Lifestyle Mindset Yoga

The Good Luck of High Blood Pressure

Written by Kris Fondran

So, you just found out that you have high blood pressure. Now what?

Consider yourself lucky!

Of course you aren’t lucky to have high blood pressure, but you’re certainly are lucky to “know” you have it. Receiving the diagnosis of “hypertension” (the medical term for high blood pressure) gives you the power to make dietary and lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure and maybe even save your life.

Because there often aren’t symptoms until before death, high blood pressure is a “silent killer.”

For people that don’t get regular check-ups, it’s common to learn they have high blood pressure when they’re in a hospital bed after a cardiac event (heart attack or stroke). If you’re one of those people who think a little high blood pressure doesn’t matter, think again.

Consider these sobering statistics taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm):

  • About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year — that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people annually.

The American Heart Association (AHA) (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/) has provided the following chart that categorizes blood pressure.

Blood-Pressure-Chart

How Can You Avoid High Blood Pressure and the Resulting Heart Disease?

There are identifiable “risk factors” for heart disease, and they come in two categories: modifiable and non-modifiable.

Getting older, being male, and heredity (genetics) are non-modifiable — those factors are unchangeable.

However, there’s a lot you can do for the modifiable risks. Risks you can lower or permanently get rid of include: smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity/overweight, and uncontrolled diabetes. All it takes is a few lifestyle changes for you to say goodbye to those risks.

Depending on where you fall in the Blood Pressure Chart above, you may need medication to help lower your blood pressure into a safe range even if you’re making lifestyle changes to lower your risk.

However, don’t just take the meds without changing your lifestyle too. Diabetes, “hardened” arteries, and many other diseases have similar risk factors, and you can help prevent all of them with just a few changes.

Yoga And Your Blood Pressure

Before we go any further, if your doctor or health care provider diagnosed you with hypertension, it’s important to get your doctor’s clearance before starting or continuing any kind of exercise program or diet changes.

One of my teachers, Swami Shankardevananda, in his book The Effects of Yoga on Hypertension says, “The aim of yoga is purely practical, to change your lifestyle so that you get more out of life. “

Who can argue with getting more out of life?

When it comes to hypertension, you didn’t develop it overnight — years of stress, tension, and inadequate lifestyle choices are to blame. Those are probably tough words to hear, but remember… you’re lucky! You’re lucky that you know the dangers of your situation before permanent damage or death snuck up on you. You’re also lucky that you can make different choices now that will result in positive changes.

Yogis believe that various yoga postures, yoga breathing, and meditation practices can positively affect and balance your autonomic nervous system — the part of your nervous system that is either sympathetic (“Fight or Flight”) or Parasympathetic (“Rest and Digest) — reducing the amount of stress on your body and subsequently lowering your blood pressure.

When you practice yoga as intended, with awareness of your body, breath, and mind, then you’re able to remain in the present moment. This is probably the most difficult part of yoga, but it is where you’ll see the most benefits.

With “present moment awareness,” you focus on what you’re doing right now — not what you did before or where you’re going next — just right now. The present moment is really the only moment you have control of, so why not pay attention to it?

Paying attention to your movement and connecting your breath to it activates your higher brain center, the part that connects to the “rest and digest” aspect of your autonomic nervous system. Your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease which will lead to reduced stress levels in your body.

The more “present moment awareness” you develop, really in everything that you do, the better. And a regular yoga practice is the perfect platform, especially if you have high blood pressure.

What Type Of Yoga Should You Do?

Follow this sequence of yoga practices:

  1. Postures/Movements
  2. Breathing Practices
  3. Meditation

When starting a yoga practice or program, know your limitations. If something doesn’t feel good, you should immediately stop doing it. It’s that simple. All people who practice yoga should adopt that attitude to avoid injury. However, it’s even more important if you have high blood pressure because there are specific postures and breathing practices to avoid.

After getting clearance from a medical professional, please alert your yoga teacher of your condition if you are planning to begin practicing yoga in a class setting. If you’re practicing on your own, keep the following in mind:

The most important thing to remember is to avoid inversions (where your head is below your heart), inter-thoracic pressure (pressure in your chest), and holding your breath — all of these are known to raise blood pressure.

Reversing hypertension will take time, but with a regular yoga practice and medication as directed, you can lower your blood pressure and eliminate the long-term consequences of heart disease.

Yoga offers a variety of tools for bringing your body back into an optimal state of health and wellness.

Below are a few simple practices that are safe and effective for most people with pre-hypertension or Stage 1 hypertension. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but they will help you get started.

These practices release energy blockages, lubricate your joints, and reduce stress in your body. The simplicity of movement will allow you to connect with your body and breath, further reducing stress.

While performing each exercise, keep your awareness on the movement, connect your breaths to the movement as described, and feel any associated sensations.

Please remember to consult your doctor before starting any exercise regimen if you have been diagnosed or suspect that you have high blood pressure!

Yoga Postures/Movements
  1. Seated Base Position (Pictured)
  2. Toe Bending
  3. Ankle Bending
  4. Half Butterfly (Pictured)
  5. Hand Clenching
  6. Neck Movements
  7. Dynamic Spinal Twist (Pictured)

Seated Base Position

Seated Base Old Lake

Description

  • Sit in with your legs outstretched and your feet slightly apart. Place your hands beside and slightly behind your buttocks.
  • Lean back a little, using your arms to support your back.
  • Keep your chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, and spine as straight as possible.

