(I originally wrote this for Celtic Harmony. I didn’t manage to get a response from them when I asked if I could reproduce it here so with a deep bow to them, and in the knowledge that they commissioned it from me, here it is…)
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How Yoga reduces blood pressure and why the practice is important.
A normal range of blood pressure is 90/60 to 140/90 (where the first number is the ‘beat’ or systolic pressure number – when the heart beats – and the second is the ‘between beats’ or diastolic number – in between heartbeats).
Hypertension is anything above this (the higher, the more critical, creating conditions for hardening arteries, arterial plaque formation, kidney failure and the risk of stroke or heart attack)
(Hypotension – low blood pressure – is also a risk condition but unless there are symptoms, this condition is less dangerous)
Yoga as blood pressure exercise
Yoga – as a practice of certain physical stretches, as well as certain breathing and relaxation techniques – has been clinically proven to lower blood pressure naturally (see, for instance http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12186115). Yoga reduces blood pressure, essentially, by mirroring natural functions in the human organism. You naturally yawn when you’re tired, right? This has the effect of making you breathe more deeply, so you wake up a bit. Yoga mirrors that sort of process, bringing your attention to the systems, seeing how they work. This calm attention relaxes the systems and then even the observation relaxes.
Yoga for high blood pressure
If high blood pressure is caused by narrow arteries, or a heart beating harder or faster, yoga exercises to reduce blood pressure work by making it possible for the arteries to relax a bit (or at least, the muscles around them), or for the heart to beat a bit slower, or more softly. These blood pressure exercises, like other exercises to lower blood pressure, work by teaching the body to reduce stress. To some extent, all exercise reduces stress since the act of exercising allows the heartbeat to rise naturally so that when the exercise stops, the heart responds by relaxing. Exercise is ‘good stress’ (we’ll look at some of the best abs exercises: they really work the heart). Hand in hand with good nutrition and relaxation techniques, exercise is one of the key natural high blood pressure cures.
Art of living Yoga
As you know from elsewhere, high blood pressure is a sign of the heart working too hard, and an overworked heart is both a symptom, and a cause, of further health complications. Your genetic history is one deciding factor that you can’t do anything about but there are lots of other factors (poor diet, too little exercise, possible addictions or compulsive behaviours) that you could change. The trouble is, sometimes it’s a vicious circle: you’re stressed out, so you overeat (drink, drug, engage in too many sedentary activities like computer games). You develop a negative self-image (or maybe this came first) and that stresses you out. So you overeat (drink, etc). How can you ever hope to sidestep this cyclical trap?
The first step is accepting where you are, without judgement, without blaming yourself or anyone else, without making excuses or telling yourself stories about traumatic history. Just accepting that the state you are in includes this condition – and observing all the things that arise, all the emotions, all the thoughts, the desires, even the physical sensations – that’s the first step.
The second step is to do the first step, but add in a little compassion. Not self-pity. Not excuses. Not back-stories. Just compassion. You, like everyone else, have done the best you could so far to survive. This condition you are in is evidence of your attempts to deal with stress. Give yourself a little space. The motivation behind your attempts deserves appreciation. Appreciate how intricate, complex and clever an organism you are – not ‘the self’ you think you are, but all the cells, all the processes, working away day and night, even in difficult conditions, even on poor nourishment, or without the chance to get rid of toxins. It’s not vain to offer yourself a little gratitude for this (you’re not thanking your ‘self’ in the sense of the thing you think you have control over, the talking, laughing, crying, dancing, conscious self, the ‘foreground’. You’re appreciating and coming to focus on ‘background’, the whole body and all the things that allow the body to keep going, from air and water, to your cells, your organs).
The third step is to allow yourself to consider the possibility that you might be able to support your natural instinct to survive (Yoga isn’t really about surviving at all – it’s about learning to let go of everything – but let’s let that go for the moment!). At this point you might develop some urge to reach out to someone for some support. Sometimes there’s no obvious support but you might be surprised at how strangely things operate. Once you become open to the possibility that you might be able to do something to respond to your own problems, something that works with and not against the background, then you will perhaps find the inherent motivation. You might allow yourself to be drawn towards active responses that drive a wider network of reactions instead of trapping you into narrower and narrower circles of repetitive action. Of course you will have challenges. The strategies that have worked in the past are terrifying to release: what if nothing else works as well? What if I have to deal with things that were suppressed through these activities I used? Fear creeps in at every opportunity. Dealing with fear is part of Yoga, embracing it as a part of the process and then letting it, too, take its place among the dynamic, changing relationships so that it is just an element of the condition, and not its defining feature. Fear is essentially a kind of stressor, and if you’ve become hyper-sensitive to stress, that might be a factor in your hypertension. You need to learn that stress is one, but not the only, condition of living. This is the challenge!
