Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects millions of people around the world, including over 30 percent of American adults. Often referred to as “the silent killer” for its tendency to wreak havoc on the body without producing symptoms, hypertension is the most common cardiovascular disease and a leading cause of stroke. If you have any concerns, get checked by your doctor. There likely won’t be any other way of knowing if you’re at risk.
This pervasive and dangerous condition is at the heart of today’s episode of Urban Yogis on The Chopra Well YouTube channel. Ashtanga yoga instructor Eddie Stern has teamed up with fellow instructor Blake Seidenshaw and physical therapy professor Marshall Hagins at Long Island University (LIU) to conduct a study on the effects of yoga on patients suffering from hypertension. As of yet, yoga has not definitively been proven to be an effective treatment for high blood pressure, on its own, though evidence does suggest it may lower blood pressure by reducing stress and increasing flexibility and weight loss. Stern, Seidenshaw, and Hagins came together in the hope of finding clear, consistent evidence to prove what, until now, most yoga practitioners only felt and observed in their own lives without the authority of science to support them. That isn’t to say anecdotal evidence doesn’t carry its own weight – there’s a reason over 20 million people in the United States have practiced yoga.
If science comes to support what practitioners have felt for decades, it could have a major impact on our health. So many of Eddie’s students, like the patients at LIU, have already noticed the positive effects. Likely it has something to do with lifestyle. Though the cause of hypertension remains undetermined, the condition is often associated with lack of exercise, being overweight, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and a diet high in saturated fat and salt. Chronic stress also contributes to hypertension, which may be unwelcome news to people with high-intensity, fast-paced lifestyles.
During stressful situations blood pressure spikes, returning to its normal level after the experience passes. People who are constantly stressed, though, may be at a greater risk of raising their blood pressure in the long-run, especially if they tend to smoke, overeat, or exercise less when they are under a lot of stress. As Eddie’s students can attest to, yoga steps in to provide the tools for self-soothing and mindfulness, so critical to stress-reduction. Hopefully in the near future we’ll know even more about the amazing medical and emotional benefits of a regular yoga practice. But until then, we’ll take the smiles and calm, glowing faces as proof enough.