Hypertension and Yoga Management

Yogic management of high blood pressure primarily involves relaxation techniques using the art of yogic breathing to reduce anxiety and stress which form the most common cause of hypertension. High blood pressure along with other lifestyle disorders like obesity and diabetes have become the ‘silent killers’ of the modern era.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

Though the exact cause of high blood pressure is difficult to tell, there are several factors that can cause it. The causes vary from obesity, smoking, alcoholism, excessively salty diet, old age, stress, anxiety, kidney diseases, adrenal and thyroid disorders, etc. As there may be multiple factors that combine to cause hypertension, it is always advisable to consult a doctor and understand the causes of your high blood pressure. Sometimes, it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons, but the doctor can give you some advice on the corrective and precautionary measures to be taken to reduce the blood pressure.

As a word of caution, those suffering from high blood pressure should avoid inverted yoga poses like Sirsasana, Sarvangasana and Vipareet Karani asana. Inverted asanas cause excess blood to reach the brain, which is good for people with normal blood pressure, but can be harmful for those with hypertension. Also, hypertension patients should avoid Kumbhaka or holding of breath during pranayama. They may do pranayama without holding of breath.

Diet correction is important for high Blood Pressure patients. Avoid excessive salt and oily diet. Excessive salt can increase the blood pressure. Excessive fatty and oily food can cause obesity, which could become a cause for hypertension. Those who suffer from Obesity along with hypertension should be extra careful with their diet. Talk to a dietician and plan a weight reduction program. Water Fasting or fasting on juices will also help to reduce weight. Many take to intermittent fasting where one fasts for 24 hours every week to reduce weight. Longer fasts are useful if one has the time and guidance. 3 day fast, 1 week fast, etc. can be taken up with under the guidance of a qualified doctor or naturopath.

Yoga Management of High Blood Pressure

The most common cause of high blood pressure is anxiety and stress. We accumulate stress in our work place and also in any competitive atmosphere. Thus high blood pressure has become a life style problem. Yoga management of stress can help bring down the blood pressure. The following methods can be helpful in managing BP.

  1. Yogic Breathing: Yogic breathing is the full, deep and relaxed breath which involves filling the air starting from the abdomen, the chest and finally the neck. Yogic breath involves abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing and clavicular breathing (from the clavicle bone and above). Sit in a comfortable posture like Sukhasana or you may even sit erect on a chair. Inhale slowly and deeply. Observe the expansion of the abdomen first, then the chest and finally the neck region. During exhalation follow the opposite sequence. Feel the air leave the neck, then the chest and finally the abdominal region. Do this for few minutes. Do not do this mechanically or in a forceful manner. Let the natural complete breathing take place, while you maintain the witness attitude of the breathing process. Yogic breathing relaxes the body and mind and can reduce anxiety and stress.
  2. Bhramari Pranayama: Also called the humming bee breath is yet another way to calm the mind. Sit in a comfortable sitting posture and plug both your ears with the forefingers. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now exhale slowly and steadily. During exhalation, make a humming sound from the throat sounding like a constant drone of the humming bee. Bhramari pranayama is known to calm the mind and reduce high blood pressure.
  3. Anulom Vilom Pranayama, also known as the alternate breathing technique can be practiced in any comfortable asana. Those who find it difficult to sit on the floor, can also sit on a chair, with the spine erect. In Anulom Vilom Pranayama, breathing is done from only one nostril at a time. Close the right nostril with the thump and inhale slowly and steadily from the left nostril, till your lungs are full. Now close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Next, inhale from the right nostril and exhale from the left nostril. This is one round of Anulom Vilom Pranayama. The duration of inhalation and exhalation can be the same (ratio of 1:1) in the beginning. One may change the ratio to 1:2 in later stages, i.e, the duration of exhalation can be twice the duration of inhalation. One can practice anywhere from 5 rounds to 20 rounds in one sitting, according to one’s capacity. As a word of caution, people suffering from high blood pressure should not practice Kumbhaka or holding of breath during this practice. Anulom Vilom Pranayama is known to balance the two hemispheres of the brain and calm the mind. It reduces anxiety. It also helps in the process of ‘Nadi Shuddhi’ or cleaning of the pranic channels, which creates a feeling of good health and energy in the body.
  4. Shavasana or the corpse pose. This is the simplest relaxation pose that can be practiced by everyone. Those who cannot sit in a steady erect posture, especially those who are sick or aged, can do the yogic breathing in the lying down position or Shavasana. Lie down on your back on the bed or a yoga mat with legs slightly apart. The hands can be kept at the sides with palms facing upwards. Breathe slowly in a relaxed way. Breathe from the belly. Observe the belly moving up and down with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the deep relaxation. One can practice it any number of times during the day. It is particularly effective after coming home from a heavy day’s work.

Thus we see that practice of yogic breathing with full awareness calms down the mind, steadies the heart rate, reduces anxiety and stress and gives a sense of good health to the practitioner.