It’s no secret that heart-related ailments continue to rise, and unfortunately, conventional treatment methods often fall well short of their target goal. In the US alone, over 85 million people suffer from high blood pressure, and over 100 million people suffer from high blood sugar and prediabetes (a condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are high, but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes). To date, numerous bodies of research have demonstrated the positive effects of yoga and meditation for heart-related ailments, and a new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, further expands on the many benefits of yoga for supporting heart (and overall) health.
Led by researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the study focuses on metabolic syndrome, a group of metabolic abnormalities such as obesity, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure, that often occur in conjunction with each other and are major contributors to cardiovascular disease and other heart-related ailments. Throughout the course of the year-long study, participants engaged in 90-minute yoga classes three times per week. Each class included a combination of physical poses, breathwork, and meditation. At the end of the year, researchers were able to see a clear correlation between a steady yoga practice and a decrease in adipokines (cell signaling proteins that are released from excessive body fat), as well as a reduction in abdominal obesity. Participants experienced other positive results, including general weight loss, decreased blood pressure, lowered blood sugar, a boost to overall strength, and an increased feeling of overall well-being.
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When it comes to treating high blood pressure and high blood sugar, making lifestyle changes is by far the most beneficial long-term approach. Lifestyle changes can include dietary modifications (such as reducing meat and dairy products, eating more vegetables and whole grains) and incorporating exercise and stress reduction practices that include yoga and meditation. There are a number of physical yoga poses that are beneficial for treating high blood pressure and high blood sugar. These include:
- Simple Neck Rolls- Beneficial for releasing tension in the face, neck, shoulders, and upper back. This pose is very beneficial for people who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or computer.
- Bitilasana (Cat/Cow Pose)- This is a great pose for warming up the spine and releasing tension in the hips and sides of the torso.
- Parvritta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head to Knee Pose)- Beneficial for stretching the hamstrings and releasing the muscles in the back and sides. For a more restorative version, rest the forehead on a block or bolster as you fold forward.
- Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall Pose)- This restorative inversion calms the nervous system, reduces overall stress in the body, and boosts the immune system by reversing the flow of lymph fluid in the body. It is best to hold this pose for a minimum of ten minutes.
Pranayama, the breathing practices that are important components of a hatha yoga practice, are other valuable tools that can be utilized in conjunction with the physical poses listed above to treat high blood pressure and reduce stress levels. Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breath) is a particularly useful practice that calms the nervous system, reduces anxiety, and settles the mind.
Persistent high blood pressure and high blood sugar are major health concerns that play a role in most cases of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Treatment for these ailments varies, often including a combination of medication and conventional medical interventions with an annual price tag in the high billions. In contrast, making personal lifestyle changes and committing to a daily yoga practice can be an affordable, holistic approach that provides long-term, lasting results.