At the recent annual conference of the Cardiological Society of India, researchers reported on the outcome of a study looking at the use of yoga in preventing high blood pressure in people who were pre-hypertensive. They found that one (1) hour of yoga a day for three months decreased blood pressure almost 5 mm/hg  (mm/hg stands for millimeters of mercury, which is how blood pressure is measured) when added to an already healthy lifestyle.   This is significant because even a 2 mm/hg decrease in blood pressure has the potential to reduce heart disease risk by 6% and stroke by 15%.

For a summary of this research see:  https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_162446.html

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Yoga is an ancient practice with its origins in India. It includes physical postures or poses (technically called asanas) and awareness of the breath through controlled breathing (pranayama) in preparation for meditation. It focuses on balancing the inter-related physical, mental, spiritual and energetic aspects of the body to improve health.  It is not a religion. It is a mind-body practice, according to the National Institutes of Health -  National Center for Complementary and Integrated Medicine.

While there are many types of yoga, hatha yoga is the type most commonly practiced in the U.S. and the one used in the study above.  Hatha yoga is generally a gentle form of yoga that uses different asanas or poses done independently from one another. (When the asanas/poses are done in a sequence and flow from one to another, it’s called vinyasa.)  

The asanas involve mild stretching which is aimed at releasing muscle tension and improving flexibility.  You may be familiar with one of the asanas already, “ðownward facing dog.”                                  

 

 

 

And if you’re wondering where that came from…

 

 

 

In addition to blood pressure control, there are many other benefits of yoga including:

improved muscle strength and overall flexibility
improved heart and lung function
reduced stress, anxiety depression, and chronic pain
improved sleep patterns
enhanced overall well-being and quality of life.
(Woodyard, 2011)

If you are interested in beginning a yoga practice to help control your blood pressure or to improve your overall health:

  1. Take classes with a certified yoga instructor. Learning proper body alignment for the different poses is critical. While there are many yoga videos available for home use, correcting improper body alignment is not something a video can do, it is something a yoga instructor does.
     
  2. Take the proper type of class. Before taking your first class, make sure to ask about the type of yoga offered. For example, Bikram yoga or hot yoga is done in a room with temperatures as high as 105o and with higher humidity.  If you have a heart or lung disease or have a history of heat stroke, this is not for you.

 

  1. Leave your ego at home. Yoga practice is not about being the best in the class, it’s about being aware of yourself. There is no competition on a yoga mat. If you can’t do a pose because of a limitation you have (pregnancy, surgery, sciatica, etc.) tell your yoga instructor and he/she will show you a modification. Do the modification. The people next to you aren’t going to judge you because of it – they don’t care what you’re doing on your mat.

 

  1. Try a class before signing up.  Each yoga instructor will teach the class in a little different way. Some will play calming music, others will teach in silence. Some will have the room dark, others will have lights on. Some yoga classes are in rooms with rugs, others have wood floors. Some are crowded with barely an  arms’ length between mats, others have only a few people. Some are more gender mixed than others. Try out a few different instructors at a few different yoga places.
     

Yoga classes are held at gyms, spas, yoga studios and in private homes. Try a class at each and see what works best for you in terms of time, instructor and cost.

 

In terms of equipment, all you need is a yoga mat. They are available at almost any department or sporting goods store.They are relatively inexpensive, $10 - $15.

 

Clothing should be lose and comfortable, but you don’t need official ‘yoga’ pants. Just make sure the clothing you wear does not restrict your movement. No special footwear is needed, yoga is done barefoot.

 

For more information see:

National Institutes of Health – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Yoga: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm
Meditation: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

Mayo Clinic
Yoga: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733