Choose your weapon!
The fourth step is to choose what actions are best to meet your own needs, in other words, how can you respond most effectively, given your own conditions? You will find that responding happens at a number or levels, simultaneously. You may find you want to review your diet and that’s a great place to start. You may find you want to review your tendency to get locked into particular patterns of response and that might involve reaching out to learn about what other people have done to manage those kinds of knee-jerk reactions. That’s a good journey. Something that complements all of the above is Yoga because Yoga is just practicing stepping beyond instant reaction and developing self awareness in the process. Yoga is one of many processes that people have used over the centuries to align themselves towards a way of responding, peacefully, to the conditions we find ourselves in, however critical and painful. Find something that suits you. So long as it allows you to express and integrate stress into the whole background of conditions and situations that have brought you to this point, it will serve you perfectly well.
The way of the peaceful warrior
Yoga is not a path, as such, because it is not a ‘way’ to anywhere. It’s more of a practice of waking up to what’s happening right now. You practice realising, appreciating and taking into account, non-judgmentally, whatever you have to deal with, moment by moment. You notice each time a rigid response, like fear, or anger, or over-confidence, emerges, and you just watch it, like watching a puppet show. You practice not reacting, but waiting, and then responding. It’s fun, it’s physical, it’s challenging, but most of all, it’s great for dealing with tension, particularly hypertension.
Yoga positions and practices for beginners
Yoga blood pressure exercises are just Yoga exercises that lower blood pressure naturally. You can learn all these asana and pranayama practices with a Yoga teacher. You can use resources available on the web and in books to help you to learn but a qualified, experienced teacher can indicate where you need to focus your attention and help you to develop a good foundation.
Scientific studies on many of the practices and positions listed here prove the link between Yoga and Meditation practices and reduced hypertension.
Pranayama (Breathing techniques)
What is it?
Yogic breath is one of the first breathing practices you learn in Yoga asana class. It’s best to learn from a teacher or even a video, but you can also follow these instructions:
1. lie down and practice breathing slightly more deeply than usual. Focus on your exhalation, sighing out through the nostrils, then waiting a moment until you need to inhale. If you’re new to this, try placing your palms on your abdomen and practice squeezing your abdominal muscles a little at the end of the out-breath. Do this up to ten times (but pay attention to how you feel and have a break if you need to – you don’t want to feel dizzy!)
2. Now take your hands to your chest and try keeping the chest still. You will have to puff out your abdomen slightly as you inhale so you use your diaphragm muscle more than your chest muscles to open the lungs.
3. Then reverse. Keep your abdomen as still as you breath in, as far as possible, just expand your ribcage. Breathe like this for five breaths. See how you feel.
4. The third stage is to keep your chest and abdomen still and just lift your collarbone as you breathe in. You need only do this for three or four breaths.
5. Finally, you’re going to put the three parts together: breathe into your abdomen, then into your chest and finally into your upper chest, breathing out from the upper chest, chest and lastly, the abdomen. You’ll be breathing very deeply and slowly. Stop after five or six breaths (practicing lying down is great but remember, the back of the rib cage can’t expand as much so it limits your breath).
What is it?
When you’ve mastered Yogic breath in sitting, you can introduce the Ujayi practice which will lengthen the time it takes to inhale and exhale by a little more. You must always pay attention to how you feel. Dizzy is not good. Patience is excellent. Practice and it will happen. So how do you make a Yogic breath into a Ujayi breath? Simple: just close the throat. What does that mean?
1. Once you’re clear about the abdomen rising on the inhalation and falling on the exhalation, you need to practice the same thing sitting up. So come into a cross legged position (if that’s very uncomfortable, just sit with your legs out straight, but use a wall to support your back and practice opening your hips by taking your legs wide, or even sit on a chair).
