Can yoga cure your COVID stress? A new study from Texas State University tests the theory.

“The pandemic has raised my blood pressure,” she said. “It never reached an alarming level, but I could definitely feel it. It was high for me.

Allen bought two blood pressure monitors and started taking measurements, while trying out different yoga breathing techniques. It turns out that the slow, expansive breathing at the heart of certain practices helped lower his blood pressure.

“And that’s important to me,” she said.

Allen is a certified doula, perinatal yoga teacher and childbirth educator. She is also passionate about helping others reduce stress and blood pressure.

This concept is under the microscope at Texas State University in February.

Stacy Hunter, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performancereceived a $400,000 grant in November from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health to support her research, “Yoga Postures and Slow Deep Breathing in Altering Mechanistic Outcomes in Hypertension.”

Participants between the ages of 40 and 60 will be monitored for blood pressure, immunity and vascular function as they practice 12 weeks of yoga.

“I’m interested in the relationship between the immune system and blood pressure regulation,” she said. “Immunity isn’t just about fighting off viruses. A growing body of research shows how the immune system plays a role in hypertension, diabetes, and other diseases.

Hunter explained that free radicals, highly reactive cells, normally exist in the body; their production increases with age.

“We produce them all the time for normal metabolic function,” she said. “We need free radicals. They play a role in cell signaling.

The problem arises when too many are produced, Hunter explained. Then, free radicals damage the cells.

“Free radicals can prevent blood vessels from widening as much,” she said.

But antioxidants help break down free radicals.

In the study, Hunter hopes to determine whether yoga increases antioxidant capacity. The survey will also reveal whether yoga breathing techniques are able to reduce hypertension on their own – or whether breathing should be combined with poses to maximize the benefits.

Hunter’s lab recently published a study on yoga breathing techniques. Participants practiced for 20 minutes a day, four or five times a week, resulting in significant improvement in vasodilation, or widening of blood vessels. This leads to greater blood circulation and less pressure on the walls of blood vessels.

The NIH grant will allow Hunter to further study the benefits of yoga breathing techniques.

She has been studying the health benefits of yoga since 2008, when she was still a graduate student.

In the past, she has focused on arterial stiffness, which is also linked to hypertension and other diseases. She found that yoga practitioners in their 20s demonstrated improvements in arterial stiffness, while participants over 40 did not. Those between 40 and 70, however, showed better vasodilation.

His current study may shed more light on how yoga techniques can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the meantime, Houston yoga instructors have a number of recommendations for reducing stress and blood pressure.

Allen points to a number of different breathing techniques used in yoga that can be beneficial, such as “ujjayi breathing,” used to calm the mind and focus on the breath.

Allen also uses “bhramari pranayama,” another calming breathing practice that includes vocalization.

“A lot of times people don’t know how to breathe deeply because their heart is so tight,” she said. “We rely on vocalization because it forces you to exhale. And when you exhale completely, it’s more natural to inhale.

Allen explained that stress can affect physical, emotional, spiritual or mental health.

“One thing is for sure, when we breathe consciously and expansively, we disrupt stress patterns,” Allen said. “And when we disrupt stress patterns, we make way for other possibilities.”

Amanda Hale, founder of Yoga Tressaid that all of the instructors in his practice lead the students by synchronizing the breath with the movement.

“It creates long, even breathing,” she said. “It helps release stress and lowers your blood pressure.”

Hale added that her students often complain of higher stress levels when they are unable to attend their regular yoga classes.

“They can tell,” she said. “They know they have to come. It’s up to us to feel truly grounded. For me, this is also true with my mental health and stress reduction.

By focusing on the breath, Hale explained, students become present. They are not capable of obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.

“In our classes, we focus on being in time and being in tune with your body,” she said. “We want everyone to drop what happens outside of the classroom.”

Hale recommends several poses for stress relief, including the seated forward bend, or pashchimottanasana. In a seated position, just bend forward, bend over your toes, keep your back flat.

“You’ll feel a lengthening,” Hale said. “Take a deep, long breath. This allows you to lower your heart rate and drop all the tension in your body.

A similar move is the standing forward bend, or uttanasana. This time, stand with your knees slightly bent. “Just let your upper body curl up,” Hale said. “Relax your head, all the tension in your neck and jaw.”

The downward facing dog, or adho mukha svanasana, is a more active pose that can help lower blood pressure, Hale said.

She also recommends the Legs Up the Wall pose, or viparita karani. Here you sit as close to the wall as possible, raise your legs and put them on the wall.

“You’re in a resting position and you can deepen your breathing and calm down,” Hale said.

She recommends taking a break during the day to try some of these moves and reduce tension.

The studio will soon launch virtual yoga classes and a meditation course to help even more focus on the breath and reduce anxiety.

Hale wants to make yoga and meditation as accessible as possible, allowing more people to benefit from lowering blood pressure and lowering stress.

“A lot of people mistakenly think that you have to already be fit or flexible to try yoga,” she said. “That is absolutely not true. And being present, using the breathing techniques, can affect all aspects of your life.

The techniques are particularly helpful when people are trying to navigate COVID, Hale added.

“With all the stress of the pandemic and the upheaval it has caused in their lives, they need something to ground them,” she said. “Yoga can help with that.”

Lindsay Peyton is a freelance writer based in Houston.

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