Can yoga and meditation prevent high blood pressure?


Devoted yogis often extol the virtues of their practice, from better sleep and improved fitness to what only the most devoted call “yoga butt.”

Now researchers at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre want to study if yoga, combined with meditation, can help lower blood pressure and prevent the onset of hypertension.

Dr. Sheldon Tobe and his team have begun the search for 70 patients to participate in the study, which will involve up to a 10-month commitment.

According to Tobe, participants in the study, dubbed HARMONY (Hypertension Analysis of Stress Reduction using Meditation & Yoga) will learn skills for decreasing stress, which is associated with elevated cardiovascular risk. Stress management is already a recommended treatment for patients with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease.

“My hope is that this may lead to the day when physicians can refer patients with high blood pressure to trained health practitioners who can deliver standardized, effective lifestyle therapy,” Dr. Tobe said in a statement.

For the study, participants will learn a form of relaxation therapy known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which includes meditation and yoga.

During the study period, subjects will participate in nine MBSR group sessions over a period of nine weeks, as well as one full-day retreat. Participants will also have to practice MBSR at home.

Researchers will also monitor participants’ blood pressure during monthly visits.

The study follows other research that confirms the health benefits of yoga and meditation:

  • A study published last year in the journal Lancet Oncology found that one hour per day of relaxation or meditation, combined with a specific diet and exercise regimen, may delay aging and increase life expectancy.
  • University of Montreal research published last February found that practitioners of Zen meditation are less susceptible to pain, and appear to use their training to maintain steady breath.
  • Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed of Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre founded a therapeutic yoga program tailored to each patient’s physical and mental needs. The program has been so successful it is expanding across Alberta and into B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario.
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