hypertension

How to take care of your hypertension

Hypertension affects over a quarter of all Australians and can lead to serious repercussions if left unchecked. But there are simple ways, through yoga and Ayurveda, to take the pressure down

Ayurveda states that the symptoms of high blood pressure differ according to each person’s dosha, or constitutional type. High blood pressure is commonly viewed as a pitta or vata condition or an imbalance of one of those.

Yoga postures (asanas) help regulate the blood pressure by stabilising the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and bringing balance to the autonomous nervous system, which controls stress

Imagine the pressure of water pushing against the walls of a garden hose when the tap is on full. This is very similar to the pressure on the walls of our arteries caused by the force of blood when our heart beats. If the pressure is allowed to get too high, it can result in arterial disease, directly increasing the risk of coronary disease, heart attacks or strokes, as well as potential damage to brain functions and vital organs such as the kidneys and eyes. According to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2004 report, high blood pressure (or hypertension) causes the third greatest burden of disease in Australia. All told, high blood pressure is not for the faint-hearted.

 

How prevalent is this condition?

High blood pressure itself does not usually have initial symptoms, but the subsequent consequences can be very obvious. The 1999-2000 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) Study found that around 3.7 million Australians over the age of 25 had high blood pressure. In 2001, approximately 17 per cent of the population reported a long-term condition of the circulatory system; the most common of these conditions was high blood pressure.

According to the most recent AusDiab Study, 28.6 per cent of Australians (that’s about 5.8 million people) have high blood pressure, and more than half of these were undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. Indeed, many calm, relaxed people have hypertension, so no clues there. The only sure way to determine your blood pressure is to get it checked by your doctor. Regular checks are important, especially for people who have a family history of high blood pressure, and these checks can detect pressure increases before the consequences start to become apparent.

 

What are the symptoms and when they do appear?

From a Western approach, the symptoms of high blood pressure are described as being any or all of the following:

  • Head and neck aches on waking up, which usually subside quickly
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Heart pain or palpitations
  • Frequent urination
  • Nervous tension
  • Tiredness
  • Breathing problems

This leads us to ask a question, however: Why is it that so much appears to be known about high blood pressure, its causes, symptoms, consequences and treatments, yet data from the 2002-03 study of general practice activity in Australia shows that this condition, menacingly but accurately called “the silent killer”, is still the most common problem general practitioners are attempting to manage?

Perhaps, as with so many other conditions plaguing Western society, we could learn from Ayurveda, the world’s oldest and most complete system of natural health care. Firstly, the high rate of undiagnosed cases in Australia (over 50 per cent) suggests that the symptoms are not being accurately identified. Ayurveda states that the symptoms of high blood pressure differ according to each person’s dosha, or constitutional type, which is typically a combination of two of the following, with one being dominant: vata (air), pitta (fire) or kapha (earth). High blood pressure is commonly viewed as a pitta or vata condition or an imbalance of one of those.

Typical symptoms for pitta people: flushed face, red eyes, headaches, light sensitivity, irritability, nosebleeds, violent headaches, anger, irritability, burning sensations, blood pressure that fluctuates a lot, a wiry build and a tight pulse.

Typical symptoms for kapha people: excess weight, water retention, high cholesterol, sluggishness, blood pressure that remains continually high, obesity and tiredness.

Typical symptoms for vata people: may feel cold, overwork, and experience gas, bloating or constipation and insomnia. An increase in blood pressure will be followed by worry, strain, anxiety and nervousness. Blood pressure may rise and fall suddenly with nervous tension, irregular or erratic pulse, both in rhythm and strength.

It’s interesting to compare these comprehensive sets of symptom descriptions with the generalised and simplistic Western equivalent above.

 

The Ayurvedic Approach

Regarding the causes, again Ayurveda takes a different approach from the West, providing a more comprehensive list of imbalances that contribute to high blood pressure:

  • Toxins accumulating in our body tissues
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor digestion
  • Imbalance of the nervous system
  • Accumulation of physical and mental stress
  • Lowering of natural resistance and immunity
  • Disruption of natural biological rhythms
  • A hectic life-style
  • Dosha imbalances
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Obesity

 

Ayurvedic treatment of high blood pressure

Because hypertension can be caused by so many diverse influences, Ayurveda does not simply identify the gross physical abnormality and match drugs to the symptoms. An Ayurvedic evaluation determines the imbalances in the body, views them as the root causes of a condition, then works to remove them. By determining the causal imbalances at the basis of a disorder, the fundamental source of ill-health in the individual can be removed. Since hypertension can be influenced by many factors, the Ayurvedic approach to treatment is a comprehensive one that balances many physiological functions simultaneously.

