Articles

THE EFFECTS OF YOGA ON HYPERTENSION

Author: CHOI JA YOON

Hypertension in any of its many forms is a serious condition.   And although hypertension is not a disease in itself, it is a clear sign that there are underlying problems in the management of the body’s internal environment and in the balance of the body at the physical, emotional, and mental levels.

Hypertension is defined by the presence of increased blood pressure, a result of the damming up of blood behind constricted arteries and arterioles, such that blood leaving the heart on its way to the cells of the body meets with excessive resistance, and the heart is required to work harder to pump the blood through the narrowed vessels.

From a medical perspective, hypertension has several specific causes, a combination of which are responsible for an increased incidence of high blood pressure over the last decade. These medical causes include hereditary factors, aging, smoking, high fat diets, sedentary lifestyles, and components of personality, temperament, and emotions.

From the yogic perspective, the single most important component in the cause of hypertension is the mind, which is in fact the sole common denominator underlying all aspects of hypertension considered by medical science.  And while the medical list of causative factors is accurate, from the yogic perspective, a fuller and deeper understanding of the cause of hypertension requires that the list be expanded and priorities rearranged to look more like this:

  • Mental cause: the core or essence of hypertensive disease is in the mind
  • Pranic cause: hypertension is associated with disturbances in the energy systems of the body.
  • Stress in the personality: these factors are determinate by mind and should come under mental cause but are classified separately for clarity
  • Physical causes: this aspect includes five of the six medical causes most important of which are:
  • Life style: modern living, sleeping habits, smoking, diet and sedentary occupation
  • Heredity
  • Age and ageing

Yoga therefore agrees with medicine, but through experience and a deeper understanding of the whole human organism sees that the mind plays an important role in the functioning of the body, and can help maintain and enhance health or contribute to dis-ease such as with hypertension.  We can see this in the ways our personal problems and negative tendencies manifest themselves in our health and environment.  Mental weakness or imbalance can contribute to ill-health, difficult interpersonal relationships, and hypertension as a result of accumulated sense impressions, thoughts, fears, joys, memories, ideas, knowledge, and anxieties that are stored in the mind.

As we can see mind is a contributing factor in hypertension for it controls our personality, emotions, lifestyle and habits.  Mental energy (chitta) and physical vitality (prana) are both intimately connected. The energy or prana depends on the mind for its direction, and when there are mental problems and neuroses energy may be diverted from the pranic and physical bodies.  Such changes create weaknesses and imbalance.  In the case of the hypertensive, the blood vessel system is affected.  Yoga understands prana as the energy responsible for all the vital functions of digestion, respiration, exertion, transmission of nervous impulses, and circulation of blood and so on. It is divided into five specific kinds.

  • Apana: throws out impurities and creates strength.
  • Samana: extends from the diaphragm to the  navel and is linked with the water element.
  • Prana: is associated with the fire element and draws vitality from the food and air.
  • Udana: is the aspect of prana that lifts the body up and keeps it from falling.
  • Vyana: is the aspect of prana which peruades the entire body. Coordinating all the body functions and the five pranas.

These are the five interlinked and inter-dependent aspects of the pranaya kosha or pranic body.  Imbalance in vyana or samana makes the body especially prone to hypertension, circulation detects, and neurocirculatory imbalance.

Prana and chitta are circulated through a network of flowways called nadis. There are 112,000 nadis or energy channels in the body. They are organized in much the same pattern as blood vessels and have three main channels of flow: ida (the mental channel), pingala ( the vital channels) and sushumna (the spiritual channel).  Through its network of nadis, the pranic body can act as a lattice for blood vessels and can caused an imbalance in the mind, acting through the brain and hypothalamus to initiate excess sympathetic activity, such that increased peripheral energy becomes predominant. Pingala is associated with heat, the colour read, extroversion, and dynamism. Hypertension is linked to all the pingala nadi because the arterial tree which branches out from the heart is so dynamic.

Yoga rebalances the nadis through its systematic application of asana, pranayama, and meditation. All of these practices work on mind, body, ida, and pingala by activating prana, chitta, shakti, physical vitality, and awearness. When the forces of mind and body are in balanced, harmony having been purified and strengthened, sushumna nadi in its dynamic form of spiritual awearness, full of peace, the light and knowledge can blossom,transforming and adding a new hyperaware dimension to our existence.

