by Stella 

The Calm Within: Yoga’s Impact on Stress and Hypertension

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Stress always strikes me the evening before a work week after a long weekend or vacation. Stress sometimes comes out of nowhere but usually appears around 3 AM, waking me up and leaving me awake for hours.

I have deduced that my anxiety does not only stem from my stressful career; it also comes from family, friends, and just life in general. I used to go to sleep and hope that my problems would go away when I woke up. 

Of course, that never happens; when I wake up, the problems are still there waiting for me, and sometimes, the issues that worry me jolts me out of my slumber. Can you relate to my experience above?  

Understanding Stress and Hypertension


Experiencing short-term stress can have its benefits. It can help us improve our productivity and concentration. I go into turbo mode whenever I face a deadline or a complicated issue requiring my attention. During such times, I am super focused and can't hear sounds other than my thoughts.

This concentration is so intense that I can feel my blood pressure rise, my body temperature increase, my heart rate accelerates, my fingers type extremely fast, and my speech goes to extreme speed.

When stress kicks in, my body reacts, and it doesn't stop until the problem is fixed or the crisis is over. Then, exhaustion hits. It's like my body goes into overdrive, putting all my energy into solving the issue.

I know for a fact that if I am constantly in the above-mentioned overdrive mode, my body will quickly break down from exhaustion, and other health and mental issues will arise. Prolonged stress can harm our health, weakening our immune system, burdening our cardiovascular system, and impairing our cognitive abilities. 

Furthermore, long-term stress triggers the release of cortisol. This stress hormone can cause damage to our blood vessels, ultimately resulting in high blood pressure and compounding the risk of stroke and various cardiovascular diseases.  

Other less severe and less detrimental symptoms of stress can manifest in various ways, affecting our mental well-being and physical health. For instance, individuals experiencing heightened stress levels may notice an increase in hair loss, which is attributed to the impact of stress on the hair growth cycle.

Additionally, persistent stress can contribute to low energy levels, leading to fatigue and a sense of lethargy that can further impede daily functioning.

Recently, I found a large handful of hair falling out while showering. This increase in hair loss triggered an alarm, and I realized that my body was experiencing stress caused by recent workplace issues and the upcoming large property tax payments.

I immediately took it upon myself to start meditating and used YouTube for stress-relief yoga poses. I could immediately feel my tightened muscles release, my mind became calmer, and a sense of well-being was stored.

Although Yoga did not solve workplace issues or decrease my property tax, by reducing my stress level and taking care of my body's negative response to stress, I probably have averted a possible more physically severe issue or any emotional trauma that may come to have a negative interpersonal outcome.

By tending to my well-being through yoga, I found myself better equipped to navigate and devise solutions for the inevitable challenges that life presents. 

Other than hair loss, stress often influences appetite patterns, causing individuals to lose interest in food or turn to binge eating as a coping mechanism.

The complex relationship between stress and nutrition is notable, with stress hormones affecting hunger hormones, potentially disrupting the body's natural cues for hunger and satiety. Addressing this issue of long-term stress becomes crucial for our overall well-being.

One effective way to manage stress and maintain healthy blood pressure levels is through activities like Yoga. Engaging in regular yoga sessions not only promotes a sense of calmness but also offers a holistic approach to stress reduction, reducing the risk of stroke and other related health complications.

By incorporating such practices into our routine, we actively contribute to our physical and mental resilience, fostering a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.

Statistics or facts on the prevalence of stress-related hypertension


Mental and emotional well-being plays an intricate role in our environment. Interpersonal relationships, societal expectations, and the overall socio-cultural context significantly shape our psychological state and influence how we navigate the complexities of daily life.

Family dynamics, friendship, social connections, cultural norms, and professional and educational pressure all contribute to our delicate balance of daily living. A slight tilt in one of these interconnected elements can create a ripple effect, impacting not only individual mental and emotional well-being but also the overall fabric of our community.

For instance, in my case, the strained interpersonal relationship was an incompatibility with a new coworker. That negative interpersonal dynamic contributed to heightened stress levels, which, if left unattended, may influence one's ability to meet societal expectations and engage positively in their socio-cultural context.

Recognizing and addressing these interdependencies is essential for fostering a resilient and thriving environment that promotes one's mental health and the well-being of communities.

Studies have shown that life is mainly composed of psychosocial issues and stressors that cause hypertension. This meta-analysis reviewed eleven studies and concluded that hypertension is a stress response to psychosocial problems.

In addition, another meta-analysis reviewed the literature from 2010 to April 2014 and concluded that psychosocial factors play an essential role in the development of hypertension.

