Chances are, you’ve seen countless ads and articles relaying the health benefits of yoga. This is not new; even the The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (the oldest known text on Hatha Yoga), was written to integrate physical practices intended to help practitioners become illness and disease free, clearing the path for spiritual abundance. It makes sense then that the physical practices of yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation) not only exist to strengthen our muscles and enhance flexibility, but that as a spiritually focused path, helps to alleviate stress, ease pain and assist in regulating blood pressure.
We can always rely on B.K.S. Iyengar for straightforward guidance on asanas to support our physical health. In Light on Yoga he contends that Halasana (Plow Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold), Virasana (Hero’s Pose) and Savasana (Corpse Pose) aid in lowering high blood pressure because the poses are calming in nature. These poses would be of particular help to those with stress related blood pressure issues.
Additionally, restorative inversions like Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) use gravity to bring blood flow from feet back down to the torso. This has a nourishing effect on the central nervous system and gives the heart a “blood flow break” for the duration of the pose. If possible, holding this pose for 10-20 minutes is recommended to receive the full benefits, but better to practice it for less time than not at all. Regular practice of this pose, as simple as it may seem, can have notable effects on your stress levels and overall bodily balance.
Interestingly enough, Iyengar recommends some of the same poses—Halasana, Paschimottonasana, and Virasana—for those with low blood pressure. This is because these poses calm and regulate the nervous system bringing the body into balance in whatever way it needs. Poses like Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) are a bit more stimulating to the system (think: blood and energy flow to the brain) and therefore recommended more for raising blood pressure than lowering it.
When it comes to pranayama (breath control), simple breathing practices are available for those with high or low blood pressure. An easy one to try is Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Note that however you may have been instructed with this breath in the past, it is important for those with blood pressure issues (and those newer to pranayama) to not hold the breath at the top of the inhale. Retentions of the breath are best practiced after building a strong foundational understanding of the bandhas, and not necessarily of utmost importance when aiming to regulate blood pressure.
Meditation and relaxation techniques can also be effective in balancing your blood pressure. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health has shown that people who meditate regularly experience a significant reduction in blood pressure, with nearly 50% showing lower rates of heart attack, stroke and mortality. Though meditation is a simple practice (all one needs is a place to sit), it has proven time and time again to enhance health and happiness. More on simple meditation techniques can be found here.
Whether you practice Nadi Sodhana, asana or meditation, it is important to find a sense of ease and stillness with every inhale and exhale of your practice. Don’t get too concerned about whether you’re doing things “right,” and remember that the aim of this practice is to reduce your stress and calm the systems of the body. For instance, if your pranayama practice is uncomfortable for any reason, begin with a more simple approach: Simple breath observation is powerful and soothing to the system. Let the duration of your exhales last a few seconds longer than your inhale, which is said to pacify the nervous system.
What other yogic practices have supported you in regulating blood pressure?