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Best Yoga Asanas for High Blood Pressure
Yoga can be a very beneficial therapy to lower high blood pressure naturally. A gentle, soothing practice of yoga stretches settles mind and body and reduces stress. Yoga postures tend to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, reponsible for rest and repair, and turn off the sympathetic nervous system, used for the fight-or-flight stress response. Increased parasympthatetic activity has a beneficial effect on many systems in the body, and allows the nervous system to become more balanced, freeing up the body’s inherent healing response.
Used corrrectly, yoga can be a great therapy for high blood pressure. However, there are some cautions that need to be considered, and you are best off working with a yoga therapist that can give you a specifically tailored yoga practice for high blood pressure. If you are on hypertensive medication, you will want to continue your medication and only phase it out under a doctor’s supervision. Even though your blood pressure is lowered by medication, it is not stable at that lower reading. So even if your blood pressure has been lowered to normal levels by medication, it is still important to go by the following precautions when beginning yoga.
General Cautions. If you have cardiovascular disease or risk factors for cardioascular disease such as diabetes, high colesterol, atherosclerosis, high inflammatory markers-homocysteine or C-reactive protein, then a stress test may be crucial before you start. Therefore, seeing your physician if you have these conditions is essential; any medications you may be taking should also be discussed.
Yoga Asana Cautions. In general, asanas that put the body in an inverted position, having the legs higher than the heart and the heart higher than the head should be avoided by people with cardiovascular disease. Inversions in particular are contraindicated; you want to completely avoid inverting the body as in a shoulder stand or Sirsasana (headstand), which increase blood pressure in the head the most, because the legs and trunk are maximally elevated and the head is as far below the heart as possible. Even gentle, relaxing inversions like Viparita Karani, or Legs Up the Wall pose are generally not recommended.
Yoga Asanas for High Blood Pressure: Genereally speaking, asanas that do not invert the body are beneficial for people with high blood pressure. Calming restorative yoga asanas are particularly useful for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure naturally, as are intensive stretching poses like leg stretches and hip openers. Favor yoga asanas that put the spine in a horizontal position, which allows the heart to slow down, as it takes less effort to pump the blood to the brain. Sitting positions and lying asanas like Baddhakonasana, Virasana, and Upavista Konasana are very useful for people with high blood pressure.
Mild inversions can be introduced gradually: A great alternative to Viparita Karani, for example, with similar relaxing and calming effects, is supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) done on bolsters. Bridge pose is energizing for the kidneys and hence soothes the system, lowering high blood pressure. While the head is slightly below the heart in this pose, supported Bridge Pose is generally considered to be acceptable for students with high blood pressure. Similarly, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) is a mildly inverted posture, which is considered acceptable; it lifts the heart only a little above the head and does not elevate the legs, increasing pressure in the head very little.
Utilizing yoga as therapy for high blood pressure is most useful if done as part of a multi-theraputic approach, including lifestyle changes and Ayurvedic remedies for stress and high blood pressure.As always, when it comes to natural healing, getting results are not usually as quick and easy as popping a pill. The good news is, however, that when you take steps to lower blood pressure naturally by helping the body’s own healing response to take care of the problem, you get true, holistic healing. Not only will you avoid unwanted side effects from blood pressure medication, when blood pressure is lowered naturally because your nervous system becomes more balanced, your whole mind and body system benefits. This means you, generally speaking, will feel better, have more energy, will perform better during the day, and have more resources for coping with stress.
Michael A. Scheinbaum, M.S., C.N.A., is a Natural Health Practitioner and author of Reduce Blood Pressure Naturally (XLibris, 2005). He is a certified practitioner of Axiatonal Process, MariEl, CranioSacral Therapy, Touch for Health, and is a Tera-Mai™ Reiki Master. He also utilizes nutrition, diet, electro-acupuncture, acupressure, kinesiology, Bach Flower Remedies, gem elixirs, and other natural systems to enliven the clients’ inner healing power to create balance from a deep level of mind, body, and spirit.