Yoga is an incredible technology that can help to prevent many problems, make them more manageable in daily life or sometimes even provide a cure. Many people suffer from high blood pressure (HBP) and it can lead to the manifestation of other serious issues or disease. My mother and grandmother both suffer from this, which is why I have chosen this as my topic. In this essay I want to discuss which asanas and pranayama techniques can be used to combat this problem. I will also include recommendations on diet as well as ayurvedic knowledge of the dosas and how It can help people with HBP.
What is yoga?
First of all it is important that you have an understanding of what yoga is. Over 2500 years ago the great sage Pantanjali wrote the yoga sutra and at the begnning of these sutras he defined yoga as ‘chitta- vritti – nirodha’. This means restraining the mind stuff (chitta) from taking various forms (vrttis), or more simply put, the cessation of turnings in the mind. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit name ‘yuj’ which means to join, unite or connect and in spiritual terms it means to unite our individual consciousness (or soul) with that of the universal (divine/supreme) consciousness.
Practicing yoga brings about balance in your daily life and is a formula for living in the right way. Practices start with our physical body as it is what we know, and what is tangible. From here we can then move to the intangible aspect of the mental, emotional and spiritual levels, giving people the tools to cope with life.
Yoga really has helped me reduce massive amounts of stress in my life and to see every good or bad experience I have as my teacher. It has made me more thirsty for knowledge, calmer, kinder and has had physical benefits as well as mental. I want to introduce the incredible power of yoga to my mother and grandmother as it is a very beneficial and natural way of controlling and lowering high blood pressure. The gentle and soothing practice of specific asanas and pranayama techniques (that will be discussed below) helps to calm the mind and reduce stress which is a leading cause of HBP.
Yoga asanas that help to reduce high blood pressure
When yoga is performed mindfully and correctly it can reduce stress induced HBP, whilst addressing underlying causes too. It pacifies the sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart, at the same time it teaches the muscles and mind to relax deeply. The following yoga asanas are great for lowering blood pressure and bringing an overall sense of calm to the body and mind.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (half spinal twist)
Twisting asanas have physical benefits to the internal organs in the middle of the body and for tension in the back. Psychologically it represents the knots and stress in our lives and this asana can help untangle those. As stress is a leading cause of HBP it can also help this.
How to: Sit upright with the legs stretched out in front of your body. Bend your right leg and place your foot on the outside of the left knee flat on the floor. Bend the left leg so that the heel of the left foot lies next to the right hip (you can keep this leg straight if more comfortable), make sure both bum cheeks are on the ground. Place your right arm behind you and bring your left arm across the body placing the back of the arm against the outside of the right knee. Slowly twist to the right, lengthening your spine whilst you inhale and twisting deeper into the pose on the exhale.Use your left arm against the right knee as a lever to twist deeper. Repeat on the other side.
Duration: You should hold on each side for at least 30 seconds, gradually increasing the time to 1 to 2 minutes on each side of the body.
Benefits: It simulates the heart and nervous system, helping to normalize HBP. It increases blood circulation, purifies the blood and detoxifies internal organs. Relieves stress and tension trapped in the back and good for back muscle spasms. It massages the abdominal organs, increasing the functioning of the digestive system.
Precautions/contraindications: Not to be done if pregnant. People with sciatica, slipped discs or recently undergone any abdominal, heart or brain surgeries should not do this asana.
Shavasana (corpse pose)
This position seems simple and easy at first but it can also be one of the hardest since you need to relax your body and mind completely. This pose is to be used after your asana practice, when you become too physically or mentally tired during asanas, or everyday life.
How to: Lie flat on your back making sure that there is no disturbance around you. Arms should be about 15 cm away from your body with your palms facing upward. The feet should be apart in a comfortable position and allow your feet to fall out to the sides. Make sure your shoulders are away from the ears, spine and head should be in one line. Relax your body and close your eyes.
Slowly draw your attention to every area in your body starting from your toes. Whilst doing this breathe slowly and deeply, setting your body into a deep relaxation. Do not fall asleep. If you feel drowsy all you need to do is take faster and deeper breaths. When you are ready to come out of the pose bring your awareness back to your body, wiggle your fingers and toes, roll to the right side and slowly sit up.
Duration: For high blood pressure it is recommended that you stay in this posture for at least 10 to 12 minutes to feel a benefit. You can stay in the pose for as long as you like, but make sure you do not fall asleep, unless using it before bedtime.
Benefits: It is refreshing, rejuvenating and instills deep healing in your body. As your body relaxes and calms down your blood pressure also drops, helping to relax your heart and as a result reduce stress and anxiety.
Precautions/contraindications: Savasana can be practiced by anyone. If the pose is uncomfortable it is possible to use a pillow under the head for comfort and support and/or a bolster under the knees to help relax the lower spine.
Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose)
This pose is a great meditation posture and can be used when doing pranayama.
How to: kneel on the floor with your knees together. The toes should be untucked, the tops of the feet on the ground with the the big toes together and heels seperated. Lower your bum cheeks onto the soles of your feet. Lengthen your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, chin parallel to the floor. Place your hands on your knees, gaze forward and start to observe your breath. You can do this with open or closed eyes.
Duration: Short amounts of time in this posture is beneficial to loosen up the legs. However, for HBP it s recommended to stay in this posture for longer, at least 5 to 10 minutes, and use it for meditation or Pranayama to help calm down the nervous system and slow down the heart.
Benefits: For HBP it is one of the best postures to assume when you want to go into a relaxed and meditative state because it is an upright pose. Other great benefits are that it improves digestion which can prevent ulcers and acidity. It strengthens the back and relieves pain for people suffering from lower back problems or sciatica. Also it can help with menstrual cramps and labor pains.
Precautions/contraindications: This posture should not be performed if ankles and knees are not sufficiently flexible or if there are any recent knee injuries. To ease discomfort beginners can have their knees slightly separated if there is any pain in the thighs (pregnant women should do this also). To help aching in the ankles, legs can be stretched out infront of you and shaken vigorously to release tension, vajrasana can then be resumed.
- Poses that compress the front of the diaphragm such as dhanurasana (bow pose) which can increase blood pressure
- Unsupported inversions such as shirshasana (headstand) or any pose that you can feel pressure on the temple, throat or cause respiration to become difficult or heavy.
Pranayama for high blood pressure
As well as some of the yoga asanas, pranayama can also be extremely beneficial for HBP. One example is below.
Bhramari pranayama (humming bee breath)
How to: Sit in a comfortable position that allows your spine to be straight such as vajrasana (above), sukhasana or padmasana. Close your eyes bring awareness to your breath and relax the whole body. Your teeth should be slightly separated and your lips closed together gently. This is important as it allows the vibration of the humming sound to be heard better. Next you need to raise your arms out to the side and bend them at the elbows so that you can insert your index fingers into the ears, or press the flaps of the ears down. Inhale through the nose and on the exhale make a deep, steady humming sound like a bee. The inhale and exhale should be smooth and controlled and the humming should be continuous and even, this is one round.
Duration: Practice around 5 to 10 rounds at first in the beginning. Then you can increase time to 10, 15 minutes.
Benefits: This is an excellent pranayama technique for HBP, it helps to relieve stress and and cerebral tesnion. Therefore it helps with anger, anxiety, insomnia and aids healing in the body. The practice helps to draw your senses and awareness inward, making it great to do before meditation. In addition the humming vibration creates a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system.
Precautions/contraindications: Should not be done if you have a severe ear infections and never done lying down.
Ayuveda and diet for HBP
Sometimes high blood pressure is needed, such as when we are running. However many people suffer from high blood pressure when it is not desired like when they are in a resting state. High blood pressure is not a disease itself but is caused by many different underlying problems. For example, obesity, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and one of the leading causes stress! The following advice will be for stress related HBP and how this can be reduced through the use of ayurvedic knowledge and food.
In ayurveda HBP is the result of an imbalance of two of the doshas, pitta and vata. Ayurvedic treatment tries to balance these doshas but it is also important to note that a kapha imbalance can occasionally cause HBP.
To reduce HBP it is best follow a vegetarian diet and include kapha foods to balance the vata and pitta. Kapha foods tend to be foods that have a long shelf life such as pumpkins, pulses, rice etc. Dairy products such as cottage cheese, butter (clarified) and milk are good additions to an ayurvedic diet that is good for HBP. Kapha foods have a calming and grounding effect on the body.
You should not have caffeine as this irritates the system and cause blood pressure to shoot up. Red meat and eggs are an absolute no when you are trying to balance the doshas and reduce HBP.
To deepen understanding about yourself and what food and yoga postures are best for you, you should find out what dosha you are. The doshas are energies found throughout the human body and mind and are related to the five elements. Vata is made up of space and air, pitta of fire and water and kapha of earth and water. Each person has a certain constitution such as vata pitta. Knowing your dosha can help you get better advice for your health and understand where the imbalances are in your body and how to balance these through yoga meditation and diet.
Overall, as you can see from the above essay, yoga along with pranayama techniques and control over your diet can have significant effects on HBP. In many cases HBP is caused by mental factors and can be controlled simply by calming the mind and relaxing the body through yoga. Food also has a profound effect on the body so it is important to take your diet seriously and avoid foods like caffeine that exacerbate HBP. This essay is very limited and there are plenty more yoga asanas and pranayama techniques that can be used effectively. Yoga is a wonderful thing that we have been given, it can help with many issues and physical and mental pains. When used correctly it has unlimited power and has the ability to change your life for the better.