Yoga with Low Blood Pressure

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Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2006 2:25 am
Location: Vancouver

Yoga with Low Blood Pressure

Post by Bernie »

I was recently asked the following question regarding low blood pressure:
  • Are there any resources, advice you could give or information on teaching
    Yin to people with Low Blood pressure. The root course has not been
    diagnosed yet but likely to be cardiac related, practitioner is awaiting an
    appointment with a cardiologist. In the meantime I would like to gather up
    some additional information in order to teach her safely and effectively.
    Thank you in advance, Paula

Hi Paula

So often doctors will tell patients with low blood pressure (LBP) that they are lucky! It is far better to have LBP than high blood pressure. But, these people don’t feel so lucky. I know because I have LBP.

How low is low? If your student’s BP is around 90/60, and she has had no incidence of syncope (which is a fancy word for feinting) then likely there is no serious problem, despite it being annoying to feel dizzy when getting up fast or coming up from a forward fold. However, don’t take medical advice from a yoga teacher! I am glad to hear that she is seeking an appointment with a specialist.

Yin Yoga should be pretty neutral with respect to LBP. Since all our postures are on the floor, there is no big changes in posture that will lead to a drop in BP. Going from the floor to standing, coming up from forward folds and other rapid postural movements are more common in yang forms of yoga, such as Hatha classes or Power yoga classes. I would suspect that she will be fine with whatever you do in your Yin Yoga classes. However, never is never right and always is always wrong, so it is good to check in and see how she is feeling throughout the class and ask her to let you know of anything that causes incidences of light headedness.

One movement that could be problematic is neck work: turning the head during Reclining Twists or lifting/dropping the head back such as in Camel or Sphinx pose could potentially compress the vertebral arteries thus reducing blood flow to the brain. If she feels weird or headachy in these positions, simply tell her to keep the head in neutral.

Inversions are contraindicated for high BP, but for LBP these may be therapeutic. In any case, we don’t use inversions in Yin Yoga with the exception of Snail pose. On the other hand, many teachers feel that work with legs up the wall are inversions (even though the heart is not above the head), so these may feel good for students with LBP. Check out the options of Wall Yin.

Another consideration is breathwork: avoid yang pranayama (strong breathwork like bhastrika or kapalabhati) but slow cycling of the breath like nadi shodhana/alternate nostril breathing may help to control BP. (See the Yinside of Breathing for more.)

Some final thoughts: as I mentioned, I also have LBP. One suggestion my doctor gave me was to consume more salt. Salt increases water volume in the blood which increases BP, which is why people with high BP are advised to avoid it. But folks with LBP may benefit by eating some salty junk food once in a while (my go to choice is organic bean chips with sea salt…how fun to be encouraged to eat junk food once in a while, but don’t over do it!)

Another thing I have added to my yang yoga practice is — whenever I come up from a forward fold to standing, I keep my arms overhead for an extra breath or two. If I lower my arms too fast, I see the yoga faeries (I get dizzy), because the blood quickly flows from my head to my hands when I lower my arms. But, when I keep my hand overhead, the blood flows from my hands to my head, improving blood pressure there and Tinker Bell doesn't come to visit.

I hope this helps
Good luck
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