Yoga and Stress Reduction


In our increasingly busy daily lives, stress has become a standard part of our daily routine; the ancient practice of Yoga can offer us calmness and focus without using any special equipment or fancy gadgets.

Yoga goes beyond physical postures; it is a holistic approach to stress management that intertwines breath control, meditation, and mindful movement. Through intentional poses, practitioners stretch and strengthen their bodies and delve into a deep connection with their breath, fostering a sense of calmness that transcends the mat.

The meditative aspect of Yoga encourages a mental shift, helping individuals let go of the chaos and find stillness within. Many studies I will mention in the next section have proven that Yoga reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

Therefore, Yoga is a powerful antidote to the pressures of modern living. By incorporating Yoga into our routines, we enhance our physical flexibility and strength and equip ourselves with a transformative tool for navigating life's challenges with resilience and a serene mindset.

This meta-analysis by Park et al., published in 2017, examined thirteen kinds of literature between 1946 and 2014. Seven types of literature discussed meditation, and six studied Yoga. Statistically, medication and Yoga significantly decreased SBP (systolic blood pressure) and DBP (diastolic blood pressure).  

Yoga and Meditation Decrease Blood Pressure 
  • For people >60 years old, meditation most noticeably decreased the subjects' blood pressure. 
  • For people < 60 years old, Yoga contributed to decreased blood pressure.
  • Yoga and meditation can effectively reduce blood pressure and are safe and effective alternatives to pharmacotherapy.

This meta-analysis by Wu and Johnson et al. reviews 49 trials and research papers. Participants with hypertension practiced Yoga three sessions per week, including breathing techniques, meditation, and mental relaxation. Blood pressure reduction was -11/6 mmHg compared to those that did not.

Furthermore, this meta-analysis by Pascoe, Thompson, and Ski researched between May 2016 and December 2016 of 42 studies focused on yoga asana yielded reduced cortisol levels, reduction of SBP and resting HR, fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, and LDL compared to control groups that did not participate in yoga asana with mindfulness-based stress reduction.  

Last but not least, This study from 2021 with the title "How does yoga reduce stress? A clinical trial testing psychological mechanisms" proposed the reasons that Yoga reduces stress because Yoga targets five psychosocial mechanisms -- five potential psychosocial mechanisms (increased mindfulness, interoceptive awareness, spiritual well-being, self-compassion, and self-control). 

In the above study, the researchers provided scores for each category, and all of these category scores showed wellness improvement. Additionally, there was a significant stress reduction.

The actual mechanism of Yoga in stress reduction, thus reducing blood pressure, may be unknown or hard to identify, but the benefits of Yoga are numerous. The most notable are cortisol reduction (study) and reduction in SBP (systolic blood pressure) and DBP (diastolic blood pressure) (study). 

In actuality and with practical intent, we don't need to know precisely how Yoga works to give us these benefits; all we have to do is consistently practice and benefit from it.  

Johns Hopkins Medicine website explains that Yoga can calm the heart rate, lower blood glucose and cholesterol by strengthening the body, balance the body's chemistry, and help the mind relax by focusing on breathing and meditation.  

In short, life choices can bring about stress, which causes inflammation of arteries, increasing blood pressure. Short-term spikes in blood pressure may make our body more productive, and long-term stress can cause our body to break down. Stress management and reduction are crucial in keeping our body, especially our heart, healthy. 

We can all agree that chemical compounds in medications can effectively reduce blood pressure levels. It is vital to work together with healthcare professionals to bring high blood pressure under control quickly.

It is also beneficial to explore non-pharmacological treatments to help with blood pressure reduction, improve cardiovascular health, and stress reduction methods for better mental and physical health, where appropriate and after consulting with your primary care team.

According to the Yoga Medicine website, there are thirteen types of Yoga practices. Each type offers a different kind of yoga discipline and yoga experience. Some are more physically demanding, some geared toward spiritual development, and some even include heat or chanting.

Each type of Yoga is unique. With so many different types of Yoga, the proven benefit of stress reduction and physical and mental health strengthening is just a matter of determining which type to start with.  

