By Saraswathi Vasudevan
Varicose veins are usually caused by standing long hours at a stretch, and can be helped or even reversed through the practice of simple yoga asanas, When I am at a shopping mall or airport, my attention is often drawn to the people who stand most of the day, such as nurses, surgeons, people on the shop floor and hospitality industry. Standing long hours over a period of time can lead to varicose veins, impose strain on knees and ankles, and if one side is favoured more than the other, cause a difference in hip alignment or length of legs. Interestingly, psychological stress, especially the pressure we put on our self to achieve, feeling stuck, or struggling to find direction, can also cause varicose veins in the legs (feet are about moving forward)! Another common precipitating factor is pregnancy. Whatever be the reason, it needs to be addressed before it gets worse! When you are standing for long hours and not moving much, the calf muscles become very tight and don’t work efficiently to pump venous blood back to the heart (calves are called the second heart of the body). This leads to stasis and pooling of venous blood in the lower extremities causing darkening of skin, kinking of veins, and in severe cases, their rupture as well. But the good news is that we can redress the situation with simple asana practices that anybody can do at home. We have also found that when the varicosity is mild to moderate, the condition can even be reversed.
Suggestions for practice While morning practice should include stretching and strengthening legs and back while standing on the feet, movements to strengthen the calf muscles to help with venous circulation should not include too many standing postures. Lying on the back, legs bent and slightly apart – raising hips on inhalation and lowering on exhalation (dvipadapitham – desk pose). Drawing knees to chest on exhalation and raising legs up, feet pointing to ceiling on inhalation (apanasana–urdhvaprasrtapadasana) and opening legs progressively can help to prepare the back and legs for the long standing hours.
Evening/bed time practice can release the strain from the legs and hips, and relax the back as well. You will need some free wall space for this. You can also use a chair/sofa placed against a wall. Lie down on the floor facing the wall with your hips very close to the wall. Raise your legs to the wall. Place the heels on the wall, legs slightly apart, keeping your upper body relaxed. Focussing on your breath, extend your exhalation and inhalation to your maximum, keeping exhalation longer than inhalation. Maintain this rhythm of breathing through the practice to help your body and mind to completely relax. Try each of these 5-10 times with breathing:
1) Gently open your feet on inhalation, close (bringing big toes together) on exhalation.
2) Stretch the ankles (inhale) and flex (exhale).
3) Open the legs (inhale) and close (exhale). (Hip opening is very important for improving blood flow to and from lower extremities).
4) Draw one knee to the chest (exhale) and extend the leg back to the wall (inhale).
5) Placing the feet on the wall, with knees bent and legs apart, raise hips up slowly on inhalation and lower on exhalation.
NB: Postures suggested are general guidelines for preventive care, if you have moderate to severe varicose veins, please seek the help of a qualified yoga therapist.
About the author: Saraswathi Vasudevan is a yoga therapist trainer in the tradition of Sri T Krishnamacharya. She specialises in adapting yoga to the individual. (www.yogavahini.com).
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