YOGA: Alleviate hypertension through yogic breathing

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By Geeta Maraj
June 19th 2013 Edition

Breathing in yoga is seen from a totally dif- ferent perspective than merely the act of in- haling and exhaling. Control of the breath is called Pranayama. Correct breathing is crucial to the health of our organs, our stress level, and stability of the mind.

Swami Yogananda, a great yogi who helped to educate the West of this an- cient art said, “Breath is the cord that ties the soul to the body”. The health of our body, mind and emotions are all directly related to the pattern of our breathing.

Regular, slow, deep breaths en- able one to feel calm, while irregular, rapid breaths causes anxiety and irritability. Breath control helps to recharge and re-energize every cell of the body resulting in a rejuvenated and relaxed feeling.

Hypertension is one such illness which is a reflection of poor breath control and focus of the mind. Hypertension or high blood pressure is more common in people with stressful lifestyles. Statistics Canada reported that nearly 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from hypertension. If left untreated, hyper- tension can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Hypertension is a result when the heart has to work harder to push the blood along the arteries. As such, blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the resistance level of blood flow in the arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

One important pranayama, or yogic breathing, which helps to control the heart rate, is referred to as balanced breathing. To perform this breath you simply count how long it takes you to breathe in, and you ex- hale to the same count. By slowly increas- ing the count over time, and with practice, you are lengthening how long it takes you to breathe one breath of air into your lungs. The longer it takes to inhale a single breath, the slower your heart rate, and similarly the calmer the mind.

The brain produces as many as 50 to 70 thoughts per minute. The aim of con- trolled breathing is to decrease this to a single thought. As such, not only does the balanced breath have the capability of decreasing the heart rate, but equally by slowing down your breathing, you slow down the many thoughts which bombard the mind.

But in order to master breath con- trol, an understanding of how to breathe cor- rectly must be practiced initially. There is a correct way of breathing, as there is an in- correct way of breathing. The correct way to breathe is to ensure when you inhale that your chest rises, and your abdomen extends. When you exhale, your chest should collapse as your abdomen contracts – pushing all the stale air out of your lungs.
The incorrect way of breathing would be that when we breathe in our ab- domen contracts at the same time. This is common at various times in the day when our body begins to feel stressed. Therefore, it is always important to check your breath- ing pattern. The way in which you correct your breathing is to exhale all your breath till your abdomen contracts tightly. Upon inhal- ing your next breath, your breathing rhythm will automatically be corrected.

Practice of proper breathing tech- niques so as to calm your body and relax your mind is an important and crucial step in learning to relax, thereby, helping to con- trol your blood pressure. Hardly do we re- alize that our breathing pattern affects our health and causes tension to be built in our body. However, by paying attention to this correct way of breathing during the day, we can control the stress we feel in our body and ultimately control our blood pressure from rising.

Once the mind is controlled and the breath is balanced, this consequently allows the body to react differently to stress and frustrations. By not allowing issues to affect the body, or the mind, we therefore are able to secure better health and well being.

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