Different types of Yoga, courtesy of Yoga Medicine

  1. Kundalini Yoga: challenging for both mind and body, singing or chanting.
  2. Vinyasa Yoga: Synchronized poses with constant movement.
  3. Hatha Yoga: This style focuses on strength and flexibility—a gentle type of Yoga.
  4. Ashtanga Yoga: consists of 6 yoga poses for anyone who likes routine.
  5. Yin Yoga: A slower-paced style of Yoga with lots of stretching.
  6. Iyengar Yoga: This type of Yoga uses props, which is excellent for older adults.
  7. Bikram Yoga: This type is also called "hot yoga." This type of Yoga consists of 26 poses in a room with 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity. The sweating helps with detoxification.
  8. Power Yoga: A type of yoga that's less rigid and emphasizes spirituality less.
  9. Sivananda Yoga: A very relaxing yoga that gears towards spirituality.
  10. Restorative Yoga: A type of Yoga that hovers between wake and sleep. Great for those dealing with pain and those who need to de-stress.
  11. Prenatal Yoga: For the moms-to-be to restore sore hips or aching lower backs.
  12. Aerial Yoga: This type of Yoga is also called antigravity yoga; it is relatively new and offers a less traditional yoga practice.
  13. Acro Yoga: A fun Yoga with a partner to build flexibility, strength, and trust.
Sample Yoga Routine for Stress and Hypertension: Finding Calm in Every Pose

In the quest for holistic well-being, the ancient practice of Yoga emerges as a powerful ally, especially in stress management and hypertension. Crafting a personalized yoga routine tailored to alleviate stress and support cardiovascular health involves a thoughtful blend of gentle poses, mindful breathing, and relaxation techniques.

Mindful Warm-Up:  
Begin with a few minutes of mindful breathing to center yourself. Incorporate easy stretches like neck rolls, shoulder shrugs, and gentle twists to release tension. This warm-up sets the tone for a physical and mental relaxation session.

Breath-Centric Asanas:  
Integrate yoga poses that emphasize controlled breathing, such as:
Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Focus on deep inhalations and exhalations, grounding yourself.
Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana): Sync breath with movement, promoting spinal flexibility.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana): Elevate your hips, opening the chest while maintaining steady breath.

Restorative Poses:  
Include restorative poses to encourage relaxation:
  • Child's Pose (Balasana): A restful posture stretching the back and promoting surrender.
  • Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani): Alleviate fatigue and reduce stress by inverting the legs.
Balancing and Strength Building:  
Incorporate balancing poses and gentle strength-building asanas:
  • Tree Pose (Vrikshasana): Enhances focus and stability while promoting a sense of calm.
  • Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II): Strengthens the legs and opens the chest, fostering empowerment.
Guided Meditation or Savasana:  
Conclude your routine with a guided meditation or Savasana (Corpse Pose). Allow yourself a few minutes of complete relaxation, focusing on breath awareness or guided imagery to further ease the mind.

Mindful Closure:  
Slowly transition out of your final pose, acknowledging the peace cultivated during the session. Close your eyes, bring your hands to your heart, and express gratitude for the time dedicated to self-care.

Following a tailored yoga routine, our goal of achieving stress and hypertension management is a thread that weaves calmness and resilience. Remember, consistency is vital.

Whether practiced in the morning to set a positive tone for the day or in the evening to unwind, this routine can be your sanctuary, fostering a harmonious balance between mind, body, and breath. Embrace the journey towards well-being, one mindful pose at a time.


Tips for incorporating Yoga into daily life


I am not a yogi, nor do I even consider myself a yoga practitioner. However, when I feel anxious or unable to make decisions when I am overwhelmed with worry and pacing the floor back and forth if I am home, I immediately get on my bed and put myself in the child's pose (Balasana).

When I do that, I can instantly find calmness, the stretch on my calves and back helping to release tension, and the posture creates a sense of security and comfort. It's a simple and accessible way to press the pause button on a chaotic moment, allowing me to center myself and regain balance.

When standing up at work or in public spaces, especially when tension and stress start creeping in, I usually get into the Mountain Pose (Tadasana). To perform this uncomplicated standing pose, plant your feet firmly on the ground, align your spine, and reach your arms overhead with palms facing each other.

The Mountain Pose promotes stability and strength for me, helping to center my focus and alleviate stress. It's discreet enough to be practiced in various settings and offers a quick reset for both the body and the mind. The intentional focus on posture and breath in these simple yoga poses can be powerful tools, even for those who don't consider themselves seasoned yogis.

Additional Lifestyle Considerations


Navigating the many yoga styles available can be both a curse and a blessing. To make the selection process more manageable, consider treating it like any other life decision. It is best to begin with an enjoyable, fun, and comfortable style.

This initial choice ensures a higher likelihood of consistency, as the practice becomes a source of joy rather than an uphill task. The mantra of success in Yoga, as in many aspects of life, is consistency. 

As always, prioritize your well-being by consulting healthcare providers before starting a new exercise regimen. Safety remains paramount in any fitness endeavor.

