Yoga and Blood Pressure – soothing stress in our lives.

One factor which over time, and if not successfully managed, may lead to the development of high blood pressure is STRESSstress

Everyone faces some kind of stress in their lives, and the body has a well developed mechanism to help deal with stress effectively when it confronts us.

It is called the FIGHT or FLIGHT RESPONSE, and it prepares us to deal with a threat by either facing it, or getting out of its way.


Today’s stress is different from our ancestors’ stress

In prehistoric times the types of threats to safety and very survival tended to be of a physical nature, such as the threat of attack from an tribal enemy, or perhaps a wild animal, or bad weather.  Today’s stress is a quite different kettle of fish!

The body’s reaction to stressors is still the same however.  The Fight or Flight Response causes a huge burst of energy throughout the body by means of the release of stress hormones which create significant changes in body physiology, such as increased heart rate, pulse and blood pressure.

Initially adrenaline is released to ramp up the body and prepare it for action, then cortisol to keep it going.  This is all well and good when the perceived threat is short-lived, and once passed the body can return to its normal level of functioning.

But, as I have discussed previously (See Here) over time –  particularly in the past few decades –  life has become ever more complicated, fast-paced and reliant on technology, and so the type of stresses we deal with have changed.

Too often nowadays the stressors we live under are ongoing – such as making ends meet, paying all the bills, the economic downturn and uncertainty of job security, increasing costs and taxes etc.  And if we are not careful and mindful of this, we can end up living with unresolved Chronic Stress where the body is constantly revved up in a state of preparedness, waiting  to deal with whatever the next stressor is which may be coming its way.

This leads to stress overload, and if you are wondering, will stress cause high blood pressure? – especially over time – the answer is most definitely YES!   So using tools to help counteract this runaway stress response is absolutely necessary, if we want to stay healthy and help our blood pressure at the same time.


Does Yoga lower blood pressure?

In order to put the brakes on unchecked chronic low level stress the body needs to be able to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to restore balance, by allowing cortisol levels to fall, and thereby dampen the stress response.  There are several techniques for promoting relaxation which help calm the body down, and one of the most popular is Yoga.

There are many types and levels of Yoga and many different poses.  And within all of this there are a number of poses which directly assist with blood pressure regulation … some examples of which will be featured in this post.




BEFORE GETTING STARTED – SOME PRECAUTIONS TO KEEP IN MIND:

If the appropriate yoga poses are practiced in the correct way, they can be of great benefit as part of a lifestyle plan to help manage blood pressure issues.

But there are some necessary precautions that anyone suffering from hypertension and/or already using hypertensive prescription medications should take to ensure success with a Yoga program for high blood pressure.

For starters, it is important to work with a trainer experienced in the art of Yoga so that a customized program may be developed which will ensure maximum benefit with minimum risk.  Many yoga poses can be modified to prevent possible injury due to over-stretching, or over-stressing body parts.

In addition to this, anyone who is dealing with conditions such as

  • heart disease
  • cardiovascular risk such as high cholesterol, diabetes or circulatory issues

should always consult with their physician first, and may need to be subjected to a stress test before starting any Yoga program.  If you are on medications of any sort, this should also be included in your discussion with the doctor.

Next find a qualified Yoga trainer who will be able to adapt the appropriate Yoga poses accordingly.  A number of poses in Yoga which can benefit blood pressure rely on an inversion technique where the heart is positioned higher than the head, and the legs higher than the heart e.g. Head stand or Shoulder stand.  These should be avoided by anyone with cardiovascular health issues, but there are variants on these poses which are safe and will still deliver the benefits.


Some recommended Yoga Poses 

Below are just one or two examples of poses which are deemed suitable for anyone who has high blood pressure.  Remember all Yoga is geared towards relaxation, thereby relieving stress and allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over which will in turn promote rest and healing.

supported bridge pose

Supported Bridge Pose  

This is a modified inverted pose and a good replacement for the traditional Legs Up The Wall pose.  As you can see in the photo, the lower back is supported by blocks to make this less of an exertion than the regular Bridge Pose.

This is a restorative pose which also protects the lower back whilst releasing the spine.  The near horizontal position of the spine allows the body to relax, as less effort is needed by the heart to pump blood to the brain in this pose.


Bound Angle Pose (reclining)  bound angle pose - supported

Again this is a pose where the spine is put into a horizontal position.  To protect against hip and knee injury towels, or bolsters may be placed on either side of the hips and a bolster under the back and head, as is seen in the photo example.

This is a very calming position which promotes relaxation and allows the heart to slow down.


corpse pose

Corpse Pose  

Possibly the most relaxing of poses and often one which is used to conclude a restorative yoga session.

The photo shows how to support the body during this pose to ensure complete comfort and relaxation.

Click Here for examples of other yoga poses which are also effective.




Add Some Deep Breathing

Focussing on deep breathing for high blood pressure whilst doing yoga is also an excellent aid.

***Click for my post on Deep Breathing here***

 

Deep Breathing in general has been shown in studies to benefit BP by calming the sympathetic nervous system – the system responsible for the fight or flight response – and increasing blood flow to the heart and other vital organs.

In Yoga Pranayama refers to the power of controlled breathing and is an important part of the practice of yoga.

The following video excerpt demonstrates how to practice the Alternative Nostril Yoga Breathing technique know as Nadi Shodhan Pranayam

(the complete video may be found here)


Final Thoughts

Practicing yoga regularly can be very effective and should become part of a natural approach to promoting good health, including successfully helping your body to lower its blood pressure.

It will assuredly take longer than simply popping a pill daily, but this holistic approach, combined with a healthy diet plan and regular exercise will benefit not only your body, but your mind too.

Balancing your nervous system through Yoga, deep breathing and meditation will enable you to feel better, give you more energy and ultimately provide you with more resources to cope with stress.

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