Working in the hospital, one of the most common health conditions I see is high blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension affects about 70 million Americans and can lead to kidney failure, heart failure, strokes, it can even cause a person to loose a limb. There are numerous medications we use in the medical field to augment patients' blood pressure, but there are always side effects and the cost can be overwhelming. Luckily, there is a new treatment on the horizon.... YOGA!
Studies have shown that a daily yoga practice can influence blood pressure enough to potentially avoid medications.
How is that possible?
Yoga is hypothesized to increase the sensitivity of the baroreflex. The baroreflex is a homeostatic mechanism, or a way in which the body tries to keep itself in balance. It is a negative feedback loop that balances our blood pressure and heart rate to meet our body's demands. For example, when we begin flowing through fast sun salutations, our initial blood pressure will be too low to meet our muscles oxygen demands. Our barorecptors (sensors located in our blood vessels) notice this and communicate to the brain and to the heart that more blood is needed. In response our heart beats faster (our heart rate goes up) and our arteries constrict (become narrower). These actions increase our blood pressure which in turn increase the blood flow to our muscles, allowing us to complete the sun salutations. This same mechanism can occur in the opposite direction as well, allowing our blood pressure to decrease when our body is at rest.
With all of the positional changes and switches from fast Sun Salutations to calming, resting postures, yoga challenges the baroreceptors and re-sensitize them to small changes in the body. When the baroreceptors are sensitive, our body is able to regulate its own blood pressure under different circumstances. In this way, yoga can help prevent hypertension and some studies even hint that a daily yoga practice can help treat hypertension.
It’s so amazing!! Our bodies are incredibly smart and more than capable of regulating themselves as long as we allow it to do so. Yoga helps us refresh and retune our bodies so it can heal and care for itself. Hypertension is only one of the many common health problems yoga can help relieve. There are also studies showing yoga helping with Diabetes Mellitus, depression, addiction, and more! The ancient yogis have claimed this for years, but now we have scientific data to help prove it. It makes me so happy to see modern medicine acknowledging the traditional practices and beginning to accept them has treatment and preventative modalities.
So the next time you find yourself on your mat, flowing through your sun salutations, send a little gratitude to your barorecptors. Thank them for controlling your blood pressure. And thank yourself for dedicating time to your practice and your health. Who knows, maybe at your next doctors visit you're blood pressure will be lower!