The goal of an Ayurvedic approach is to enliven the body’s natural healing and self-repair ability in an holistic treatment that typically takes into consideration nutrition and diet, lifestyle, exercise, yoga, breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation, along with various herbs and minerals and other tips.

Treatment tips for pittatypes: Herbs used include aloe gel, barberry and katuka; in stronger cases, bitter herbs such as aloe, rhubarb root or senna. Gotu Kola is also useful for calming the nerves and relieving heat and stress.

Treatment tips for vata types: Garlic is very good for this condition as it is helpful in alleviating vata imbalance and controlling blood pressure by helping lower cholesterol and triglyceride. Eat an entire crushed clove (with honey) once or twice a week or mix 1 gm of garlic into a paste with a glass of buttermilk and drink twice a day. Alternatively, eat two or three raw cloves of garlic on an empty stomach in the morning and drink nutmeg in warm milk.

Treatment tips for kapha types: Avoid dairy, butter, eggs and high fat foods, incorporate plenty of hot spices in the diet, particularly mustard and onions. Include herbs such as cayenne, myrrh, garlic, motherwort and hawthorn berries, and avoid licorice.

 

Yoga

Yoga is so much more than just an alternative form of exercise. Research shows that practising yoga (incorporating poses or asanas, breathing techniques and meditation) promotes an alpha brain wave state, known to lower blood pressure. It is also a truly great and natural way of releasing stress not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Stress and anxiety play a major role in raising and keeping high blood pressure high.

Yoga postures (asanas) help regulate the blood pressure by stabilising the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and bringing balance to the autonomous nervous system, which controls stress. During normal exercise, the demand on muscles increases, as does the requirement for blood and oxygen. However with yoga, these requirements decrease as every muscle is relaxed. It also enhances the functioning of the endocrine glands, digestive organs, heart and other organs.

The following poses have been put together in a simple sequence so that each pose flows from one to the next. A few tips before you begin:

  • Keep your eyes closed throughout the practice (this will be easier after a few rounds, as you come to know it by heart)
  • Practise the poses before you practise the breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation
  • Make sure you rest for a few breaths between each pose and do not do any exercise to the point of exertion and exhaustion.
  • Before you begin the sequence, do a few gentle warm-ups, shaking and loosening the limbs in whatever way you prefer.

 

Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)

Sit comfortably in Siddhasana. Inhale as you bring your palms together. Rest the thumbs lightly on your sternum, lifting the sternum into your thumbs. Press the hands firmly but evenly against each other and bow your head slightly. (This palms-together gesture can also be held in front of your forehead or slightly above and in front of the crown of your head.) You can start by sitting in this pose for five minutes.

Benefits: Anjali Mudra is an excellent way to induce a meditative state and thereby reduce stress and anxiety.

 

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)

Lie supine on the floor, legs strongly extended. Support your head and neck on a folded blanket (this is important for anyone with high blood pressure). Bend the left knee, and draw the thigh into your torso. Now loop a strap around the arch of the left foot, holding the strap in both hands, and slowly straighten the knee, pressing the left heel up toward the ceiling. Walk your hands up the strap until the elbows are fully extended and the shoulder blades pressing lightly into the floor.

As you hold the pose, without much effort, draw the foot a little closer to your head, increasing the stretch down the back of your leg. Stay here for one to three minutes, then slowly release the leg and exhale as you lower it down. Repeat on the right for the same length of time. Do not practise this pose if you have diarrhoea or a headache.

Benefits: This pose stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and calves, strengthens the knees, improves digestion and is therapeutic for high blood pressure.

 

Matsya Kridasana (Flapping Fish Pose)

Lie on your stomach with your fingers interlocked under your head. Bend the left leg sideways and bring the left knee close to the ribs. The right leg should remain straight. Swivel the arms to the left and rest the left elbow on the left knee. If this is not comfortable, rest it on the floor. The bent knee and the head may be supported on a pillow for further comfort. Relax completely in the final pose and keep your awareness on your breath, breathing normally. After some time, change sides. Practise for as long as possible on both sides. This pose may also be used for sleeping and resting.

Benefits: This pose is ideal for relaxing, sleeping or practising yoga nidra (yogic sleep). It also redistributes excess weight around the waistline.

