Yoga for healthy ageing: high blood pressure

yoga for healthy ageing: high blood pressure

Having high blood pressure does not prevent you from doing yoga. On the contrary, practising yoga, calm breathing and meditation can reduce hypertension. However, do you know which kind of yoga to practise and which poses to avoid? In this blog I explain what high blood pressure is, what the risks are and how you can reduce it. Importantly, you will learn which yoga practices are beneficial and which you have to avoid even if you take medication for high blood pressure. Finally, in this episode of yoga for healthy ageing: high blood pressure, I’ll walk you through a calming yoga practice.

Being diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension as it’s also called, can come as a surprise. You may not have had any symptoms at all. Only very high blood pressure results in symptoms such as headaches, vision problems, fatigue or chest pain. If your blood pressure is over 140/90 you are probably given medication, which is important to take as the effects of sustained high blood pressure are life-threatening.

Untreated hypertension puts unnecessary pressure on the blood vessels, organs and eyes. It can lead to a heart attack, stroke, arteriosclerosis, kidney disease and even dementia. It’s possible that you can reduce your dependence on medication through lifestyle changes, so this blog will look at those and of course give you yoga tips. Practising a gentle style of yoga, calm breathing and meditation can benefit hypertension.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure refers to pressure within the arteries during the 2 phases of the heart cycle. The first reading is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is contracting (systolic) and the second reading is the pressure remaining in the arteries while the heart is resting between contractions (diastolic). Optimal blood pressure is said to be between 90/60 and 120/80. Above 140/90 is considered high BP. Our blood pressure fluctuates – it can go up by 10 or 20 when you feel anxious, e.g. while having it measured at the doctor’s office!

Some main factors that can increase HBP are age (over 60), diet, obesity, stress, a sedentary lifestyle, and genetic predisposition. Medication such as ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents can also cause the BP to rise. Even though obesity is a risk factor, HBP does not only occur in people who are overweight. One can be very thin and have hypertension.

Natural remedies:

1/ Eat healthily: eating fruit and vegetables, seeds and nuts, whole grains and other high-fibre foods like beans will contribute to a healthy diet and provide minerals and vitamins that have been shown to reduce BP (potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin C).

2/ Reduce salt. Here are some NHS tips for how to cut down on salt, helpful e.g. when you have to eat out often.

3/ Limit alcohol. See these NHS tips here for cutting down on alcohol.

4/ Exercise regularly, preferably gentle and cardiovascular exercise.

5/ Stop smoking.

6/ Reduce your intake of caffeinated drinks.

7/ Include stress-reducing techniques that work in your life: walking, massage, yoga, meditation, etc. Calm breathing and meditation may help you to see anxiety-provoking and stressful elements in your life in a wider perspective. These techniques allow us to let go of pressure and feel more accepting and content.

8/ Improve your posture so as not to contract parts of your body and make the heart work harder. A good posture allows for a better, easier blood circulation, and more optimal breathing.

The recommended lifestyle changes may seem overwhelming. In fact, just thinking of them could make one’s BP shoot up. It’s a cliché, but taking “one step at a time” can help in these situations. You may not see the end result clearly, but you can take one step. If the recommendations just seem too much, choose one small thing to change this week, and persevere until it has become a habit. Maybe this is mindful walking for 10 minutes a day while you are going to work, maybe 15 minutes of yoga every evening before going to sleep, maybe you can reduce your alcohol intake, maybe change your daily biscuits to fresh fruit. Make this one task a priority. Once this change has become a habit, choose the next small step.

Yoga cautions

Yoga is of course excellent for stress reduction and also provides gentle movements that help you feel more relaxed and better in your body. It also encourages body awareness that may prompt you to eat healthier. Before giving you some movements, below is a list of things you better avoid in a yoga class. These guidelines are important even if the hypertension is under control with medication.

1/ Avoid yoga movements and breathing techniques that involve effort. This includes holding the breath and holding poses for a long time.
2/ Choose a gentle style of yoga, without abrupt movements that take you from supine position to standing, or jumping from pose to pose.
3/ Don’t do inversions such as handstand, headstand and shoulderstand. Dog pose can be an exception.

Yoga recommendations:

The amazing advantage of yoga is that it works on the body as well as the mind; with regular practice it can reduce mental and emotional stress.

Try a regular, gentle yoga practice that includes:
Mindful movements, coordinated with the breath.
Relaxation techniques
Relaxing breathing techniques
Meditation — this can be breath awareness

Below is an example of a simple practice that is short enough to add to a busy day, and simple enough if you are a beginner. Other blogs on this website show gentle movements that could be equally beneficial. The movements are simple but very effective when done in coordination with the breath. The practice starts with arm movements and continues to poses that promote a better posture. The short practice finishes with a relaxation and calming breathing technique.

To receive your individual yoga practice for high blood pressure or another health issue, contact me here for a free consultation:

A simple and calming yoga practice for high blood pressure

Start with Arm movements:

1. Inhale slowly and raise both arms forward and up, palms facing up. Exhale and lower the arms, with the palms facing down.
2. Inhale and raise your arms up to the sides, lower them with an exhalation. Again the palms face the way they are going.

yoga therapy for high blood pressure

Up and down on toes:

Inhale and come up onto the toes while bringing the arms up (forward and then to the side, level with the shoulders). Exhale and lower the arms and the feet. Be very attentive to making the breath exactly as long as the movements: the heels only touch the floor when the exhalation is finished.

Side stretch:

Inhale and bring one arm up, stretch that one side of the body, exhale lower the arm down. Do the same with the other side.

yoga therapy for high blood pressure

Warrior pose 1, dynamic:

beneyoga warrior 1

Place the right foot about 2 feet forward. Both feet stay equally on the floor and the hipbones face forward. To see if you have the right distance between the feet: bend the front knee and make sure the knee does not go beyond the knee while the back heel stays on the floor.

Inhale and bend the front knee while widening the arms to the side.
Exhale and return to the starting position.
Repeat 4 to 6 times with the right leg forward and then do the same with the left leg.

Floppy arms:

Swing your arms as if they are completely free, blowing in the wind and hanging loose from the shoulders. If your sacroiliac joints hurt or feel unstable, keep the hips facing forward. For more on these pelvic joints, read this blog:

beneyoga floppy arms

One-knee-up twist:

Inhale and raise both arms and the right knee. Exhale and leaving the knee where it is, turn towards the bent leg. Inhale return to the centre with the arms up. Exhale and lower arms and right knee. Alternate legs and do 4 to 6 on each side.

beneyoga knee lift
beneyoga for high blood pressure

Long exhalations in the relaxation pose:

Lie on your back with your legs bent, maybe with a cushion under your head. This can be done in a seated position as well, but your yoga practice is enhanced if you lie down for at least 5 minutes at the end. So if you choose to do the breathing sitting down, which is very good, still lie down for 5 minutes afterwards.

Breathe normally and watch your breath. Observe the ratio of inhalation vs. exhalation: is the inhalation or the exhalation longer? Are you breathing fast? Is the breath slowing down as you observe it? Take a few minutes to observe the quality of your breath at this moment. When your breathing feels relaxed, count the length of inhalation and exhalation. If you can, encourage a ratio of 4 counts for the inhalation to 6 counts for the exhalation — without any effort – then keep breathing like this for a few minutes. The longer exhalation promotes relaxation, but the breath should never be forced.

Do you have high blood pressure? What is your experience? Has something helped you in particular? Have you tried yoga? Please share with us!


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