Toe Bending

Description

  • Sit in the Seated Base Position with your legs outstretched and your feet slightly apart. Place your hands beside and slightly behind your buttocks.
  • Lean back a little, using your arms to support your back.
  • Keep your chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, and spine as straight as possible.
  • Bring your attention to your toes.
  • Move your toes on both feet slowly backward and forward, keeping your feet upright and your ankles still and relaxed.
  • Synchronize your breath by inhaling your toes back before flexing your foot and exhaling them forward and squeezing.
  • Repeat 5 –10 times

Benefits: Energizes the joints of your toes, improving circulation and energy flow while increasing range of motion and overall comfort in your feet.

Ankle Bending

Description

  • Sit in the Seated Base Position with your legs outstretched and your feet slightly apart. Place your hands beside and slightly behind your buttocks.
  • Lean back a little, using your arms to support your back.
  • Keep your chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, and spine as straight as possible.
  • Bring your attention to your ankles.
  • Slowly move both feet backward and forward, bending them at the ankle joints. Try to stretch your feet forward toward the ground and then bring them back towards your knees.
  • Synchronize your breath by inhaling your ankles back before exhaling your ankles forward.
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Benefits: Improves your range of motion in your ankles, improving energy flow, strength, and stability.

Half Butterfly 
halfbutterfly

Description

  • Begin in the Seated Base Position
  • Bend one leg and place your foot on the inside of the opposite thigh.
  • Us the same hand as the knee that is bent to assist with motion. The other hand rest gently on the passive leg.
  • On an inhalation, gently move your knee up towards your chest. On the exhalation, gently push your knee down toward the ground.
  • Your trunk should remain still.
  • Do not force this movement in any way.
  • Repeat 20-30 times on each side.

Practice Note: To release your leg after completion of the exercise, gently bring your knee to your chest before straightening your leg. Bringing your knee to your chest will help ensure that your knee joint realigns after being in a somewhat awkward position. Then you can continue to practice with the other side.

Modifications: As your hamstrings, hips, and back loosen, place your foot on your thigh to increase the range of motion in your hip.

Benefits: Loosens the muscles of your hips, thighs, and low back, releasing tension and preparing your body for periods of sitting cross-legged.

Hand Clenching

Description

  • Begin in Seated Base Position or Other Comfortable Seated Position.
  • Stretch your arms in from of your body so that they are parallel with the floor.
  • On an inhalation, squeeze your hands, making a tight fist with your thumbs inside.
  • On the exhalation, open your hands, stretching your fingers as far apart as possible.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

Benefits: Keeps fingers and wrists in good working order from long periods of typing and texting.

Neck Movements- Ear to Shoulder

Neck Movements Ear to Shoulder

Ear to Shoulder Movement

  • Begin in Seated Base Position or Other Comfortable Seated Position.
  • Place your hands on your knees or thighs; relax down through your shoulders and arms.
  • Inhale with your head in center or neutral position.
  • On the exhalation, gently tip your head to one side, keeping your ear over your shoulder.
  • Your should remains still, with your ear moving toward your shoulder. Take care not to strain.
  • Inhale back to the center and repeat on the second side.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on both sides.

Benefits: Reduces tension and tightness in your neck, inducing relaxation throughout your body.

Dynamic Spinal Twist Lake Photos

Dynamic Spinal Twist

Description

  • Sit in the Seated Base Position with your legs outstretched and your feet slightly apart.
  • Move your feet further out so that each foot rests at the end of the mat. There should be about 50 cm or 2 feet between your legs.
  • Bring your arms out to the side so that they are perpendicular to your body. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears. This is the starting position.
  • Inhale, and on an exhalation, twist your body to the left while bending slightly forward so that your right hand moves toward your knees, ankle, foot, or toes of your left leg.
  • On an inhalation, return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the other side and exhale twisting your body to the right while bending slightly forward so your left hands moves toward your knee, ankle, foot or toes of your right leg.
  • Alternate sides, repeating the movement 5-10 times.

Modification: 1. To gradually increase the range of motion in your spine and shoulders, do the twist with your back straight with no bending as in picture one. 2. As your range of motion increases, gradually add some bending and try taking your hand toward the same leg reaching for your knee ankle or foot.

Practice Note; Do not hold your breath while twisted…remember to exhale. There should be no straining, so choose a version of the movement that works with your individual level of flexibility.

Benefits: Releases energy blockages in your pelvic region and spine while improving flexibility in your chest, upper- back, and shoulders.

Breathing Practice

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position with your spine straight, head to the center, and your hands resting gently on your knees or in your lap.
  2. Once still, shift your attention to your breath and begin to follow your natural breath.
  3. Notice the flow of your breath into your nostrils.
  4. Bring your right hand up to the center of your forehead placing your index and middle finger between your eye brows. Your right thumb rests lightly on your right nostril.
  5. Begin Alternate Nostril breathing by closing your right nostril with your right thumb. Take 5 breaths in and out through your left nostril.
  6. Using your ring finger of your left hand close your left nostril and take 5 breaths in and out through your right nostril.
  7. Release your hands back to your knees or lap and take 5 breaths through both nostrils.
  8. Bring your right hand back into position and begin again by closing your right nostril with your left thumb.
  9. Continue the above process for a total of 3-5 rounds.

Benefits: Alternate Nostril Breathing is a balancing breath practice that has a calming effect on your brain. It facilitates the flow of breath in your nostrils and helps to bring your breath and body into balance.

Meditation

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice that systematically relaxes your body and mind. In yoga nidra, your body sleeps while your mind stays awake. Yogis believe that a 20 minute yoga nidra practice is equivalent to 2 hours of sleep.

Click here for a recording.

If you’re ready for yoga to revitalize your life and body, love knowing that you can practice Kris’s yoga anywhere, would like to bring your sexy body back, and you want even more great movements and postures, visit Kris Fondran’s ShapeShifter Yoga!

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