High Blood Pressure and Inversions
The practice of Yoga poses (Hatha Yoga) offers tremendous health and wellness benefits, but certain health conditions require important modifications and omissions of specific asanas. High blood pressure is a serious health condition that generates many possible contraindications especially in Yoga postures that invert the head below the level of the heart.
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is the occurrence of abnormally high arterial blood pressure at resting state. High blood pressure can result from a variety of factors but is commonly associated with atherosclerosis (a common arterial disease in which raised areas degeneration and cholesterol deposits form on the inner surfaces of the arteries), poor dietary habits, lack of physical activity, and high proportions of body fat.
High blood pressure is a result of arteries having poor blood flow. This resistance to flow requires the heart to pump more vigorously in order to circulate the blood (oxygen and nutrients) to all the cells of the body. This extra effort placed on the heart has a wearing effect on heart tissues and places a greater amount of fluid pressure against the walls of blood vessels.
How Does High Blood Pressure Affect Yoga Poses?
When we invert the body such that the head is below the level of the heart, there is a tendency for blood to pool into the head. This pooling of blood into the head greatly increases when one also elevates the lower body and legs above the level of the head. When we do Yoga poses and other forms of exercise, there is an increased demand for oxygen by muscle cells.
The way that the body meets this increased demand for oxygen is by increasing heart rate and blood flow. So if we invert or place the head below heart-level during Yoga poses and other exercises, not only is there a pooling of blood in the head, there is elevated blood flow and pressure coming into the cranial region.
Normally, the body is adapted to handle blood pooling and mild pressure in cranial blood vessels. But if one already has elevated blood pressure at resting states, the sudden inversions in Yoga can add to the elevated blood pressure, thus generating pressure that is enough to damage delicate blood vessels in the brain. In severe cases, high blood pressure combined with inversions may cause blood vessels to hemorrhage.
Another area of awareness required, when high blood pressure is present, is the process of breathing. When one holds the breath while doing heavy exertion, blood pressure dramatically increases. This contraindicating effect is called the Valsava Maneuver. Many people are familiar with hearing fitness trainers saying “breath out” during the exertion stage of an exercise repetition.
Again, this breathing pattern not only keeps a steady flow of oxygen moving to the tissues but also has physiological benefits in preventing negative pressure occurring in heart and brain tissues. Therefore, when one has high blood pressure, holding the breath in Yoga poses or holding the breath in specific pranayama (breathing exercises) should be avoided.
If you have concerns about having high blood pressure, consult your physician. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, make certain you tell every Yoga teacher with whom you practice. Your Yoga teacher can then offer the appropriate modifications and variations in Yoga postures and pranayama.
Poses to Avoid When One Has High Blood Pressure
In simple terms, avoid Yoga poses that position the head below heart level especially when the practice or pose is vigorous. Here are examples of complete and partial inversions:
- Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand)
- Shirshasana (Head Stand)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog)
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge or Spinal Lift pose)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Leg Standing Forward Bend)
Having high blood pressure should not prevent one from doing Yoga. By understanding the degree of the health condition and by following the recommendations of physicians, one can still have a fulfilling Yoga practice with a wide range of Yoga poses.
Top 10 Yoga Poses for Headaches
Yoga can be a beneficial therapeutic tool for relieving headaches brought on by muscle tension and stress. The majority of headaches originate from muscle stiffness and imbalances emanating from the neck and upper back. When headaches set in, using a series of restorative yoga exercises can greatly relieve both the cause and symptoms. Here are our top yoga poses and exercises that naturally treat headaches.
1. Cat Pose: The flowing motion of breath and spine helps release tension from the neck and upper back while also pouring refreshing energy through the body and mind.
2. Seated Twists: Besides increasing circulation throughout the entire length of the spine, the twisting motion in the upper spine (cervical region) often alleviates tension coming from the scalene muscles of the neck (anterior aspect).
3. Chest Openers: Much of the tension in the back body is a result of muscle dominance from the front body (called Upper Cross Syndrome). Expanding the chest and front shoulder muscles helps break down muscular imbalances and frees the tension coming from the neck.
4. Eagle Arms: This simple crossed arm pose can be done in Mountain Pose or any natural seated posture. This back expander can reach well into the mid and upper back targeting problematic muscles around the shoulder blades and the base of the neck. Take time in this arm pose to breath slow and full into the upper back and insure that you perform this arm pose on both sides.
5. Simple Neck Stretches: Gently move through the various muscle fiber lines by allowing your head to float down to one shoulder with gravity, down across the chest and into the other side – repeat with a natural, unforced motion. Avoid letting the head fall back-keep the motion in a half circle from one shoulder to the other. Pause where you find extra areas of resistance.
6. Child’s Pose: A perfect restorative yoga pose that slightly inverts the body. A gentle flow of extra blood circulates into the head helping relieve tension. With the legs slightly separated, you can easily settle into deep core and back breathing to encourage a flood of circulation to reach deep into the body. Note that the head and neck should be absolutely comfortable. If needed, keep you arms forward or bend the elbows and rest the forearms by your chest/under your shoulders so the palms face up-this will greatly unload any pressure from the neck.
7. Two Knee Reclining Twist: Unlike our seated twists, this reclining twist can be far more restorative and held longer to bring deeper focus into relaxing the nervous system while the chest expands and rejuvenates the spine. Give extra attention to releasing the shoulders into the mat to release dominance of the shoulder and chest muscles.
8. Legs Up The Wall Pose: This highly beneficial inverted pose is great for developing hamstring flexibility and for improving circulation in the lower limbs. For headaches, the extra flow of blood to the brain and the restorative support can be deeply relaxing and nourishing.
9. Alternate Nostril Breathing: The aim of alternate nostril breathing is to restore balance to the energy systems. With balance, we find release and calm. This yoga breathing exercise is easy to do for all levels and targets the nervous system by slowing brain waves, calming the mind, and purging stress.
10. Relaxation Pose: After doing a series of restorative yoga poses, take some time to simply relax and release in Savasana. Turn the focus away from the symptoms of your headache and settle into the sensation of mental and physical release. You may find a light eye pillow helpful in moving tension/pressure out of the eyes and forehead. Increase your comfort by placing a bolster under the knees and a thin pillow under the head. To complement the chest openers and reclining twists, lay with the arms open to the sides/palms facing the ceiling.