Yoga is one of the most effective natural remedies for high blood pressure. Yoga is an ancient, Hindu system of exercise and therapy that has been practiced in India for over 4,000 years. The word comes from a Sanskrit word, yug, which means to join together, and aims to achieve a healthy mind in a healthy body.
There are many types of yoga, of which hatha yoga is most commonly practiced. This combines stretching exercises and physical postures (asanas) with breath control (pranayama) and meditation to achieve well-being.
Yoga for high blood pressure
Practicing yoga can even bring benefits within 9 days according to one trial, and is also beneficial for those who are new to yoga. A recent study assessed the effects of regular yoga in 90 people, of whom 64 had high blood pressure and were not on medication. Those taking part were classed as learners, and practiced yoga exercises for one hour every morning, for a month. In those with hypertension, practicing yoga reduced blood pressure by an average of 3.9/2.36 mmHg over the month. No changes were seen in the control group with normal blood pressure.
Yoga for heart disease risk factors
Yoga also offers other health benefits for people with high blood pressure. A large analysis of 44 clinical trials, involving 3,68 people, found that, compared to no treatment, yoga:
- improved blood pressure by 5.85/4.12 mmHg
- reduced heart rate by an average of 6.59 beats per minute
- Slowed respiratory rate by almost 1 breath per minutes
- reduced waist circumference by 1.95 cm
- lowered total cholesterol by 13.09 mg/dl and very low density LDL cholesterol by 5.70 mg/dl
- increased ‘good’ HDL cholesterol by 2.94 mg/dl
- reduced triglycerides by 20.97 mg/dl
- improved glucose control (lowered HbA1c by 0.45%) and insulin resistance.
This suggests that practicing yoga has clinically important effects that can significantly lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Types of yoga for high blood pressure
There are many forms of yoga, some of which are less demanding than others. For optimum benefit, Yoga is practiced three or four times a week for 30 to 60 minutes per session. Start slowly, however, in a beginner’s class, and gradually increase the amount of time you devote to this activity. If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, avoid yoga postures that involve head or shoulder stands (inverted asanas) as these can temporarily increase blood pressure.
Viniyoga for high blood pressure
Viniyoga is a slow, gentle form of yoga that does not stress the joints, and which focuses on healing. Postures, breath awareness, movements, relaxation, meditation and guided imagery are all used, but based in your individual needs. Viniyoga is ideal for older people with high blood pressure, and for those who are recovering from illness.
Hatha yoga and Iyengar yoga for high blood pressure
Hatha yoga concentrates on posture and is the most widely practiced in the West. It uses a series of simple poses that flow comfortably from one to another at your own pace. One of the easiest approaches to Hatha yoga is Iyengar, which uses items such as chairs and pillows to overcome lack of flexibility. This makes it ideal for beginners, especially those who are relatively unfit. Although Iyengar uses classical yoga postures, it focuses more on symmetry, alignment and meditation. Postures are held for longer periods of time than in most other forms of yoga, and it is sometimes described as ‘Mediation in Action’. This is the ideal form of yoga if you have high blood pressure and prefer a more sedate form of relaxation.
Kripalu yoga for high blood pressure
Kripalu yoga uses meditation and postural alignments, which are held for only a short time, to produce a continuous series of spontaneous, dynamic movements that flow from one to another. Although it is a dynamic form of yoga, Kripalu yoga is also gentle and relaxing, making it ideal for someone with high blood pressure who prefers a spontaneous, movement-orientated form of relaxation.
Kundalini yoga for high blood pressure
Kundalini yoga uses postures and breathing exercises along with mantras, meditation, visualisation and guided relaxation to purify the mind, body and spirit. Different postures, sounds, gestures and breathing patterns are used to activate the ‘kundalini’ energy in the spine. This form of yoga is ideal for those who have a more extrovert outlook on life.
Sivananda yoga for high blood pressure
Sivananda yoga uses a series of twelve different poses that flow from one to another, plus relaxation techniques, mantra chanting and breathing exercises. This form of yoga is ideal for someone with high blood pressure who is flexible in body but prefers a structured approach to life.
Ashtanga yoga for high blood pressure
Ashtanga, or power yoga, is best reserved for those who are physically fit as even the beginner’s routines are strenuous and demanding. This form of yoga focuses on building strength, suppleness and stamina, with meditation playing a lesser role. Postures flow from one to another and your breathing and eye movements are choreographed to each movement. Asthtanga yoga is ideal if you are physically fit and have well-controlled hypertension.
Avoid bikram yoga if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure
Bikram or hot yoga was developed in the early 1970s using the postures of traditional hatha yoga. Bikram yoga takes place in a heated room, with a temperature of at least 37 degrees C, and a high humidity to promote sweating. These environmental conditions increase flexibility so you can achieve a variety of deep poses. During a Bikram class, you typically follow a set series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. As hot yoga is physically demanding, and the heat and humidity cause blood pressure and heart rate to rise, it is unsuitable for anyone with uncontrolled hypertension.
