3 safe breathing techniques if you have high blood pressure
By Kelley Voegelin, RYT
Having high blood pressure can make you worry about overexerting yourself even when
you’re doing yoga. But yoga and breathing techniques for relaxation are not off-limits
if you have hypertension.
High blood pressure (HBP)
is a serious health concern in the U.S. — almost 1 in 3 adults have it, including
about 50% of women 55 and up. But you can still explore yoga breathing safely so
you can enjoy the benefits, and maybe even reduce your blood pressure as a bonus.
When working with your breath, you want it to feel smooth, steady and well-paced.
As you experiment with yoga breathing, stop and rest if it feels strained or uncomfortable.
You can reset your breathing rhythm if you restart slowly and take your time as
you work your way up toward being more consistent or having longer sessions.
Setting up for safe yoga breath work
Being comfortable and at ease is essential to develop a good, sustainable breath
work practice. You can choose a seated position on a meditation cushion or a chair,
or a restorative posture where you are supported by a bolster and folded blankets.
You can even do it lying down in Savasana or Corpse Pose if that feels
right to you. Make sure that you feel stable, supported and comfortable above all.
These resting postures are good for stress reduction and perfectly appropriate for
performing the breathing techniques.
Noticing your breath is the exact place to begin for this process. If you haven’t
really done this before, it can seem strange at first. Just start off purposefully
paying attention to your breath, without trying to change it. Take note of how it
feels as the air travels in and out of your lungs over the course of several inhales
The simple act of noticing your breath brings you out of your emotional experience
and into presence with your body. The act of breathing is the most basic evidence
that life moves through you. As soon as you bring awareness to breath, a shift occurs.
If you notice it is short, shallow or choppy, you have the ability to slow, lengthen
and calm it.
Whenever you practice any of the following step-by-step techniques, always begin
by noticing of breath and how you feel.
1. Centering Breath
How to do it
1. Become aware of your breath. Take a normal cycle
of breath through your nose.
2. Inhale — sip a long, deep and steady breath in
through your nose. Allow the heart, ribs and belly to lift and spread with this
3. Exhale — gently press the air out of your body
with the steady, slow and deep rhythm. Your heart, ribs and belly will soften and
4. Now take a few regular breath cycles — just your
5. Repeat this back and forth process about 5-10
times: regular breath, long breath cycle, regular breath.
6. Before moving on from your practice, give yourself
time to normalize your breathing, notice how you feel, and acknowledge the effort
you made to center yourself.
The benefits: This breathing technique draws you
back to your center. It draws more oxygen into your lungs, invites calm and lowers
2. Lengthened Exhalation
How to do it
1. Again, begin with noticing your breath as it is
in this moment. Take a few rounds of gentle and regular respiration to start.
2. Inhale — fill your belly, lungs and heart, noticing
how many counts it takes to fully, and comfortably inhale. Is it 3? 4? 5?
3. Exhale — allow your heart, lungs and belly to
soften. Make your exhale the same length as your inhale — Inhale to a count of 3
(or 4 or 5 — whatever your comfortable count is) , exhale to a count of 3, 4 or
5, etc. Practice this level, even breathing for a few rounds.
4. Now, it’s time to lengthen your exhales by two
extra counts. So, if your inhalations were 3 counts, your exhales will
now be 5 counts, or 4:6… and so on.
5. You can always take a few regular breaths to bookend
these longer exhales without counting or lengthening. Keep it simple and sweet.
Remember, never strain.
7. After 10 or so rounds, let go of the longer breaths
and come back to a natural breath pattern.
8. When complete, don't jump up and rush off. Acknowledge
your efforts, then move slowly, taking the calmness you just cultivated with you
as you move away from your practice.
The benefits: Lengthening the exhalation activates
the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress, lowering
blood pressure, and bringing the body and mind into a state of peace.
3. Bhramari Breath (Bee Breath)
1. Breathe in and out at your regular pace, paying
attention to your current state of mind-body-breath.
2. Close your eyes. Cover your ears with your hands
to block outside sounds. Or gently place your index fingers or thumbs on
the cartilage of the inner ear (see images above.) But please don't stick your fingers
inside your ears.
3. Breathe in slowly and deeply.
4. As you breathe out, make a humming sound that
should last the entire length of the exhalation. It will sound like a honey bee
vibrating inside your body. Experiment with the pitch of your “hum”— high, medium,
5. Practice about 5 or 6 rounds of breath this way.
Then release your hands and sit as the resonance of the sound and vibration within
your body disperses.
6. Take a few moments of gentle respiration before
moving on from your practice.
The benefits: Bee breath drowns out the din of both
external and internal distractions — distractions that fan the fires of stress,
suffering and anxiety. When these distractions are quelled, even for a few moments,
we can feel clear and calm, while hypertension is reduced.
Take your breath work practice anywhere
You don’t have to be in a yoga studio to embrace these beneficial practices. In
those moments throughout the day when you feel stressed, heated, anxious or rushed,
simply pause and breath for a minute or more.
With your breath, you have the power to center yourself anywhere — at work, waiting
in line, at the stop light, before a difficult conversation, as you prepare for
bed. The more you are able to incorporate these practices into your daily life,
the more effects it will have on lowering your blood pressure.
Pretty powerful benefits for something you’ve been doing all this time without thinking