Beyond the yoga mat, recognize that stress reduction and blood pressure management extend beyond temporarily reducing stress. A well-balanced approach involves incorporating a clean and healthy diet into your routine. The nourishment provided by wholesome foods complements the physical aspects of Yoga, enhancing overall well-being.

Additionally, ensuring an adequate amount of sleep is essential. Quality sleep not only aids in recovery from heightened senses but also contributes significantly to stress reduction and maintaining optimal blood pressure levels.

Therefore, let us embark on reducing stress and decreasing blood pressure. Remember to weave together the interconnected threads of physical activity, nutrition, and rest for a comprehensive approach to well-being.

Yoga Resources 


I love integrating Yoga with Bird's quick 5-minute yoga routines into my daily life—it's become a grounding ritual for me. And let me tell you about Yoga with Adriene—it's like a treasure trove of yoga classes that cater to every imaginable need! Among the multitude, my absolute favorite is Adriene's stress melt Yoga.

After a demanding day at work, this 26-minute session has become my go-to for unwinding. The post-yoga feeling is transformative—I'm not just refreshed and centered but noticeably calmer. It's a game-changer, allowing me to transition into family time with a clear mind, leaving behind the day's stresses.

YouTube is a goldmine for various yoga channels, ensuring there's something for everyone. If you're looking for a yoga class that resonates with you, feel free to shout—I'd love to help you find the perfect fit.

In conclusion, the journey toward stress reduction, blood pressure management, and overall well-being through Yoga is not just about the poses but a holistic embrace of a healthier lifestyle. As discussed here, Yoga's profound impact on stress, blood pressure, and mental resilience is evidence-based, as the studies reviewed showed.

This ancient practice goes beyond physical movements—it becomes a philosophy of living. Whether you're a beginner seeking solace in a child's pose or an experienced practitioner delving into various styles, the key lies consistency and the drive to a healthier lifestyle. 

The sample yoga routine suggested above is a gateway to a more centered and balanced life. Please tailor it to your liking. Each pose contributes to the intricate dance of stress relief and hypertension management, from the mindful warm-up to guided meditation. 

Yoga is a personal journey, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. It's about finding what resonates with you, listening to your body, evolving at your own pace, and, most importantly, making it fun.

Beyond the mat, it is vital to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices, such as a clean diet and adequate sleep, into the journey. Yoga becomes a powerful ally when complemented by nourishing practices that support overall well-being.

 Namaste!

Yoga Poses for Stress Relief

1

Gentle poses for beginners

  • Child's Pose
  • Mountain Pose
  • 2

    Intermediate poses for more profound relaxation

  • Downward-Facing Dog
  • Cat-Cow Pose
  • 3

    Advanced poses for experienced practitioners

  •  Shoulder Stand
  •  Corpse Pose
  • References:

    1. Park SH, Han KS. "Blood Pressure Response to Meditation and Yoga: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Sep;23(9):685-695. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0234. PMID: 28384004.

    2. Wu Y, Johnson BT, Acabchuk RL, Chen S, Lewis HK, Livingston J, Park CL, Pescatello LS. "Yoga as Antihypertensive Lifestyle Therapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." Mayo Clin Proc. 2019 Mar;94(3):432-446. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.09.023. PMID: 30792067.

    3. Pascoe MC, Thompson DR, Ski CF. "Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis." Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 Dec;86:152-168. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.08.008. PMID: 28963884.

    4. Park CL, Finkelstein-Fox L, Sacco SJ, Braun TD, Lazar S. "How does yoga reduce stress? A clinical trial testing psychological mechanisms." Stress Health. 2021 Feb;37(1):116-126. doi: 10.1002/smi.2977. PMID: 32797683; PMCID: PMC10159010.

    5. Liu MY, Li N, Li WA, Khan H. "Association between psychosocial stress and hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Neurol Res. 2017 Jun;39(6):573-580. doi: 10.1080/01616412.2017.1317904. PMID: 28415916.

    6. Cuffee Y, Ogedegbe C, Williams NJ, Ogedegbe G, Schoenthaler A. "Psychosocial risk factors for hypertension: an update of the literature." Curr Hypertens Rep. 2014 Oct;16(10):483. doi: 10.1007/s11906-014-0483-3. PMID: 25139781; PMCID: PMC4163921.

    About the author 

    Healing hearts, one prescription at a time. Clinical pharmacist by day, plant whisperer and piano enthusiast by night. Passionate about optimizing health and promoting self-care. Join me on this journey of growth, harmony, and nurturing both mind and soul. Let's bloom together! 🌱🎶

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