2. Try saying ‘ah’ with an open mouth as you breathe out. Then say ‘ah’, breathing out, but without making any sound (as though you were whispering). Finally, close your mouth and just feel the ‘ahhhh’ sound in the throat (you might be able to hear that your breathing sounds a bit like waves on a beach or the wind through the trees).
3.You don’t need to make a loud noise in the throat. If it’s too harsh, your throat may start to feel dry. Keep it slow and even. Five to ten breaths is fine to begin with then relax, see how you feel. Eventually, you can use ujayi breathing throughout your asana practice.
How does Pranayama help?
Learning how to breath using what’s sometimes called a ‘yogic breath’ is really just learning to re-establish what happens when you breathed naturally as a baby, and then exaggerate that a bit. By breathing like you did when you were a baby, you make sure that the lower lobes of the lungs are opened during the inhalation. That means that you inhale more deeply, into all parts of the lungs. And that means that you can sometimes feel that you’ve breathed in a lot of oxygen, even though you are breathing quite slowly. As long as you are breathing very slowly, the entire system responds. Your heart responds to your breathing rate. A long, slow breath is a bit like the way you breathe when you’re in deep sleep, so your heart begins so beat more slowly, as though you were in a deeply relaxed state. Your blood pressure, as a consequence, goes down.
Caution! Breathing in a lot of oxygen is actually toxic to the system (we’re fine tuned creatures, folks!) so if you practice Yogic breath or Ujayi breathing too quickly, you’ll feel dizzy and even nauseous. Obviously, you can reverse the sensation very easily: just go back to your normal way of breathing. Remember, Yoga is the art of paying attention, so whatever condition you are in is just fine. Accept it, work within it, and keep moving the attention around to encompass the whole experience. Oh. And practice.
Bhramari (bee breath)
What is it?
Once you’ve practiced Yogic breath and Ujayi for a few days, you’ll be ready to introduce another technique (and none of these need be time consuming: two or three minutes’ practice has an effect).
1. To practice bhramari or bee breath, sit cross-legged (or straight legged, or on a chair) and start by practicing Yogic breath and then Ujayi for a few breaths.
2. Then bring your hands up and place the thumbs to close (with very little pressure) the ear hole (you can gently push against the flap just outside the ear hole if that’s more comfortable).
3. Then place the first fingers just above and along the eyebrows, the long fingers lay lightly over the eyes, ring fingers press lightly against the outside of the flare of the nostrils.
4. Exhale to begin. Inhale fully, then exhale with a humming sound, like a bee. You can begin with three or four rounds and see how you feel.
How does it help?
Slightly closing down your senses means you, as an organism, pay more attention to how you feel. Sound, particularly when it’s familiar (you’re making the sound!) and non-threatening, and vibration, both have an intense effect because you can actually feel them resonate through your body – a bit like being massaged from within. This has a biofeedback effect, the calming experience makes you consciously relax but all the organs of the body then react by relaxing too. Stress contracts, relaxation expands and opens, so even the muscles surrounding blood vessels relax, and the blood vessels themselves can open, reducing the pressure. In the longer term, you begin to realise that you have a little control over your stress levels. You can do small things to influence how you feel. These effects may be small but they add up.
Supta padangusthasana (supine hamstring stretches)
What is it?
1. Supta padangusthasana is a supine stretch for the legs, feet and toes. Lie down on your yoga mat or on a rug on the floor. Visualise lining up the spine so that it is a plumb-line running through the body from head to tail, legs close together, draw your shoulderblades close together behind your back, drop the tops of the shoulders away from your ears, arms alongside the body, palms up. Lengthen the head away from the heels by flattening yourself out on the floor (you can use a blanket under the head if you feel any uncomfortable sense of pressure in the head).
2. Bend one knee into your chest and then stretch that leg gently, straight up towards the ceiling/sky. You can use a strap, or hold on to the big toe in a ‘mudra’ if you’re flexible, or you can hold on to your calf or trouser-leg.
