If you have high blood pressure or know you are at risk for it, yoga postures, breathing, and meditation can be powerful tools in your self-care regimen. Several studies have shown that yoga can lead to significant reductions in blood pressure, most likely thanks to its ability to calm stress, which can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure and may be implicated in the long-term development of the disease.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania medical school are conducting a large trial of yoga and other lifestyle interventions for high blood pressure, following an earlier trial that showed promising results from yoga. Of course, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor may also recommend switching to a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, and getting daily moderate aerobic exercise to help control the condition.
If you're a high-intensity person who's always juggling a lot of activities, the most healing practice for you may be one that lets you "undo." This doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite active vinyasa class. Try alternating days of active practice with days of quieter practice, and especially include calming forward bends and slow, deep breathing. Commit to a weekly restorative session where you set a timer and settle into a relaxation pose (see sidebar) for at least 5-10 minutes, cultivating the ability to release tension, slow your breath, and calm the chatter of your mind.
If you have high blood pressure, include these poses in your routine:
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose: Lie on the floor with your legs resting on the wall or on a chair, arms at your sides, palms up. If you'd like, place one eye pillow on your eyes and one in each palm.
Supported Child's Pose: Extend your upper body forward onto a bolster or folded blanket. Adjust for complete comfort.
Supported Seated Forward Bend: Sit on a folded blanket and stretch your legs in front of you. Fold over and rest your forehead and folded arms on a chair or bolster.
Good to Know
Deep sleep tames blood pressure. Medical researchers have discovered another reason to get a good night's sleep. In a recent three-year study, men who regularly slept deeply were less likely to develop high blood pressure than people whose sleep was lighter and more disturbed.
Carol Krucoff is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.