The Savasana pose
One yoga posture that is particular good for people with high blood pressure is the Savasana (or so-called corpse posture) which is extremely relaxing.
Simply lie on your back, somewhere quiet and comfortable such as on an exercise mat on the floor.
Place your arms by the side of your body, palms facing upwards and your feet slightly apart.
Breathe in and out, slowly and deeply, through your nose, allowing a sense of calm to enter your whole body.
Salutation To The Sun
One of the best known yoga sequences is the classic Salutation To The Sun which is performed every morning, on rising, to greet the day. This series of 14 postures helps to stretch and strengthen most muscles in the body and has beneficial effects on blood pressure. According to yoga adepts, if you can only fit in one yoga exercise per day, it should be the Sun Salutation.
Sun Salutation Posture 1:
Traditionally, the sun salutation begins by facing the east so you can visualize the rising of the sun and imagine its warmth and light radiating throughout your body.
Stand tall and straight with your feet together. Bend your elbows, and bring your palms together in front of your chest in a prayer-like position. Relax in this position for one minute, as you breath in and out to send awareness throughout your whole body.
Sun Salutation Posture 2
When you are ready, move on to the second posture.
As you inhale, raise your arms out to the sides and up, keeping them straight, so your palms meet together over your head and your fingers point up to the sky. As your arms lift arms, stretch them back so your chest expands as much as possible. Press your palms firmly together and look up at them. While keeping your feet flat on the floor, stretch your body up above your head so you are as tall as possible. Hold your breath and maintain this position for a few seconds, emptying your mind as much as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 3
For the third posture, breathe out and bend forwards from the waist, keeping your arms straight out in front of you, and your palms together. Tuck your head in and keep your back straight. Hold this position as long as feels comfortable, breathing in and out gently.
Sun Salutation Posture 4
Finish the previous posture by folding forwards to grasp the back of your ankles or calves (as far down your leg as feels comfortable). Now, tuck your chin toward your chest and bend your elbows to pull your upper body gently in toward your legs. Breath out and hold your breath for a few seconds while you hold this pose, keeping your mind as quiet as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 5
For the next posture, breathe in, let go of your legs and stand up straight. Then, as you breathe out, step forward as far as you can with your right leg and drop down, bending your right knee, to place both hands on the floor (arms straight) either side of your right foot. During this movement, your left heel will lift up and you will come forwards onto the ball of your left foot (try to keep your left knee off the floor). Now, tilt the head back to look up at the sky. The next time you do this exercise, lunge forwards with your left foot, instead.
Sun Salutation Posture 6
Move from the previous posture into the next by straightening your upper body and gently moving your arms out to the side and up to inscribe a wide circle.
Bring your palms together over your head, fingers pointing to the sky, and look up at your hands. Classically, you would hold your breath as you stay in this position for a few seconds, keeping your mind as empty as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 7
Breathe out and bring both hands down onto the floor on either side of your right foot, again. Immediately step back with your right foot so both feet are together and straighten your body so it is in the classic Plank position. Hold for as long as is comfortable, breathing gently in and out, keeping your mind as quiet as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 8
Breathe out and hold your breath as you lower your body to the ground so just your toes, chin, chest, and knees touch the floor – keep your bottom up in the air. Relax as you breath in and out gently, keeping your mind empty.
Sun Salutation Posture 9
Let your bottom drop to the floor, lift your chest and stomach in the air and curl your head back so you are in the classic Cobra Pose.
Hold your breath, and your pose for a few seconds, keeping your mind quiet, before starting to breath gently in and out again.
Sun Salutation Posture 10
The next pose is the Downward Dog in which your body forms a Λ shape.
To achieve this, breathe out and push up on your hands, lifting your bottom and straightening your legs. Tuck your chin in to your chest and hold the position for a few seconds with your breath held and mind silent.
Sun Salutation Posture 11
Start to breathe in then take a big step forward with your left leg so your left foot comes in between your hands. As you continue breathing in, raise your arms out and up to inscribe a wide circle, with your palms coming together about your head, fingers pointing to the sky. Look up at your hands and hold your breath, keeping your mind as empty as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 12
Breathe out as your bring your right foot forward next to the left. Finish this posture by folding forwards to grasp the back of your ankles or calves (as far down your leg as feels comfortable). Now, tuck your chin toward your chest and bend your elbows to pull your upper body gently in toward your legs. Breath out and hold your breath for a few seconds while you hold this pose, keeping your mind as quiet as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 13
Breathe in as you straighten up, bringing your arms outwards and upwards to make a wide circle as you bring your palms together over your head. Point your fingers to the sky, look up at your hands and lengthen your body as much as you can. Hold your breath as you hold this posture for a few seconds, keeping your mind as empty as possible.
Sun Salutation Posture 14
To finish the Sun Salutation, breathe out as you bring your arms down to your sides to inscribe a flowing circle as they move back to your chest, elbow bent, and palms together in a prayer-like pose as at the beginning.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
Image credits: matthew_ragan/flickr; pixabay;