Hypertension or high blood pressure is a common malady affecting people world over. WHO regards it as one of the most important risk factors for death. Literature suggests that around 57% of all stroke related deaths and 24% of coronary artery disease deaths in India are directly related to hypertension. And on top of that, it is a silent killer-often presenting with no overt signs or symptoms. Thus, the pressing need for increasing public awareness, access to early detection and treatment.

Although diagnostic thresholds keep getting revised in tandem with new scientific evidence, hypertension is generally defined in adults as systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 140mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 90mmHg. Regular check-ups with a family doctor will ensure early detection.

But as they say, prevention is better than cure. Several factors can lead to high blood pressure and by being aware of them, one can take appropriate efforts in preventing the non-genetic risks. An important one these days is the ubiquitous entity called stress. Be it man, woman, youth or old, it is hard to come across folk who are untouched by stress-such are the travails of modern times. Indeed, the importance of adapting a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits in warding off this beast called stress, cannot be ‘stress’ed enough!

Prevention, if possible, is all the more crucial because treatment comes with its own problems. It is well known now that most, if not all, Allopathic drugs come with a long list of harmful side effects. And anti-hypertensive drugs are no exception. I am not saying that one should never take Allopathic drugs, for they can be life-saving in some situations and in certain circumstances, there is no viable alternative. But by and large, if one can control one’s blood pressure without resorting to chemicals and drugs-that sure is desirable.

Fortunately for us, help is at hand-in the form of the wonderful technique called yoga nidra. This ancient tool, practiced by sages thousands of years ago, is well documented in our Upanishads and is a widely recognised step on the path of raja yoga (known as pratyahara). ‘Nidra’ means sleep. The usual state of sleep is not only unconscious but also predominantly associated with dreaming, hence not restful. Yoga nidra, on the other hand, is a state of deep yet conscious sleep-thus also known as yogic sleep. Besides being an important tool in spiritual ascension, this unique technique imparts deep relaxation at all levels-physical, emotional and mental. Thus, it not only acts as a powerful stress buster but heals the body right at the cellular level. The benefits of practising this ancient art are innumerable but to speak specifically in context of hypertension, it is a highly effective anti-hypertensive.

However, many educated people find it difficult to accept stuff that has no scientific validation. Where is the proof, they ask! Well, for the benefit of the masses, I am glad to say there is. It is precisely for this reason that a pilot study was carried out by a group of scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition ICMR, Hyderabad, India and was sponsored by Rishi Chaitanya Trust.

A team of seven experienced doctors studied the effects of yoga nidra in patients with established hypertension. Besides measuring blood pressure, they also carried out blood tests for specific markers like lipid profile, glucose, insulin, cortisol etc. And thirdly, they evaluated the effect of yoga nidra on stress, depression and anxiety. There was a control group (who did not practice yoga nidra) and an intervention group (who practised yoga nidra).

The details of this study and its results are available for anyone who would like to do so. But to summarise the main results: there was a significant rectification of blood pressure levels, a significant improvement in mental status, and a significant lowering of harmful chemicals like cortisol and lipids like triglyceride; lowering of blood glucose, glycated haemoglobin and increase in beneficial substances like adiponectin.

This may all seem like medical jargon to lay folk but the take home message from this study is that yoga nidra has been scientifically found to be a highly beneficial tool in treating hypertension, stress, depression and anxiety along with added benefits which will help people suffering from obesity and diabetes as well. And the icing on the cake is that there are only desirable effects-no unwanted side effects whatsoever! Say No! to hypertension by saying Yes! to Yoga Nidra.