Yoga for Hypertension, Heart Disease, Stroke
Yoga, an ancient science of health, once viewed as only an exercise form in the west, has always been known for its efficacy in countering some of the dreaded diseases in the land of its origin-India. It is now slowly being accepted into Modern Medicine and in the west also for its health benefits. Because of the lack of the scientifically supervised research studies, the scientific community has exhibited only tongue in cheek response to its acceptance for treatment of diseases, but with more and more health centres around the globe devoting their attention to proper investigation of the health benefits of yoga, the acceptance level is slowly escalating, ranging from a silent low-keyed nod to awe-inspired, open-mouthed amazement at the success of it all. If you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that ancient yogic teachings on diet and lifestyle reflect a practical wisdom that modern medicine is gradually validating. From time to time, attempts at plagiarism have also been there, but that is beside the point and beyond the scope of this article.
Non-communicable diseases, chiefly cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, are the major cause of adult mortality and morbidity worldwide. Most of the non-communicable diseases, for example diabetes or heart disease, affect the person in the productive years. It causes reduced productivity and early retirement.
Also, it puts immense pressure on the public health expenditure as in most cases the treatment costs are higher compared to the communicable diseases. Preventive strategies such as yoga must be propagated for better health. Its newfound popularity could be a boon for people with all kinds of diseases – major or minor. In expert hands, with addition of Yoga Nutrition, meditation, Marma therapy and other lesser known forms of Yoga Therapy, Yoga can be a very potent therapeutic tool. Patients of high blood pressure, heart failure, and other forms of cardiovascular disease can expect amazing responses. A small but promising body of research suggests that yoga’s combination of stretching, gentle activity, breathing, and mindfulness may have special benefits for people with cardiovascular disease. Neuro-degenerative disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Ataxias, Parkinsonism, AML etc have been shown to respond to varying degrees, depending on the structure of the programs and the expertise available. Metabolic and endocrine disorders like obesity, diabetes mellitus etc., eye diseases, cancers, tumours, asthma and allergies, stress-related disorders, mood and sleep disorders and all other diseases are now known to respond to Yoga with varying degrees of success.
Yoga In Disease
The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit term that means ‘yuj’ or union. Its aim is to join body, mind, and spirit. Though there is just one Yoga, there are different minor or major forms of yoga, from the physically very gentle to very demanding types. Yoga’s path to balance the mind and the body involves mainly three interconnected threads: physical postures called “asanas,” controlled breathing, and calming the mind through relaxation and meditation. All three work together to attain a better optimised ‘milieu interiur’.
Getting into the various postures during a yoga session gently exercises the muscles. Anything that works your muscles is good for your heart and blood vessels. Activity also helps muscles become more sensitive to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar specifically, and body metabolism in general.
All Yoga Therapy programs at SAVY have Dr Sahdev’s ‘Breathe and Heal’ Program at its core, which revolves more around breathing exercises.
The time-tested deep-breathing exercises help slow the breathing rate. Taking fewer but deeper breaths each minute temporarily lowers blood pressure and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for generating stress hormones. At a deeper level, breathing exercises have a much more profound effect and act by achieving hormonal balance and balance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities, and act by detoxifying the body. Attainment of positive and super-positive physical, mental and spiritual health is an altogether different level and dimension peculiar only to some advanced forms of yoga.
From therapeutic point of view, the postures and deep breathing offer a kind of physical meditation that focuses and clears the mind. Meditation and the mindfulness of yoga have both been shown to help people with all kinds of diseases though more work in the past has been focused on cardiovascular health.
Heart disease kills far more people than any other illness, more than all forms of cancer combined. When former US President Bill Clinton mentioned in a CNN interview that he’d adopted a near-vegan diet for the sake of his heart’s health, the media went wild. Once known for his love of hamburgers and junk food, Clinton—who had bypass surgery in 2004 and an angioplasty in 2010 to remove blockages from a clogged artery—was not a likely candidate for dietary asceticism.
But he was persuaded to make the radical change by an extensive review of the scientific evidence. And if you’re concerned about heart health, it’s food for thought that you, too, may want to consider.
The research into the connection between yoga and diseases is still in its scientific infancy. Several dozen studies have explored the possible benefits of yoga for people with diseases, but these trials are mostly small or lack the scientific stringency. Still, this body of work suggests that yoga may:
- reduce high blood pressure
- improve symptoms of heart failure
- ease palpitations
- enhance cardiac rehabilitation
- lower cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and stress hormones
- improve balance, reduce falls, ease arthritis, and improve breathing for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- down-regulation of disease-causing genes and up-regulation of disease preventing genes
- detoxify body
- attain greater hormonal balance,
Several randomized controlled trials under way should help pin down what yoga can do for people with different diseases.
Yoga can be a useful method for coping with cardiovascular disease. Even if all of the ongoing trials provide unequivocal support for yoga, it should be kept in mind that it won’t offer magical protection against heart disease. Nutrition and lifestyle still have to be watched.