 

Breathing

According to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living Foundation, approximately 70 per cent of the toxins from the body are released through the breath, but most of us are using no more than 30 per cent of our breathing capacity. The accumulation of toxins and impurities in the vascular system can create lesions, stiffness and blockage of circulation, which can contribute towards someone having high pressure. It is therefore of major importance that anyone with high blood pressure learns to deepen their breathing capacity. Also, a major effect of any breathing done with awareness is that it stills the mind and brings an overall sense of peace.

 

Simple breath awareness

Starting with about 10 minutes, simply concentrate on the incoming and outgoing breath, focusing on the temperature of the breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils. You may notice the exhaled air is slightly warmer than the inhaled air.

 

Seetkari (Hissing breath)

Sit in any comfortable meditation position. Close your eyes and relax your body. Hold the teeth lightly together. Separate the lips, exposing the teeth. The tongue may be kept flat. Breathe in slowly and deeply through the teeth. At the end of the inhalation, close the mouth, keeping the tongue flat, then breathe out slowly through the nose in a controlled manner. Keep your awareness on the hissing sound. This is one round. Complete nine rounds.

 

Diet and Nutrition

It is well known that diet plays a major role in high blood pressure. An Ayurvedic practitioner can provide you with a detailed understanding of which foods to favour and which to avoid for your condition and body type. Generally speaking, avoid foods that are hard-to-digest and favour foods that are easy-to-digest, nourishing and cleansing, such as a low-fat diet based on plenty of vegetables and fruits, legumes, rice, grains, and low-fat dairy products.

 

Easy things to do

 

Lifestyle

An effective way to lower blood pressure is to prevent, as far as possible, our lifestyle from disturbing our body’s natural rhythms. When we eat, sleep and exercise in constantly fluctuating and disturbing patterns, the body loses its natural balancing cycles and cannot cleanse or heal itself as effectively. Therefore, regularity in our daily routine can be extremely effective in reducing physiological imbalances which contribute to high blood pressure.

 

Exercise

Regular exercise is also fundamental. Any opportunity to be active, whether it’s a morning or evening walk, weeding the garden, doing the housework or taking the stairs instead of the lift, all helps to increase blood circulation, decrease blood pressure, lower fatty-cholesterol deposits and improve our overall health and wellbeing.

At best, medications can only manage and treat, but not cure, conditions such as high blood pressure. I’m certainly not suggesting you toss out the pills, but I am strongly recommending that you invest some time and make a commitment to discover the contribution that yoga and Ayurveda can make to reducing and stabilising high blood pressure.

 

What else can I do?

  • Have a big belly laugh every day, even if you have to “fake it till you make it”. Laughter decreases adrenaline and cortisol production and can help lower your blood pressure.
  • Lose excess weight/lower cholesterol. Losing as much excess weight as possible will definitely help keep your blood pressure low. An effective way to reduce cholesterol and excess fat is to soak 1 tsp fenugreek seeds in water overnight and chew them early in the morning on an empty stomach.
  • Strengthen your digestive system. A weak digestive system is often associated with high blood pressure. Our ability to efficiently and effectively digest the food we eat is an important consideration when choosing what to eat. Incompletely digested foods create toxins and impurities that travel throughout the body, localise in our tissues and eventually disrupt their functioning. This process plays out in a wide variety of chronic conditions, not least of which is high blood pressure. Ayurvedic triphala powder every night with warm water is often recommended for strengthening the digestive system.
  • Reduce your intake of toxins. Toxins accumulate in our bodies when we eat foods that are hard to digest, when we drink liquids that require difficult to metabolise, when our digestive and elimination systems are weak, and when we are stressed out physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. Most chronic disorders start when toxins accumulate in the body tissues and obstruct the channels of circulation and elimination. Such blockages prevent proper nutrition and blocks the processes that cleanse us of impurities.
  • Avoid Smoking. While smoking itself doesn’t increase blood pressure, it can add to the harm caused by high blood pressure. Smoking is estimated to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke threefold in individuals with high blood pressure. Nicotine also increases the resting heart rate and increases the release of adrenaline. Once smoking is stopped, this extra risk is quickly reduced.
  • Ayurvedic massage. We can assist the removal of toxins from our bodies and aid the deeper cleansing processes with regular Ayurvedic herbal oil massages, heat treatments and mild herbal enemas. These processes open the channels of circulation and elimination so that proper nourishment can reach the tissues and impurities are more easily eliminated.
  • Ayurvedic herbs. An Ayurvedic practitioner can select the appropriate herbal formulas to aid the healing process, strengthen digestion and help the body. Herbs are most effective after a person completes an internal cleansing program.

Meggan Brummer teaches the Art of Living course, yoga, meditation, vegetarian cooking and sacred chanting. W: www.megganbrummer.com.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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