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By Allison Marsden, PT, DPT, OCS, PYT-C


Imagine this scenario….following your annual physical examination, your health care practitioner says, “You have hypertension.” This is shocking news. After all, you are young, active, and feel the same as you did last year at your physical exam. While you are trying to sort through why this happened, your health care practitioner is going through all of your options and recommendations to help manage your high blood pressure. Somewhere in the discussion you hear the words “diet, weight, exercise, and stress.” You are given educational information and possibly a sample medication then sent on your way.

Now what? Do you have to take the medication forever? What about all of those side effects? Is there anything else you can do to lower your blood pressure and reduce your cardiovascular risk? These are great questions to ask and I encourage you to discuss this with your physician before you leave the office.   Sometimes blood pressure is so high that we need quick medicine. We need to take medication to reduce blood pressure and reduce our risk. Other times we can use slow medicine. Slow medicine involves the words you heard earlier — diet, weight loss, exercise, and stress management. But let’s face it, it is hard to make these lifestyle changes alone. Many of us need guidance and support. Your doctor may suggest joining a yoga class. What if you have never practiced yoga and are concerned about an old back injury getting in the way of your success?

shutterstock_59839630One path may be to see a Professional Yoga Therapist (PYT) and utilize yoga to compliment conventional medicine. A PYT is a health care professional, such as a physical therapist, athletic trainer, or nurse practitioner, who is also trained in Medical Therapeutic Yoga. A PYT can individualize your yoga practice to address specific needs.

The PYT method addresses the Pentagon of Wellness, including physical, energetic, psycho-emotional-social, intellectual, and spiritual wellness. So let’s put the Pentagon of Wellness to use for the scenario above.

To address physical wellness, a functional movement assessment is performed and specific postures (asanas) are selected to restore spinal stabilization, strength, balance, and flexibility. The PYT method places priority on protection of the spine in all yoga postures. Careful attention is placed on optimal biomechanical alignment of the spine within each pose. Nutritional guidance may also be included to reduce salt intake, lose belly fat, and reduce systemic inflammation (related to osteoarthritis and increased cardiovascular risk).

The energetic limb may be addressed with a breath practice (pranayama). Abdomino-diaphragmatic breath or sand bag breathing may be used to improve blood gas exchange and overall energy (prana). A regular breath practice along with understanding sleep hygiene may be included to improve sleep quality.


Yoga postures, breath work, and hand postures (mudras) may be included to address psycho-emotional-social wellness. Yoga breath and posture practices affect neuro-endocrine function, stimulating the parasympathic nervous system (responsible for rest and restore mode). This decreases stress hormones released into the body. It promotes the relaxation response and a feeling of calm. Socially yoga can bring together like-minded individuals who appreciate and offer support for slow medicine. Regular group practice can be helpful in staying on a wellness path and working towards health goals.

Intellectual wellness may be simply learning the names of the yoga poses and how to perform the postures correctly. Learning what yoga postures are best to promote relaxation and what yoga postures may require modification to protect the spine. Perhaps yoga fundamental precepts (yamas and niyamas) may be included as reminders of how to behave towards self and others in a way that reduces negativity and daily stress responses. Practices of mindfulness and meditation may also be included to address learning more about self and developing intellectual wellness.

Spiritual wellness is also important and growth in this area will depend on the individual’s spiritual readiness. PYT is a non-dogmatic approach and therefore teaches yoga therapy separate from any religious connection.   Spiritual wellness may offer itself through a walk in the park, prayer, watching the sun set, seeing children play, or finding a higher purpose or meaning to life (Dharma).

By addressing all areas of wellness through Medical Therapeutic Yoga and the PYT method, we can reduce cardiovascular risk and influence blood pressure. These are just two of the many health benefits associated with the regular yoga practice. Discover the additional benefits of yoga practice by scheduling an appointment with a Professional Yoga Therapist near you. Visit under the patient portal for information.





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