By Shameem Akthar
According to surveys done by the Bihar School of Yoga, yogic therapy does liberate a blood pressure patient from a lifetime of dependence on drugs and slow degeneration of the circulatory system
My experience with teaching students with a high blood pressure has been rather interesting. I am resorting to such generalizations only since I have found that categories of ill health can also be compartmentalized into emotional traits. For instance, the emotionally sensitive tend to suffer from respiratory ailments, those susceptible to stress have digestive and chronic fatigue symptoms, the high achievers tend to have cardiac or circulatory problems.
Such generalizations may offend some readers, but such typecasting (resorted to by even western medicine) only helps in commandeering a therapy that appreciates that body and mind are not separable. To revert to my observation, I have found that among my students, those with blood pressure are most resistant to yogic therapy even though it is most effective in their cases.
Blood pressure therapy calls for diet-consciousness. Most BP sufferers are happy to have restricted their salt intake and do not bother about elaborate food charts, carefully prepared for their sake. Since they are also prescribed a regular dose of medicine (whether allopathy or homoeopathy) to keep them on the course of health, they are convinced that they can dispense with alternative therapies of diet and yoga.
They feel extremely healthy since BP, unlike diabetes or even low blood pressure, is usually almost symptom-less (the reason it is so dangerously and rightly called the silent killer). They insist on continuing with their unhealthy habits-be it erratic sleep timings, complete disregard to some form of exercise, high cholesterol intake, eating out, succumbing to bouts of anger and irritation without appreciating that each neglect only binds them tighter into a loop from which freedom is more and more difficult.
They also are easily bored with the restrictive nature of their exercises since most movements are contraindicated for them, at least initially. In a large yoga class, it must surely be frustrating for them to see the others, ostensibly less limber than themselves, doing interesting asanas such as sirsasana (headstand), sarvangasana (shoulder stand), or even the superbly challenging scorpion pose while they do the gentle moves of the pawanmuktasana (energy-releasing) series usually reserved for the elderly, arthritic or sickly!
After failing to cajole the teacher into being allowed to do the challenging, forbidden poses, most also slowly get bored and drop out as if they were naughty schoolboys! But the reason they are not allowed to advance in asanas is clearly because their bodies are stiff. It is evidenced by simple twists and turns that they are encouraged to do to unravel the knotted bodies.
The reason I have made this column deliberately hard-hitting is only to drive home the need for yogic therapy for BP. According to surveys done by the Bihar School of Yoga, yogic therapy does liberate a BP patient from a lifetime of dependence on drugs and slow degeneration of the circulatory system.
The few restrictions in diet and exercises again are like laws that keep a country crime free. It is meant to give them complete liberation otherwise denied and since it is what western medicine typecasts as Type A personalities, it makes them impatient with restrictions. I have highlighted this trait-the resistance, the competitiveness in the class-so that they see it as part and parcel of the ailment. That this trait is not part of their personality as much as a symptom of their disease, and therefore needs handling lest it drags them into an abyss.
Now for the impact of yoga on blood pressure: Even the simple corpse position shows that the brainwaves of the practitioner get into the most relaxed alpha mode. The breath and heart rate slow down, indicating heightened efficiency. Blood circulation is eased and allowed to perform its best. The free radicals and other impurities that pile up due to oxidation are discarded. The adrenals are allowed to stop their explosive damage, the endocrine glands are allowed to help the body instead of keeping it in a constant state of damaging alertness. Muscular relaxation is maximum and peripheral blood flow is greater. The body’s metabolism becomes highly efficient with less of the resultant cell damage. The end result-the rare harmony of body and mind, most elusive to a BP patient. Remember BP is an indication of a disturbance of this harmony. Yoga gives you the power to reset it yourself.
Pranayama for bp
Ujjayi pranayama: Sit still. Close eyes. Breathe normally a few times. Now gently squeeze the throat region, where the air from the nostril enters the throat. Produce a soft snoring sound. Only you should hear it. If it is too loud (a mistake committed by most beginners that unfortunately remains uncorrected if they are participating in a large class), you are over-straining. The inhalation and exhalation must both produce this soft sound at the glottis.
Try to make the exhalation longer if possible. But if you find this confusing, do not try to prolong exhalation initially. But slowly as your practice becomes better, you must concentrate on this since it is when you are exhaling that the body recoups itself, displays its efficiency. Ujjayi or victory breath is a soothing breath and is therapeutic in high blood pressure and stress-induced toxification of mind and body. It works by applying a pressure on the large vagus nerve which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rejuvenating other-half of our body).
Sheetali pranayama: Sit still, eyes shut. For this breathing practice meaning ‘cooling breath’, stick out tongue, rolling sides as you would to whistle, making a tube of it. Inhale, drawing breath in. Close the mouth now. Exhale through the nose. You will feel the cool sensation of the breath. This happens because the breath has been ‘washed’ by the saliva, acting like an internal cooler. This is one round. Repeat nine times.
Because of its powerful impact, it should be avoided by those with breathing problems, low blood pressure and constipation. Not to be done in polluted atmosphere. Therapeutic in stress, acidity, high blood pressure.
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