Beginning yoga can be a challenge. Traditional yoga is done by slowly stretching the body into a variety of poses while focusing on breathing and meditation. Attending a general yoga class populated by fit 30-somethings who expect a good workout may not be a very encouraging introduction. Some forms of yoga like hot yoga, power yoga etc, which have been shown in the past to be very physically demanding and having physical side-effects of their own, may not be advisable to patients at higher cardiovascular risk. It is always more prudent to attend yoga classes which offer fuller package of true yoga – yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation, marma and more. SAVY Yoga classes are especially suitable from therapeutic point of view as they include all the major elements of yoga and have incomparable health benefits.
People with heart disease often have other health concerns, like arthritis, osteoporosis, vascular problems, vertigo etc, that limit their flexibility and movement. A good yoga instructor creates a safe environment for his or her students and helps them modify poses to meet their abilities and limitations.
Though yoga does not count towards physical activity requirements of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week, it has its own therapeutic effects which are unparalleled and unsurpassed by any other exercise form.
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity
For overall health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity using the following guidelines:
- Get the equivalent of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week.
- You can incorporate your weekly physical activity with 30 minutes a day on at least five days a week.
- Physical activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
- Include flexibility and stretching exercises.
- Include muscle strengthening activity at least two days each week.
Although conventional medicine often recommends heart-pounding aerobic workouts for cardiac health, there is evidence that less-intense exercise provides major benefits.
- Don’t over-exercise; recent studies suggest that extreme exercise, like running 10 miles if that’s not your norm, may actually promote inflammation.
- Get 20 to 30 minutes of slow to moderate walking daily.
- Practice gentle asanas—such as Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose); Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) with your feet on the wall; and Savasana (Corpse Pose)—easy pranayama exercises such as three-part breathing, and meditation. Even a few minutes per day can make a huge difference.
- When you encounter a stressful situation, the brain releases adrenaline into your system to help you either fight or flee the threat. This causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure increases. While this response can help you protect yourself when facing a threat, living in a constant state of stress may wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, people who are prone to stress have a higher risk for heart disease than their calmer counterparts. What we want is a nervous system that reacts to stressful situations when they happen, but then shifts back to relaxation. Yoga may help by dampening your body’s reaction to stress. A 2012 article published in the journal ‘Medical Hypotheses’ suggests yoga could prevent and treat some medical conditions, including cardiac disease, by improving stress-related imbalances in the nervous system.
How yoga helps?
Yoga can help prevent cardiac episodes. Yoga also has proven benefits for those who have faced cardiac arrest, heart attack or other heart event. Combined with Yoga Nutrition, it can totally reverse heart disease, as has been demonstrated by the medical uses of raw vegan diet also. The calming benefits of yoga may also help, and you may see benefits right away. After your first yoga class, your blood pressure will likely be lower, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll feel better. Long-term, sustained yoga may play a role in improving overall health. After 2-3 months of yoga, you may see a dramatic increase in exercise functionality, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels may decrease.
As Dr Ornish explains, “Chronic emotional stress makes plaque build up twice as fast in the coronary arteries that feed the heart. Stress also causes the coronary arteries to constrict, reducing blood flow to the heart. It makes the platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots that may precipitate a heart attack.” Yoga is perhaps the most effective stress-reduction method ever invented. If you want to keep your heart healthy, incorporate these tips into your practice:
- Do a yogic relaxation for at least a few minutes every day. Research suggests it can increase your resiliency to stress—and, by extension, to heart disease.
- Balance your emotions with a regular yoga practice. Studies suggest that yoga helps diffuse emotions such as anger, hostility, and impatience that are linked to heart attacks.
- Combat loneliness, another risk factor for heart disease, by becoming part of a community. A recent study suggests that people with spiritual practices who meet regularly in a group live longer and have fewer heart attacks.
- Offer service (karma yoga) to those less fortunate than yourself—whether that means volunteering in a food pantry, or teaching a free yoga class in a retirement community. According to the yoga tradition, there is no better way to open your heart.
What To Eat
Diet is clearly a cornerstone of the holistic approach to heart health. We encourage a low-fat, vegetarian diet, especially according to your body type. In general, we recommend the following:
- A wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
- Natural, unrefined soy foods
- No more than one cup per day of non-fat dairy products (like skim milk)
Knowing what to eat, how to exercise, and understanding why yoga is effective can help you avoid heart disease and enjoy life. It is highly recommend that you should go to a qualified and trained yoga instructor.
Dr Jitender K Sahdev’s almost three decades of first class extensive experience in the field of Medicine, Surgery, Yoga, Yoga Therapy and other alternative modalities in India is a huge boon to the field of Yoga Therapy.
At SAVY Studio, we offer yoga and yoga therapy routines with all the important elements of Yoga included for best health benefits. We offer group classes as well as we provide one-on-one Yoga Therapy guidance. Please check the website or contact the studio for details.