3. If you lifted your head and chest off the floor when you straightened your leg, relax them back. Keep both legs as straight as possible. You can visualise breathing warm energy into the back of the lifted leg. Keep your attention on both your breath (if you’re straining, you’ll hear your breathing begin to tremble or become uneven – relax the pose a little) and on the alignment of your body (so make sure your spine stays in the centre by keeping the hips and shoulders in line). Relax into the stretch by making only enough effort to keep the leg stretched up. About a minute is long enough each side to begin with, and pause in between so you can feel any difference between the sensations in the legs.
How does this yoga asana pose help?
This pose stretches the hamstrings, four sets of tendons at the back of the thighs that get very tight when sitting, driving and even when running, cycling or doing other repetitive movements in sport. It also stretches the Achilles tendon, which is the largest tendon in the human body. Releasing and relaxing those tendons via the associated muscles is a huge deal for creating relaxation, which is part of dealing with hypertension. But within the long muscles at the back of the thighs lie the blood vessels, and the nerves. When the muscles are tight, the blood vessels and the nerves get squeezed. When you gently stretch the backs of the legs, and the feet, you’re encouraging the muscles at the backs of the legs to lengthen and relax. When you do this while you’re focussing on breathing gently and slowly, you’re giving yourself lots of biofeedback opportunities. If the muscles relax, there’s more space for the blood vessels. Result? Potentially at least, reduced blood pressure.
Pawanmuktasana (wind releasing sequence)
This is a wonderful series of very simple stretches for all the joints of the body. You would need a book to list all the stretches in this series, so here’s just an example of what kind of stretch is involved:
1. Sitting upright, straight legs (use a wall to support your spine upright if you can’t sit straight), begin to pay close attention to how you’re sitting and see how much length you can bring into your legs and spine.
2. Inhale and point your toes and when you’re ready to exhale, pull your toes back towards you and lengthen away your heels. Repeat a few times. You could start with three or four and build up to ten repetitions.
3. Relax completely, bending your knees and hugging them in. Pay attention to how you feel.
How does Pawanmuktasan help?
The whole series is challenging because it involves pretty simple movements, circling or moving the joints in different ways and coordinating the movements with your breathing, so your mind wants to think about other things. And that mirrors reactions to stress, paradoxically: you want to run away from it. But paying attention is actually a much more effective way of dealing with things, including stress that creates hypertension. Keeping your focus steady lets you see how the urge to distract yourself becomes more insistent, yet by letting that urge be there and just carrying on, you ride the wave of your experience. Result? A calmer acceptance (I’m not saying this is instantaneous, though it can be!)
Janu Sirasana (head to knee asana)
What is it?
1. Sit upright on your mat or rug with your legs straight out in front (use a wall to support your upright spine if you need to – this pose is called Dandasana).
2. Bend one leg. Bring the heel in as close to the buttock as possible keeping the knee upright. Then take the knee out to the side. If the underside of the knee doesn’t reach the floor, you can use a blanket to support the knee so you feel stable (but don’t raise the knee off the floor with the blanket. Support while allowing opening to happen is the key).
3. Inhale and turn yourself towards your straight leg. You can use one hand inside the bent leg and one hand outside the straight leg thigh to help you rotate a little.
4. Exhale and very gently extend forwards. Pay attention to the opening hip on the bent leg side, to the back of the straight leg pushing down into the floor, to the chest opening towards the shin, to the lumbar area.
5. If it all feels ok, you can extend further and then just stay still and see how it feels to be folding forwards over the straight leg. You can hold onto the calf, ankle, or foot, or you can use a strap looped around the foot to help you. Come out slowly, bringing the bent leg knee into the chest before straightening your leg. Repeat to the other side.
Paschimottanasana (sitting forward bend)
What is is?
1. Sitting in Dandasana, you can reach your arms straight up above your head with your palms facing one another, arms shoulder-width apart.
2. You can take an inbreath here, dropping your shoulders down but keeping your chest and arms lifted, everything strong and long, and then as you breathe out you very gently, inch by inch fold forwards.
3. You can pause when you need to breathe in and see if you want to rest there or go further. Push the backs of your legs into the mat or rug. Pull your toes back towards your torso, pushing your heels away. Keep your thumbs higher than your shoulders for as long as possible as you fold forwards to keep your chest open.
