which blood pressure in arteries is elevated for a considerable amount of time. It is expressed by two measurements the maximum (systolic BP) and the minimum (diastolic BP). Normal blood pressure is 120/80. High diastolic blood pressure is considered more fatal than high systolic BP as it can produce more serious long term effects.
If sustained for a long time, high blood pressure can manifest other problems like hypertensive heart disease, coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease etc.
Types of hypertension; high blood pressure
Primary (essential) hypertension – when there is no obvious cause for hypertension. Almost 90% of cases are categorized as essential hypertensive.
Secondary hypertension – Hypertension due to underlying disease such as endocrine disorders, chronic kidney disease etc.
- High salt intake
- Lack of exercise
- Vitamin d deficiency
- Insulin resistance
Traditional treatment for high blood pressure includes medication and life style modification such as exercise, diet modifications, smoking and alcohol restriction and stress reduction. Many studies and reviews suggest yoga is a multifunctional modality, which helps reducing high blood pressure.
Effects of yoga on blood pressure
- Yoga asana when done with conscious breathing balances and stabilizes autonomic nervous system thus regulating blood pressure.
- Yoga practice relaxes muscles, lowering the requirement for blood and oxygen for the working muscles, thus lowering the stress of cardiovascular system.
- Yoga reduces mental stress – major cause of hypertension. It calms the mind and maintain balance between mind and body.
- Not only does yoga reduce high BP but it has also been demonstrated to effectively reduce blood, cholesterol level, and body weight which in turn reduces blood pressure
How yoga reduces blood pressure? – Possible mechanisms
- Yoga reduces adrenalin level and switches off fight-flight response of body, thus reducing blood pressure
- Chronic stress can induce sustained muscular contraction, which in turn raises blood pressure. Yoga practice can relaxes the working muscles and revert this effect
- It is proved in preliminary studies that yoga can reduce platelet aggregation – yet another cause of high BP.
- Certain yoga asanas increases blood supply to kidneys and adrenal glands which in turn help to regulate BP
- Yoga practice can also reduce stress hormone aldosterone production, a potent vasoconstrictor.
- It calms sympathetic nervous system, hence lowering blood pressure
Yoga asana for lowering blood pressure
In most of exercises, there is considerable stress put on cardiovascular system but in yoga asanas this stress goes down as the requirement of blood and oxygen goes down when the muscles are relaxed. The asanas helpful in regulating blood pressure are most of forward bends and some of inversions also. It is wise to adapt few modifications for hypertensives such as cooling poses such as forward bends with head supported which decreases stress in head, neck, face and diaphragm
Standing poses in which arms are extended overhead like virabhadra asana can be modified by placing hands on hips.
Also in trikona asana, instead of looking up at ceiling, look down towards the floor to prevent BP to rise.
Avoid poses like dhanur asana, mayor asana as it compresses diaphragm, which can in turn raise blood pressure.
Persons with uncontrolled hypertension should avoid unsupported inversions such as headstand and shoulder stand. However, not all inversions can cause adverse effects on BP. Hal asana, which provides a mild stretch along the pathways of vagus nerve and carotid artery has beneficial effects. It can be made comfortable by elevating feet on chair rather than floor.
- Plow pose
- Head to knee pose
- Hero pose
- Accomplished pose
- Lotus position
- Corpse position
- Pachimotan asana series
- Half lotus intense stretch pose
- Three limbs facing intense stretch
- Seated forward fold
Note: In any of the asanas if you feel dizzy, flushed or uncomfortable come out of that pose and rest in balasana until you feel normal.
Pranayama for controlling High Blood Pressure
In addition to practicing asanas, pranayama has also shown to have positive effects on regulating BP. Deep breathing in particular can reduce effect of constant stress.
Breathing exercises has ability to revitalize the entire body. It reduces level of stress hormone cortisol, thus lowering Hypertension.
Pranayama helps to reduce high blood pressure are
- Deergha swasam – this deep breathing technique helps to improve oxygenation of body, almost 7 times as compared to normal breathing
- Ujayi pranayama – this technique builds heat in the body and increases oxygenation. It balances pranic flow of energy in body. It affects carotid sinus which helps to regulate BP
- Nadi shudhi pranayam – this techniques helps to calm the body as a whole
- Anulom vilom
- Rhythmic breathing
- Chandrabhedi pranayama
Note: People suffering from high BP should not perform Kumbhaka (breath retention)
- People with uncontrolled BP should not do kapalabhati. Controlled hypertensives can perform it but under supervision. Always start with slow rate and less force of exhalation.
