In previous articles we explained the doshic causes of hypertension. When for instance Vata dominates in the body, it will accumulate first in its main seat – the colon – or other Vata-sites, such as the nerves. If it’s not balanced, the dosha will have the tendency to spread beyond its normal seat: “vitiation”. In the next stage the dosha moves out of its home seat and begins to circulate in the body. There are still no specific symptoms, but now some vague, non-specific symptoms may occur such as aches or mild malaise. So according to Ayurveda, at the time we will start to have symptoms, we may find ourselves already in the third stage of disbalance. And now it is essential to start balancing the doshas and maintain health, before disease kicks in. For this reason Ayurveda’s main focus is on disease prevention. If the doshic balance is maintained, disease will not develop.
But how does imbalance occur, leading to possible hyper-tension in the first place? According to Ayurveda, unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyles are the primary causes of hypertension today. Most of the food items that we consume are fast foods or items packed with preservatives and chemicals. They will create digestive problems in the body, leading to the accumulation of Ama (toxins), and this will further lead to the high blood pressure. Ama is also being produced when we eat incompatible foods (for instance a Vata person eating Vata-aggravating foods), in incompatible combinations and following incompatible lifestyles.
In general the major causes of hypertension are the following:
- Toxins (Ama) that accumulate in the body tissues.
- Weak/impaired digestion.
- Poor nutrition, unhealthy eating habits (incompatible foods, fast foods, too much fat etc).
- A hectic lifestyle.
- Too much (physical, mental, emotional) stress.
- Dosha imbalances.
- Hardening of the arteries.
- Smoking and an excessive intake of intoxicants.
- Lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle.
- Insufficient rest and sleep.
- Family history of hypertension.
- Imbalance of the nervous system.
- Disruption of natural biological rhythms
High blood pressure and the mind
The Mind has a strong influence on the heart, according to Ayurveda. If someone has mental stress, this may lead to the onset of hypertension. Mental stress accumulates in the physical body, but starts in the brain, which is the gateway between the mind and the body. Ayurveda believes that stress is largely caused by an imbalance in Prana Vayu. This subdosha of Vata moves downward from the head into the body and regulates nervous impulses, including heart rate and blood pressure. When Prana Vayu is disturbed, hypertension can occur due to excessive sympathetic stimulation. But as we have said before, hypertension can also result from genetic or lifestyle factors. These are caused by unhealthy/stressful mental patterns, which affect the circuits of the brain leading to high blood pressure.
Treatment of hypertension
Research has shown that practicing yoga (including poses or asanas, breathing techniques and meditation) lowers blood pressure. It is a great and natural way to release all the different types of stress (mental, emotional and physical). Yoga postures (asanas) help in regulating the blood pressure by stabilizing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and bring balance to the autonomous nervous system, a center that controls stress. It also enhances the functioning of the endocrine glands, digestive organs, heart and other organs.
Food and diet
Ayurveda recognizes that the diet is an essential part of treating hypertension. All three doshas ( Vata, Pitta, Kapha) may cause an aggravation of blood pressure, therefore the general diet for hypertension must pacify the Tridosha. The golden rule for this diet, is that it should consist of easily digestible foods that are nutritious and pure. Recommended are the fol-lowing dietary guidelines:− Eat meals that are low in saturated fats. Saturated fats and cholesterol are widely accepted to be the causes of coronary heart disease. A lot of processed foods like pastries, cakes, biscuits, and crisps have high amounts of saturated fats. “Healthy fats” are recommended, like cold pressed oils (e.g. avocado, flax seed and olive oil), ghee (clarified butter) and fatty fish, since that protect the heart and arteries.− Avoid hot and spicy foods, which are difficult to digest.− Eat more vegetables and fruits (juices), and sprouted vegetables (e.g. alfalfa, broccoli and clover sprouts). Fresh fruits are very useful in fighting high blood pressure. Indian Goose-berry, grapes, banana, guava and watermelon are considered beneficial. Dry fruits are also considered to be harmless.− Have more rice, whole grains (avoid white flower products: white bread, white pasta), whole wheat bread etc.− Choose low-fat over full-fat dairy products, since the latter ones contain more saturated fats.− Avoid meat as much as you can, especially red meat. − Avoid chocolates and sweets.− Limit sodium in the diet. − Limit caffeine intake (coffee, black tea, Red Bull, cola etc). Caffeine enhances the action of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are both important in increasing blood pressure levels. Herbal teas are warmly recommended though.
Ayurveda says living naturally according to some simple principles can prevent suffering needlessly from debilitating conditions. Learning to listen to our body and reading the signals of distress can help maintain health, and lead a more productive and contented life.
Normalize your body weight
An important step in lowering blood pressure or avoiding hypertension is normalizing body weight. In addition, los-ing weight may help reduce total cholesterol levels in the blood as well. High cholesterol is in fact a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to the heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, merely maintaining a healthy body weight, doesn’t necessarily entail normal cholesterol levels, because this will depend solely on the amount of cholesterol in someone’s diet. This doesn’t mean one has to stop eating fat, because fats have many essential func-tions for our overall health. Ayurveda, however, advises to reduce the intake of saturated and trans fats in our diet. Sa-turated fats are found in foods like butter, ice cream, other full-fat dairy products, eggs, fatty meats, and some oils. Trans fats are mostly found in margarines, cookies, crackers and cakes. Any diet for hypertension should be low in both these fats, also low in salt, easily digestible and preferably vegetarian. An effective way to reduce cholesterol and ex-cess fats is to soak one teaspoon of fenugreek seed in wa-ter overnight and chew them early in the morning on an empty stomach.
Avoid or reduce stress
Avoid or reduce stress (all types: physical, emotional and mental) as much as possible. Practicing yoga, breathing exercises (Pranayama) and meditation is very effective, but so are hobbies and exercise. Don’t suppress your feelings – let out your frustrations and sorrow. Speak your mind and tell colleagues, friends etc. about your problems – this can help in venting your feelings, which will reduce stress.
Be in balance
Try to have a lifestyle that does not disturb your natural body rhythms. When we eat, sleep and exercise in constantly fluctuating and disturbing patterns, the body loses its natural balancing cycles and cannot cleanse or heal it-self as effectively. Therefore, regularity in our daily routine can be extremely effective in reducing physiological imbalance at the basis of hypertension.
Communicate the truth in a tactful manner. Hiding the truth gives stress and pressure, boosting again our blood pressure, and wearing away our life force. It will cost us the energy that would otherwise be used to keep us healthy.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to lower blood pressure. But it has to be suitable for your health condition. Too much exercise will have the opposite effect, and create stress on the body. In case of tiredness, ill health, or when you’re not used to exercise, start with walking and gradually work up to exercise routines suitable for your health condition. Walking, jogging, athletics, swimming or cycling are best preferred. However, walking is the best of all these activities – it also reduces tension and stress.
− Chronic anger produces elevation in blood pressure and it can be a serious risk factor for coronary heart disease. So be gentle, speak softly – even if it is in case of extreme displeasure.
Laughter is the best (and cheapest) therapy. It is actually as good as relaxation therapy, exercise or other methods used to overcome stress. Studies show that laughter decreases adrenaline and cortisone production. Even if you have to fake it, try to laugh even when you’re irritated, frustrated, angry or unhappy.
Love and respect
When when it’s difficult: be loving and respectful towards yourself and others. Love and affection, and affectionate touch can significantly drop your blood pressure. Loving attention (for your body as well: touch, massages!) is perhaps the best medicine you can give yourself.