Yoga is for healing.
When teachers ask at the beginning of class if anyone has any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions that they should know about, I’ve come to realize that no one ever coughs up their medical history to the entire class – well, maybe I haven’t attended enough yoga classes, or maybe no one with cardiovascular disease does yoga. My point is, some people might be uncomfortable in letting others know about the kinds of illnesses they have.
Past physical injuries, I believe, are easier to deal with. Verbal cues from the teacher to back off from the asana when the body is not-agreeable would suffice. And if that fails, experiencing a sharp pain in an asana might be the body’s cue to try again another time. Most people tend to want to avoid pain. With medical conditions, however, yoga may exacerbate existing problems that may not be irreversible. Therefore when teaching yoga asanas that put the body in an inverted position, it is vital to mention that these should be avoided by people with cardiovascular disease.
Needless to say, stay away from Sarvangasana and Sirsasana. But even gentle, relaxing and passive stretching such as Viparita Karani should be avoided. Anything with the legs higher than the heart, and the heart higher than the head, have to be avoided.
For anyone with cardiovascular diseases who are looking to yoga for a restorative practice, to reduce stress and to lower blood pressure naturally, stick to these instead:
- Baddha koanasana
- Baddha Padmasana
- Upavista Konasana
- Salamba Bhujangasana
For people with cardiovascular disease, don’t venture into anything that puts too much effort on the heart – hardcore asana work can always be tried in time. The best yoga poses for high blood pressure are poses that put the spine in a horizontal position as it takes less effort to pump the blood to the brain. Opt for restorative practice that allows the heart to slow down instead. Forward fold in seated positions will work well, bearing in mind to keep a flat back and elongated spine.
Some poses with the head below the heart can also be modified with props:
- Balasana: place a block under the forehead for support
- Matsyasana: place a block behind the head for support
Lastly, pranayama is definitely a good practice to reduce stress and blood pressure levels. Nadi Shodhana can be a great way to start and end the practice – heck, it can be done at any time of the day.
At the end of the day, the key to dealing with cardiovascular disease, in my opinion, is in breaking the vicious cycle. You’re ill so you cant engage in too physically-demanding activities, so you sit at home, and then the problem never goes away so you become more and more ill with time. This is where restorative yoga asanas and pranayama can start healing the body, mind and soul.