4. If you want, you can just bring your hands down either side of your legs and rest there for a few breaths. Let gravity do the work. Just relax and focus on what happens when you relax everything that doesn’t have to be held. You’re just holding the legs in place and extending your spine so it stays as long (rather than rounding) as possible. Pay attention to breathing out. Come out very slowly, back to sitting.
How does Pachimottanasa help?
Both Janu Sirasana and Paschimottanasana are forward bends and when you bend forwards you’re metaphorically folding in on yourself, taking your attention inwards, which is calming, and helps you deal with stress. Stress is often a factor in hypertension so that’s why forward bends are helpful – but you have to go gently because if you don’t push your legs down into the floor and stretch your lumbar area, you can irritate any existing problems there.
Purvottanasana (front of body stretch)
What is it?
1. You can start in Dandasana and if you’re new to this, bend your knees and put the soles of the feet on the floor (when you get really strong, do this with straight legs, pushing the soles of the feet onto the floor – but it’s tough!)
2. Lean back slightly with a straight back and with straight arms, wrists underneath your shoulders, put your palms on the floor.
3. Inhale where you are, lifting up your chest and as you exhale, push your hips up towards the ceiling. With bent legs, you’ll push up into a ‘tabletop’ position, if you imagine the front of your body and thighs as the table top and your arms and shins as the table legs.
4. Take a few Ujayi breaths, and feel the effort, but relax any thing that doesn’t need to hold (your face, maybe, or your jaw). (Oh, and don’t fling your head back – it’s safest if you keep your chin tucked in a little).
5. To come out, just relax the hips back down and sit for a moment in the starting position. Pay attention to how you feel.
How does it help?
Sometimes you have to re-create the sensation of stress in a healthy environment so you can learn how to deal with it. All the poses that build strength in Yoga work on this principle, and so does any exercise regime. You create ‘good stress’ and that makes you more resilient, more experienced in dealing with it in a healthy way (by letting go of anything unnecessary, by building up confidence in your own strengths) when you have to face challenges in less predictable situations.
Maricyasana III (seated spinal rotation)
1. Sit in Dandasana. Bend one leg and bring your foot in front of your buttock, knee upright. Hold the shin with the hand on the opposite side (bent left leg? Hold the shin with your right hand) and take your other hand round behind you.
2. Focus on stacking your vertebrae one on top of the other so you keep your spine upright but turn, as you exhale, slowly, towards the bent leg side.
3. Feel like your filling cushions of air between the vertebrae as you inhale, and your emptying out your core so you can rotate further as you exhale. No force. Just lots of attention on what’s happening.
4. Inhale and slowly come back to the front. Repeat on the other side.
How does it help?
Rotating your spine squeezes your abdominal organs, among which are your kidneys. Kidneys play a key role in influencing blood pressure, from the release of hormones, to the managing and excretion of toxins. No system works in isolation so all your organs (and your spinal column) get stretched in this pose but you’ll feel a little refreshed after you practice this, and you’ll find that having to breath more slowly (because this position restricts your breathing a little bit) also calms you down. As a result, you’ll find this pose helps reduce hypertension.
Ardha Halasana (half plough asana)
What is it?
Caution: only practice this if you have very mild blood pressure problems or if you know you can do so without ill effects. Inversions are brilliant for helping regulate blood pressure but they’re not a cure for hypertension and people who are already in that condition will normally find it extremely uncomfortable and even harmful to increase the pressure on the carotid arteries. Having said all that, if you have a good teacher, you can still get benefits from inversions. Please remember that all these descriptions are just that: reminders if you have a teacher and you want to have some help remembering what you did, or pictures for you to paint in your head, so you know roughly what to expect. Sure, I practiced on my own for years and I’m still here, but it’s not recommended. I have to warn you.
1. Lie down on your mat or rug. Arms alongside your body, palms facing down, legs close together.
2. Take your legs over your head. You can do that by bending your knees into your chest and then reaching your legs out behind or, if you’re more advanced, you practice by taking straight legs up into the air and then over your head until your toes touch the floor behind your head.
3. Support your back with your hands. Keep your spine as upright as possible (upside down, of course) with the hips directly over your shoulders, elbows are on the floor.
4. Half plough means your legs are bent because your learning to take your feet to the floor. They might not come all the way down. That’s OK. You’re only going to stay here for a moment if that’s the case but that means that you need to pay even more attention to how it feels for your heart to be higher than your head. So pay attention!