Meditation for controlling High blood pressure
Mind and body are connected very intimately. When mind is relaxed, body also gains complete rest. Practicing meditation helps to reduce negative effects of stress and hence reduces blood pressure.
The correct method of meditation is the one that focuses the mind on an object to elicit relaxation. It is a method of controlling one’s mind.
There are many types of meditation; one should find the method best suitable for him.
- Omkar chanting done for 15 minutes has shown miraculous reduction in bp.
- Transcendental meditation involves focusing at one repetitive action such as word, mantra, picture to calm the mind and brings nervous system into balance.
- Mindful meditation uses sound or touch like ringing of bell, chanting of mantras etc to focus mind.
- Yoga nidra: a guided meditation practice designed by Paramhansa swami Satyananda Saraswati from Bihar school of yoga, removes physical, mental and emotional strains and produces deep relaxation.
Special consideration should be taken by persons with hypertension while performing following:
1. Inversion Asana/Yoga Poses. These are the asanas where head is positioned lower than the heart, generally contraindicated in persons with high blood pressure. When we invert our body i.e. head is lower than the heart level or lower limbs are above the heart level, there is pooling of blood in the head and increase in pressure in cranial blood vessels. Normally we can adapt to this blood pooling and mild increase in pressure of cranial blood vessels, but for hypertensive individuals where resting blood pressure is already elevated, sudden inversions can add to elevated BP and can prove to be fatal.
But if inversions are introduced gradually, even for hypertensive persons there is strengthening of vessel wall muscles, by challenging them to contract against greater pressure each time they perform inversions.
So it is better to introduce them over a period of several months starting from mild inversions moving to headstand. The progression should go like this:
- Adho mukha svanasana
- Supported setu bandha sarvangasana
- Salamba sarvangasana
But it is always better to take physician consent before performing inversions; also it is mandatory to practice it under expert supervision.
2. Breath holding in pranayama or practicing asana. Another area of concern in people with hypertension is breath holding while pranayama or performing asanas (usually unconsciously) . This holding of breath act as a strain to body, strain in turn stimulates sympathetic nervous system which in turn elevates blood pressure. While performing asanas there is an increase in demand of oxygen and blood to working muscles, holding the breath at that time can cause carbon dioxide build up in cells and can eventually causes cell death- which we certainly don’t want.
So avoid kumbhaka while practicing pranayama and practice relaxation in midst of effort and breathe smoothly and regularly while performing asanas.
3. Heat and Hypertension. A preheated room as in hot yoga also increases cardiovascular strain, as your heart has to pump more owing to water loss during perspiration, which causes increase in blood pressure. It is not only heat that stresses cardiovascular system but, it is depletion of body’s electrolytes. Many of the body’s electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, potassium are used in normal muscle functioning. So when balance between these electrolytes gets upset, muscles have to work harder to compensate for the loss. This in turn makes the heart work harder and subsequently increases blood pressure.
Hot yoga is not advisable for persons with uncontrolled hypertension, and if your blood pressure is controlled with medications you can join hot yoga after taking doctors consent, while practicing drink plenty of water to compensate for water loss.
While yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation can offer a technique for lowering stress, and blood pressure, it can’t replace medication and other lifestyle modifications.
It is wise that beginners should always start with a generic sequence consisting of simple yoga postures followed by pranayama and meditation till the time their body gets habituated with the same. Never overexert yourself; you should gradually increase number of repetitions and duration of holding of asanas. All asanas should be practiced with ease Yoga Bhashya says, ‘ The posture becomes perfect when the effort of achieving it vanishes.’
Finally, bear in mind that yoga is not only about asanas and pranayama; it is a way of life. It is more of self awareness, self acceptance and a way to more spiritual approach to life. High BP (Blood Pressure) is turning out to a LIFESTYLE Health issues. Yoga asana, Pranayama, Meditation and also the correct Diet can help control and eliminate this dreaded life threatening ailment.