Author: Bethany Pinto, Registered Yoga Teacher RYT 200®
High blood pressure affects a large number of Americans and can be caused by factors such as heredity, being overweight, and living an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, to name just a few. Many people develop hypertension early in life, sometimes even in childhood, and therefore believe they are sentenced to a lifetime of pharmaceutical intervention.
While medication can help to control your blood pressure, most healthcare providers prescribe this solution with the advice to also make some lifestyle changes. The ideal goal is to be able to lower your pressure and bring your body back into balance naturally. If your doctor has recommended that you incorporate exercise and other stress reducing activities into your daily regimen, allow me to share three ways that yoga can serve you.
- Relaxing music – Studies reveal that breathing deeply while listening to soothing, relaxing sounds for 30 minutes a day on a consistent basis can calm the body and mind, and in turn, lower blood pressure. It’s easy to explore what kind of music you’ll enjoy with the sampling options on the internet (try iTunes, YouTube, Pandora and AOL music). The most effective choices are anything instrumental, such as Indian, Celtic, classical, piano, jazz or harp. Also, the sound of moving water is extremely relaxing. The good news is, if you take a yoga class, you’ll likely be hearing this type of music already!
- Pranayama – Breathwork is the aspect of yoga that allows you to control the internal energy, which is our essence, within your body and mind. You can facilitate the flow of this energy throughout your body by breathing mindfully. During your yogic practice, bring your awareness to your breath. The rhythmic pattern of your own breath becomes a tool to draw you into the present moment. Mindful breathing is known to have a calming effect on the central nervous system and, when done regularly, can aid in lowering blood pressure.
- Asana – The physical postures themselves are the components that are most associated with yoga as we know it in the West. Performing yoga postures on a regular basis may help hypertension in two ways. People handle (or mishandle) stress differently. Some people are extremely frenzied from constantly meeting requirements and expectations in their lives and as a result, they never allow themselves to stop; they tend to be high strung and constantly in motion. Their nervous systems are likely stuck in “flight or fight” mode, which leads to and sustains hypertension. A restorative yoga practice consisting of quiet poses, perhaps lying down and breathing for several minutes, will greatly benefit this type of individual. Another type of stress comes from being in “forced control” of your life all the time. These people struggle for an appearance of self-control, but don’t actually allow a release of the pent up energy, so they become rigid (i.e. very tense, tight muscles). A vigorous yoga practice is just what this person needs to restore balance to the central nervous system. The combination of strength training, cardio and flexibility gained from performing a series of poses quickly (such as Sun Salutations) will release endorphins in the body, and the daily exercise has the added benefit of being linked with lowering blood pressure.
While you certainly don’t have to reject your blood pressure medication altogether, please consider your holistic options and begin to heal yourself over the long run.