This natural “secret weapon” can help tame high blood pressure

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yoga-poses(NaturalHealth365)  High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a truly insidious foe.  Not only can untreated high blood pressure raise your risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure – but it can cause irreversible damage to the heart, arteries, brain, and eyes.  Shockingly, this often silent condition currently affects almost half of all American adults.  Yet, we know that a ‘peaceful’ daily activity can be a great help. (keep reading for details)

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may have recommended lifestyle and dietary changes, accompanied by medication if necessary.  Now, a surprising new study shows that yoga can help lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.  Let’s see how yoga promotes heart health and overall well-being.

Winning formula: Yoga plus aerobic exercise benefits metabolic syndrome and lowers blood pressure

In the three-month study, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, researchers evaluated the effects of yoga on a group of participants with high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome – a constellation of unhealthy conditions that includes high blood sugar, obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal levels of cholesterol.  The participants were divided into two groups, one which performed 15 minutes of structured yoga and one which performed 15 minutes of stretching exercises – with both groups undergoing 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week.  The results were striking.

While both groups experienced beneficial reductions in their lipids, blood sugar, and levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), the yoga group experienced a substantial 10 mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure, which measures the force of heartbeats.  (Incidentally, the diastolic, or bottom measurement, refers to the pressure between beats).  In contrast, the group performing stretches reduced their systolic scores by a mere 4 mmHg.  The yoga group also reduced their resting heart rate, as well as their 10-year cardiovascular risk.  “Our study shows that structured yoga practices can be a healthier addition to aerobic exercise than simply muscle stretching,” the researchers concluded.

Yoga may help “tap the brakes” on coronary heart disease

In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials involving over 4,600 coronary heart disease patients and published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, the authors found that participants who performed a yoga routine – in addition to proper medical care – significantly improved their serum triglycerides, cholesterol profile, blood pressure, body mass index and health-related quality of life.  (Quite the impressive menu of benefits!)

Remarking that yoga is associated with fewer cardiovascular events and a lowered risk of heart conditions, the team called it a “promising alternative” for patients with heart disease.  And there’s more.  An additional study showed that twice-weekly slow-paced yoga sessions reduced the frequency of episodes in patients with atrial fibrillation.  Still not convinced?  Yet another study revealed that an eight-week yoga program increased exercise capacity, lowered markers of inflammation, and improved quality of life in patients with congestive heart failure.

Yoga’s benefits recognized by Western doctors

Time and time again, yoga has been shown to improve strength, flexibility, and balance.  In addition, its emphasis on deep breathing and meditation can help promote a state of relaxation by reducing the release of “stress” hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

When it comes to recognizing yoga as a valuable adjunct therapy for high blood pressure and heart disease, Western doctors are (finally) beginning to “get with the program.” According to Hugh Calkins, M.D., director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Johns Hopkins, “a large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health.” And this, says Dr. Calkins, has led to a new sense of acceptance.  “There’s been a major shift in the last five years or so in the number of cardiologists and other professionals recognizing that these benefits are real,” he reported.

Soothe jangled nerves with yoga

Although many variations and styles of yoga exist, the practice generally involves a series of body poses and breathing exercises.  Certain poses and types are believed to be particularly well-suited for managing blood pressure.  For example, advises Balasana (child’s pose), Baddha Konasana (bound ankle pose), Virisana (hero pose), and Savasana (corpse pose) as calming positions that can also increase circulation.

According to Deepak L. Bhatt, M.D., M.P.H., a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, yoga can be an appropriate intervention for those with high blood pressure and/or coronary artery disease.  Naturally, consult your own holistic doctor before starting a yoga routine.  And remember, never stop taking prescribed blood pressure medications unless advised to do so by your physician.

Dr. Bhatt advises starting with a beginner’s or “gentle yoga” class, being mindful to keep breathing and to move slowly between poses.  If you have any concerns about specific poses, such as inversions and headstands, check with your doctor or an experienced yoga instructor.

No doubt, yoga is a promising technique against high blood pressure.  As the new study suggests, “downward dog”- and other simple yoga poses – could very well lead to “downward diastolic” – and a healthier heart.  What’s not to like about that?

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