5. Roll as slowly as you can out of this position. You want to feel as though you’re zipping your spine, one vertebra at a time, back onto the floor.
6. Let everything become relaxed on the floor. Move as little as possible. No readjustments. No running away. Just notice how you feel now.
How does it help?
Inversions work on blood pressure by reversing the ‘natural’ flow. Just remember that we were four legged creatures before we were two legged creatures so this idea that our head needs to be higher than our heart for us to survive is pretty recent. And not cast in stone. On the same principle that you can build anti-fragility into your system by doing things (in a compassionate environment) that might otherwise stress the system (bringing the heart higher than the head does change the work the heart has to do), inversions actually create resilience. Your system self-regulates because it recognises that it has to readjust. And readjustment is really just building flexibility into your reactions. Instead of feeling like you’re going to collapse, you realise that your body’s got the natural capacity to adjust. As in Yoga, so in life. Stress is tied in with the idea that you can’t cope. But you just did. Readjust to your new-found ability. You just reduced your hypertension.
Setu Bandha (bridge asana)
What is it?
1. Lie on your rug or mat and bend your knees so the soles of your feet are flat on the floor, about hip width apart, your arms alongside the body with the palms down. Draw your shoulder blades close together behind your back and draw the tops of the shoulders away from the ears.
2. Inhale there and as you breathe out, push your hips up towards the ceiling. Go as high as feels comfortable, remembering not to let your knees flare out to the sides. Push evenly into the whole of your palms and the whole of the soles of both feet.
3. When you’re ready to come out of this pose, do so very slowly, as though you were zipping your spine back down onto the floor, vertebra by vertebra, from the top of the spine down.
4. Relax and see how you feel. You can repeat this two or three times if you feel good doing it.
How does it help?
This pose gives you the benefits of a slight inversion but without issues to do with balance, since it’s very stable. You’re also only just bringing your heart higher than your head so it’s not putting any great strain on the blood vessels. The bridge pose also opens your chest so you open the area around your heart. Since posture plays a role in stress (you tend to hunch forwards and hold yourself more rigidly when you’re stressed) then countering that with a pose to open the area around your heart is going to help relieve some of that stress, and that, in turn, will have an impact on your blood pressure.
Makarasana with bhramari (crocodile asana with bee breath)
What is it?
1. Lie down on your front with your legs along the floor, about hip width apart. See if you can keep the front of the feet on the floor.
2. Bring your elbows onto the floor underneath or just in front of your shoulders (the further forward you and closer together you bring your elbows, the more intense the stretch) and support your chin in with your palms. Then bring your hands into bhramari (if this is too difficult, just keep supporting your chin with your palms)
3. Relax, inhale slowly and as you exhale, begin bhramari breathing, paying attention to the feeling all along the spine.
4. When you want to come out of this pose, take your elbows out to the sides and make a pillow with the backs of the hands, resting your cheek on your hands. Relax your heels out to the sides.
How does it help?
You’ll find that lying on your front while concentrating on your breathing makes you intensely aware of how your breathing affects the shape of your body, and that, in turn, makes your body aware of the effect of slower, deeper breathing. So you become more relaxed. You’re also challenging the diaphragm in this pose and that can make you really aware of your lower lungs. The lungs and the heart work so closely together that when you learn to breathe more deeply, you influence how the heart beats, letting it relax a little since it doesn’t have to make so much effort now that the lungs are working more efficiently.
Balasana (child asana)
What is it?
1. From Makarasana, bring your hands underneath your shoulders and come up onto all fours.
2. Sit back on your heels and bring your chest onto your thighs, your forehead onto the floor.
3. You can either curl your arms around your body (imagine you’re occupying minimal space, and let the palms face up, fingers curled naturally) but if you feel a sense of pressure in the head, bring the hands, fist over fist, underneath your forehead and rest your forehead on your fists.
4. Relax in this pose for a minute or more. If you can’t sit right back on the heels, you can use a blanket so there’s indirect contact between the heels and the buttocks.
5. To come out of this pose, just gently sit up.
How does it help?
