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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 whenyou’re doing yoga. But yoga and breathing techniques for relaxation are not off-limitsif you have hypertension.

A woman practicing deep breathing to reduce her high blood pressure

High blood pressure (HBP)is a serious health concern in the U.S. — almost 1 in 3 adults have it, includingabout 50% of women 55 and up. But you can still explore yoga breathing safely soyou 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 asyou work your way up toward being more consistent or having longer sessions.

set up for safe yoga breath work

Setting up for safe yoga breath work

Being comfortable and at ease is essential to develop a good, sustainable breathwork 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 feelsright to you. Make sure that you feel stable, supported and comfortable above all.

These resting postures are good for stress reduction and perfectly appropriate forperforming the breathing techniques.

Noticing your breath is the exact place to begin for this process. If you haven’treally done this before, it can seem strange at first. Just start off purposefullypaying attention to your breath, without trying to change it. Take note of how itfeels as the air travels in and out of your lungs over the course of several inhalesand exhales.

The simple act of noticing your breath brings you out of your emotional experienceand into presence with your body. The act of breathing is the most basic evidencethat 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, lengthenand calm it.

Whenever you practice any of the following step-by-step techniques, always beginby noticing of breath and how you feel.

1. Centering Breath

How to do it

1. Become aware of your breath. Take a normal cycleof breath through your nose.
2. Inhale — sip a long, deep and steady breath inthrough your nose. Allow the heart, ribs and belly to lift and spread with thisinhalation.
3. Exhale — gently press the air out of your bodywith the steady, slow and deep rhythm. Your heart, ribs and belly will soften andcontract inward.
4. Now take a few regular breath cycles — just yournormal breathing.
5. Repeat this back and forth process about 5-10times: regular breath, long breath cycle, regular breath.
6. Before moving on from your practice, give yourselftime to normalize your breathing, notice how you feel, and acknowledge the effortyou made to center yourself.

The benefits: This breathing technique draws youback to your center. It draws more oxygen into your lungs, invites calm and lowersblood pressure.

2. Lengthened Exhalation

How to do it

1. Again, begin with noticing your breath as it isin this moment. Take a few rounds of gentle and regular respiration to start.
2. Inhale — fill your belly, lungs and heart, noticinghow many counts it takes to fully, and comfortably inhale. Is it 3? 4? 5?
3. Exhale — allow your heart, lungs and belly tosoften. 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 or5, etc. Practice this level, even breathing for a few rounds.
4. Now, it’s time to lengthen your exhales by twoextra counts. So, if your inhalations were 3 counts, your exhales willnow be 5 counts, or 4:6… and so on.
5. You can always take a few regular breaths to bookendthese 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 breathsand come back to a natural breath pattern.
8. When complete, don't jump up and rush off. Acknowledgeyour efforts, then move slowly, taking the calmness you just cultivated with youas you move away from your practice.

The benefits: Lengthening the exhalation activatesthe calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress, loweringblood pressure, and bringing the body and mind into a state of peace.

woman demonstrating bhramari breath

3. Bhramari Breath (Bee Breath)

1. Breathe in and out at your regular pace, payingattention to your current state of mind-body-breath.
2. Close your eyes. Cover your ears with your handsto block outside sounds. Or gently place your index fingers or thumbs onthe cartilage of the inner ear (see images above.) But please don't stick your fingersinside your ears.
3. Breathe in slowly and deeply.
4. As you breathe out, make a humming sound thatshould last the entire length of the exhalation. It will sound like a honey beevibrating inside your body. Experiment with the pitch of your “hum”— high, medium,low.
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 withinyour body disperses.
6. Take a few moments of gentle respiration beforemoving on from your practice.

The benefits: Bee breath drowns out the din of bothexternal 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. Inthose 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, waitingin line, at the stop light, before a difficult conversation, as you prepare forbed. 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 thinkingabout it!

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Published: March 4, 2019 - Last Updated: April 6, 2021

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