According to a study conducted in the Department of Physiology, PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (PSGIMS R), Coimbatore, India, Ujjayi Pranayama and Shavasana significantly decreased the heart rate (HR), the systolic blood pressure (SP) and diastolic blood pressure (DP) with a p value of < 0.0001 just after 6 weeks of yoga practice. This short six week regime of pranayama practice alone showed significant improvement in the para-sympathetic (vagal) functions, which, in turn, suppressed the sympathetic activity, thereby, denoting the para-sympathetic dominance over the cardiovascular system.
Yoga practice usually takes a while to show results. Ujjayi Breathing, perhaps is one exception to this rule. Which shows an immediate effect on high BP. During my therapy classes, I personally have witnessed and recorded the same result. We have authenticated the result by recording the Blood Pressure and Heart Rate before and after, Ujjayi and Shavasan practice, with the help of trained nurses.
Ujjayi is one of the important pranayamas described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classical Yoga text. One needs to gradually elevate one’s practice from the first to the fourth stage, in sequence, to reach the final stage of this Pranayama. People suffering from High BP would experience immense benefits by performing Ujjayi at Level-I & Level-II alone. Until the BP is under control and without the advice of doctor, please do not go beyond Level-II.
Relationship between Ujjayi and Carotid Sinus
The carotid sinus contains numerous baroreceptors which function as a “sampling area” for many homeostatic mechanisms for maintaining blood pressure. The glossopharyngeal nerve synapses in the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) located in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem. The NTS indirectly modulates the activity of sympathetic and parasympathetic (vagal) neurons in the medulla and pons through the hypothalamus. These neurons then regulate the autonomic control of the heart and blood vessels. The carotid sinus can be oversensitive to manual stimulation, a condition known as carotid sinus hypersensitivity, carotid sinus syndrome or carotid sinus syncope, in which manual stimulation causes large changes in heart rate and/or blood pressure.
In Ujjayi, you slightly constrict the air passage at the back of your throat, while inhaling and exhaling. As you contract the back of the throat, your glottis is partially closed and you inhale and exhale from a partial open glottis. Applying this soft constriction gives out a signal to the brain that high blood pressure has been detected. The brain automatically ensures a drop in the high blood pressure and the heartbeat.
Applying Khechari Mudra (in which you roll your tongue in by stretching it from the root so that the tip of the tongue can touch the root of the throat), the pressure is further gently accentuated on the two carotid sinuses, amplifying the overall effect, on parasympathetic tone and getting your High BP under control.
Whether breathing normally, in Ujjayi or with Khechari Mudra, it is important that the inhalation and exhalation is slow, soft, deep and long without any tension in the throat muscles. Tension, in any form, might have a contrary impact.
People suffering from high BP should practice only level I & II of ujjayi, that too, in the form of breathing and not as a Pranayama (where you hold/retain your breath).
The best part of Ujjayi breathing (not pranayama) is that it can be practiced anywhere, anytime and in any position. It can be done while you are lying down, travelling in the car or while watching a movie. Make this practice a habitual one even during your errands to keep your Blood Pressure, Heart Rate and Thyroid in control.
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Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.