There is no doubt that personality plays an important role in the development of certain kinds of disease, for personality determines our ability to handle stress.  Stress is not an objective independent entity.  It is a subjective reaction to external or internal situations. The endocrine and nervous systems are linked with, and respond directly to, the brain and the mind. Both affect personality, which is built up through past experiences.  Personality determines actions and creates energy channels or grooves called habits. These lead us in to a seemingly endless maze of actions and thoughts. Endocrine glands are those which secrete chemicals, called hormones, directly into the bloodstream. This is opposed to the exocrine glands which secrete chemicals via ducts onto surfaces such as the skin and bowel walls. Hormones have specific effects on the metabolism and activity of certain body organs. For the personality to be balanced and healthy, the endocrine glands must be balanced within themselves and with the rest of the body.

Any imbalance of mind impacts the endocrine system and vice versa. This imbalance creates disease but is not a disease in itself, although it is one of the causative factors in hormonal imbalance in the neuron endocrinal axis as may be evidenced at the social level by preoccupation with sexuality (linked to the gonad-swadhisthana interaction), power-seeking competition, and lack of regard for others caused by imbalances in the adrenal-manipura interaction. This imbalance affects the pituitary and thus all the endocrines glands of the body are affected.

Hypertension is the outcome of long-term nervous hormonal and pranic imbalances, which in turn cause the adrenal glands to secrete excess adrenaline and noradrenaline. Personality is a reflection of mental forces (conscious, unconscious, and subconscious) and positive and negative impulses rising up into the manifesting mind. The energies from the mind are communicated at extrasensory levels and are channelled into the body.  Mind determines personality and personality determines physical actions.  This is part of the multifaceted cause of hypertension.

Diet and sleep are not scheduled to harmonize with the light and dark cycles of the day, seasons, temperature, and climates and so on.  People eat too much and sleep too long. The average modern diet and sleep patterns are often unhealthy in quality and quantity. One example of this disharmony occurs when you are tense and lead a fast lifestyle.  You do not have time to breath correctly. When the process of breathing incorrectly becomes chronic, we set the scene for physical and mental tensions to spiral into chronically raised blood pressure. This pathologically elevated blood pressure is a reflection of our lifestyle where we are not aware of our own bodies, breath, or minds.  As a consequences of this ignorance incorrect breathing becomes a habit with us, a habit that must be broken through the practice of pranayama. Habits force us to react in predetermined and fixed fashions to life’s situations. If our desires are not fulfilled we are dissatisfied and frustrations arise.  Frustration creates inner tension. The result of inner tension is to turn on sympathetic nervous system activity, especially when so much of our lives are frustrated by a fast-moving, polluted, and stress-laden society.

Drugs not only fail to cure high blood pressure and remove the stress that causes it but, in fact, compound the problem by interfering with natural body rhythms. They also disturb sleep patterns, shutting off the dreaming phase responsible for releasing stress. Drugs only remove the overt symptoms.  To remove root causes requires meditation. This is because meditation deals directly with mind in which lie the roots of all psychosomatic diseases, including hypertension.

It is a lack of awareness in our lifestyle which has created the conditions for cultivation of hypertension. Many people are unconscious of their stored tensions, although everyone has them. This means that the lack of awareness extends deep into the five kosha (sheaths) of body, emotions, mind, psyche, and spirit. When we are not aware of ourselves our ignorance results in habits detrimental to our health. If we were fully aware ofthe harm we were doing to ourselves with these habits we would immediately eliminate them. The wisdom and power to do this arises from the knowledge and understanding we gain through yoga.

With increasing age there is an increased chance of the arteries hardening and the blood pressure rising irreversibly. This only occurs if lifestyle, heredity, and lack of self-discipline create the conditions.  If we have looked after body and kept our minds, strong, young, and alert, there is every chance we will not develop hypertension and will live a healthy, relaxed, and peaceful existence.

Mind, prana, lifestyle determine how fast we age. If our mind is relaxed and stable, capable of responding to the world and handling the pressures of life, then we are gracefully and maintain a young and healthy appearance.

The mind, emotions, body, world, and universe are one organism when seen from the expanded point of view obtained through yoga.

Hypertension is the result of many factors.  These factors spring from ignorance.  Ignorance is the cause of all disease and knowledge is the cure. What yoga allows us to do is to remove the hurt so that we can grow with each experience whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  The true cause of hypertension is ignorance of why we are on this planet and how to live the right way. As all great philosophies have said throughout time and space: “know thyself” and “unto thine own self be true.” This is the essence of yoga and it is how yoga has come to understand the cause of and the cure of hypertension.

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YOGA VIDYA GURUKUL

Village Talwade, Trimbak, Nasik
Maharashtra,India.

Phone - +91-9822770727

E-mail - yoga@yogapoint.com or yogapoint108@gmail.com

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