When you think of yoga flexibility, relaxation and maybe meditation come to mind. The application of yoga as a system of healing rarely enters the Western mind. Despite today's widespread reliance on Western medicine (drugs), yoga has been used for thousands of years for concerns like high blood pressure (HBP), a condition the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) calls "The Silent Killer".
One in three Americans have high blood pressure, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. High blood pressure (hypertension) is frequently a precursor to heart disease, the number one killer of Americans. Specific yoga poses are known to be beneficial exercises for high blood pressure.
Lower the numbers
Someone in the United States dies approximately every 33 seconds from heart disease, according to UMMC. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends exercise, stress management and weight management to prevent high blood pressure, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease. Yoga can help with all three recommendations.
Yoga is known to lower blood pressure, especially the diastolic score, according to the American Yoga Association (AYA). Blood pressure is measured as two numbers, a systolic score written above a diastolic score. The systolic number is a measurement of blood pressure while the heart pumps blood. Diastolic refers to blood pressure between beats. The AYA states that the diastolic number is the most important. Additionally, people with high diastolic blood pressure frequently develop a high systolic blood pressure too, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yoga benefits high blood pressure through promoting relaxation of the mind and body. Practicing yoga helps decrease the negative impacts of stress, including tension, shallow breathing and elevated heart rate. It also improves physical strength and flexibility, plus may assist with weight loss, according to Prevention magazine.
Beneficial high blood pressure exercises
Certain yoga poses are therapeutic for high blood pressure, according to Yoga Journal. Well-known poses like downward facing dog and easy pose are beneficial, but so are lesser known exercises like the big toe pose and seated forward bend:
Big toe pose
Stand with feet together. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the nose and bend forward at the waist, keeping the back straight. Grab the big toes and gently pull down.
Seated forward bend
Sit with legs straight and pressed together. Exhale through the nose and bend forward at the hips. Keep the back straight and reach for the toes.
Additionally, MedIndia.net, a website managed by the Medindia Health Network, recommends camel pose and the knee squeeze as high blood pressure exercises:
Kneel on the floor. Exhale and arch the back, reaching back for the ankles. Tilt the head and look at the ceiling. Hips remain in line with the knees.
Lie face up on the floor with the legs straight. Exhale, bend one knee and hug it into the chest. Keep the other leg straight. Switch legs.
Potentially dangerous yoga exercises
People with high blood pressure need to be careful with inversion poses, according to Yoga Journal. Inverted poses are where the head is below the heart. This position increases pressure inside the blood vessels of the neck and head. However, starting with mild inversions and gradually increasing the degree of inversion overtime may strengthen the blood vessels and could be beneficial in the long run.
To prevent high blood pressure, the AHA advises limiting alcohol intake and refraining from smoking. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but low in salt, is also recommended.