Balasana is very like the foetal position and your body as an organism can turn its attention inwards and become aware of itself. Your organs are all very protected (and slightly compressed, which can help stimulate the flow of blood when you come out of the pose) so you feel safe and contained. This means you can relax and that, in turn, can help to lower blood pressure.
Vajrasana (diamond asana)
What is it?
Caution: avoid if you have knee injuries
1. Sit up from balasana. Lean forwards and take your feet wider than hip width apart. You might need to roll your calves outward.
2. Sit back between your lower legs so your sitting bones are on the floor, spine long, crown of the head reaching up to the ceiling/sky. Your hands can be in your lap, palm over palm, thumbs touching.
3. You don’t need to breathe deeply in this pose. Just pay attention to your breath and then take your attention through your whole body.
How does it help?
Vajrasana is called the diamond pose because it develops a very stable inner stillness. You can meditate in this pose if you want to, just by paying attention to how your breathing comes in and out of your body, keeping your spine upright, and letting your thoughts come and go. The effects of meditation have been shown in many studies to reduce blood pressure.
Supta Vajrasana (supine diamond asana)
What is it?
Caution: avoid if you have knee injuries or chronic lumbar pain.
1. From Vajrasana, take your palms onto the floor either side of your hips.
2. Slowly lie your spine down onto the floor. If your knees come off the floor, or you feel any twinges of pain in your lumbar area, gently come back to a sitting position and avoid this pose.
3. If you can lie back in this pose with your lower legs still on the floor, take your arms up over your head, and bring your palms together in prayer position so that the thumbs are in contact with the floor. Breathe normally (no need to take deep breaths when the lungs are so stretched and open).
4. When you’re ready, use your elbows and then your hands to help you back up to sitting.
How does it help?
This pose combines the meditative stability of Vajrasana with the benefits of a back-bend, opening up and stretching the entire front of the torso. Arteries can be slightly stretched and this helps them to relax and reduces blood pressure. Again, because the lungs are so open, this has an effect on your breathing rate, and so lessens the work your heart has to do, potentially lowering your blood pressure.
Savasana (corpse pose)
What is it?
1. Lie down or your rug or mat. Bring your arms alongside your body, palms facing up, fingers curled naturally. Tuck your shoulder-blades together behind your back (as if you are folding your wings) and make sure that the tops of the shoulders drop down, away from the ears. Broaden the back of the head by bringing your chin down slightly. Check that the hips and knees aren’t locked by rolling them slightly, then let the feet roll out to the sides.
2. Make any other minor adjustments you need to before making a conscious decision to both allow the body to remain completely still, and to remain consciously attentive to what is going on. Let your breathing relax.
3. Let your body soften and give way to gravity. Take your attention through your whole body. Then take your attention to your breath and watch as a breath comes in and leaves the body. Do nothing to control or influence the process. Just observe.
4. Practice watching the breath for at least ten breaths. Then take your attention to your thoughts and feelings and again, watch as each thought emerges into conscious awareness and then is replaced. You may be able to sense that your awareness remains present, even when you are not thinking and if you can sense this, then just allow yourself to be, without thinking,
5. Stay here for a few moments, drawing together and integrating the experience of the body, the breath and the thoughts and when you’re ready, slowly begin to take a deeper breath or two, gently begin to move toes, feet, ankles, hands, wrists, and fingers. Roll your head gently from side to side and if you want, stretch and yawn, sigh and relax. Bring your knees up to your chest and hug them, then roll over onto your right side. Stay there and slowly open your eyes but keep your gaze very soft. Use your arms and hands to support you to a sitting position.
6. Sit and keep your attention on how you feel now.
Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) is a relaxation technique involving various strategies to keep the attention focused while deepening your relaxation
How does it work?
Both Savasana and Yoga Nidra work on the principle of bringing your body and senses in a position that echoes sleep. Yet because you are awake, and conscious, and because you’re lying symmetrically, you become very aware of what happens while you’re relaxing. This means that you intensify layers and layers of biological feedback processes, from hormone production (and that influences blood pressure) to heart rate, breathing rate, electro-chemical stimulation in nerves and muscles, and many other systems within the body. Establishing a good Yoga Nidra practice will undoubtedly influence your response to stress in everyday life and that will have a beneficial effect on your blood pressure throughout your day. The key, as I’ve said before, is practice!