And What to do Instead.
A Yoga Therapy Perspective
We often think of Balasana (child’s pose) and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) as absolutely safe, go-to poses in Yoga, but did you know that for some students suffering from some Cardiovascular diseases, these poses are not recommended?
For example, a yoga student with heart failure and/or lower leg oedema (swelling in the lower legs), drainage of fluid from the legs in Viparita Karani, entering the general circulation system, can place increased work load on the heart.
In Balasana, the damaged heart muscle may not be able to work against the pressure of the compressed abdominal core.
Atherosclerosis versus Arteriosclerosis
It is helpful to remember that atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are often used interchangeability but there is a difference.
Atherosclerosis is a build up of plaque on the blood vessel walls.
Arteriosclerosis is when the blood vessel walls become thick and stiff, but both have a similar effect on the delivery of blood and nutrients to the tissues. This is especially so when the demand for oxygen is increased and can result in:
– Reduced ability to adjust to the changes in body position.
Impact on the body
This reduced blood flow through the arteries and capillaries, will impact the health of the cells in the tissues. The capillaries collection of the metabolic wastes from the tissues and cells is also reduced, as is the lymphatic system removal of these wastes. Fluid build-up in the tissues, oedema, greatly impacts the health of the tissues.
This is especially noticeable in the lower body area such as the legs. The ability of a damaged cardiovascular system to return blood to the heart, against gravity is greatly compromised.
Therefore, any inversion or even simply raising the legs above the heart, draining fluid back to the central circulation has to be done gradually and carefully or there will be increased workload on the heart.
Safe Alternatives for Viparita Karani
Instead, we can offer certain students these alternatives:
- The visualisation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) from a seated position, rather than holding Balasana for long periods.
- For a resting position or Savasana alternative, have the student lie on the right side of the body, with the head and left leg supported with props.
*Excerpt from Yoga and Chronic Diseases in the Over 65s Course with Liz Williams.