High blood pressure or hypertension is a serious health condition that often shows no symptoms. However, it puts you at a greater risk of developing heart disease, strokes, and even cancer. The increased pressure buildup in your arteries and throughout your cardiovascular system puts an increased strain on your heart, nervous system and entire immune system making you more susceptible to many chronic and autoimmune diseases.
Many factors contribute to increased blood pressure including, but not limited to:
Working to control some of these risk factors is a great way to help reduce your blood pressure numbers. Fun fact?! Yoga is also a great way to help improve your fitness as well as regulate your blood pressure by incorporating breath practices into movements and poses to regulate your central nervous system!
Many sites and blogs boast about lots of forward folding type resting postures to help decrease your blood pressure and reduce stress levels. While I can see how breathing in a low level position would be beneficial and calming, I personally do not agree with these poses as being the “be all” beneficial poses for blood pressure management. First of all, most of modern society is already in a rounded and seated posture throughout most of the day, and the tissue restrictions created in this manner are largely contributing to an increase in blood pressure. Putting yourself further into these positions and continuing to “rest” or collapse into these structures (similarly to how we often find ourselves plopped on the couch), does not provide much benefit for our cardiovascular and nervous systems. Moreover, putting yourself in positions where the head is below the heart has actually been shown to elevate blood pressure. We learn in Physical Therapy school and hospital settings “pale raise the tail, red raise the head.” This means when the blood pressure is too low, we want to elevate the legs or sacrum/tailbone to INCREASE blood pressure, and elevate the head in order to DECREASE blood pressure. These are usually extremes for more of an immediate response and blood pressure reaction, as opposed to ways for managing blood pressure in the long term.
I will agree with FIVE yoga poses as being highly beneficial in decreasing blood pressure, especially if your blood pressure issues are indeed high STRESS related:
CORPSE POSE/SHAVASANA is the final resting posture where one lies flat on their back with arms and legs splayed out focussing on breathing and truly letting all the tension go. This pose is great because the arms and legs are extended as they often are not in our usual day to day.
CHILD’S POSE/BALASANA is the other resting pose which can be extremely calming and opening to many joint structures and fascial lines that get restricted and cause high blood pressure. Staying higher up in a child's pose with a block underneath the forehead is even better because it not only decreases the stress and strain on the hips and low back if this motion is not yet available, but also helps to stick with our theme of having the head above the tail to aid in decreasing blood pressure. Arms are reached out in front of you as you sit back into your heels from a kneeling position with a block underneath the forehead.
BRIDGE pose activates your deeper core postural stabilizing muscles, which has been shown to tap into your PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system. This rest and digest nervous system is responsible for blood pressure regulation and especially helpful to decrease blood pressure. While most poses aim to relax or hang into joint structures to “calm” the body, actually working your core, finding your deep abdominals and connecting to the proximal muscles of the body may be more beneficial. For this reason I love BRIDGE pose. Bridging engages your glutes, which have fascial and musculature connections to our deep abdominal and spinal stabilizing muscles. Making sure to engage the glutes, contracting the lower abs with an exhale upon lifting your bottom from the floor.
COBRA pose is where you are on your stomach with your hands underneath your shoulders. Engage your glutes and abdominals to protect your low back as you pull back with your hands, peeling the head of your arm bones away and drawing the shoulder blades together, slightly down and almost as if they could pull through your chest wall.
THREAD THE NEEDLE helps activate the multifidus and rotatores muscles, deep spinal stabilizers responsible for rotating the spine. Begin in all 4’s quadruped with hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Breathe in as you press into your left hand and reach your right arm out to the side and up towards the ceiling, breathe out as you bring the right arm underneath and through. Perform a few repetitions before coming to lie on your right shoulder to feel a stretch in the back of the arm as you energetically pull back with the back of your hand against the floor. Again, staying higher up in the hips and keeping some tension on your abdominal muscles to protect the back and stay in the parasympathetic state. Repeat on the other side.
RECLINED SPINAL TWIST with similar reasoning involving the decompression that rotation can have on the nervous system. Begin lying on your back. This can be taught two ways. For the greatest amount of protection to your lower back, you would want to bend BOTH knees keeping them close into your chest as you roll onto the RIGHT side, keeping your LEFT arm out to the side in a T or goal post position, trying to keep the left shoulder blade in contact with the floor. Alternatively, you can just bend your LEFT knee keeping the right leg straight or slightly bent as you roll onto your RIGHT side, again keeping the left shoulder blade on the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths, with each exhale feeling it creating more space in the body. Repeat on the other side.
Check out my classes for just $15/month to experience the benefits in your body, energy levels, and mood today!
Author: Dr. Sarah Kingsley PT, DPT, RYT
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.