Yoga and Medicine

By Dr McLanahan, MD (Swami Amritananda Ma)

Question: What can be done about varicose veins? Can Yoga exercises help alleviate this condition?

In answering this, I would begin with the central focus of preventive medicine: the posture. All of our nerves come out through the spine, including those which control the size of the blood vessels and the rate of blood flow. All circulation ultimately relates to the spine.

Like backache, varicose veins are most often caused by unnatural sitting. To sit for long periods with the legs extended below the trunk puts great stress on the lower limbs. The blood can return from the legs to the heart by contraction of the leg muscles only. Blood comes to the legs via the high-pressure arterial system, but returns by the low-pressure venous thorough fares, without the force of the heartbeat behind it. Only by the movement of the adjacent muscles is blood squeezed back up toward the heart. It is prevented from going back down by one way valves.

When we sit for a long time with the legs dangling down, bloods pools in the lower legs. When this happens, the veins distend and the one-way valves stretch and eventually break down. The blood supply is unable to return to the heart, causing a constant pooling which then show up as varicose veins. This is also true for those who stand all day.

So correct posture is the best way to deal with varicose veins. Sit as much as possible in a cross-legged position. You may think that such a position would cut off the circulation, actually it aids the heart by reducing the distance the blood must travel and prevents pooling. So it is advisable to sit on the floor, rather than in a chair, but even if a chair is preferred, you can bring the legs into a cross-legged position.

Yoga postures are especially important in the prevention and cure of varicosities. Particularly the shoulder stand and head stand increase the circulation to the legs. The draining effect of these postures avoids blood stagnation and prevents the critical valves from stretching.

If one cannot do the shoulder stand, the legs can be brought up to a 90 degree angle and held there or even supported by the wall. Either the shoulder stand or this modification should be done 3 times daily for a few minutes. Gradually increase to 10 minutes per session. Follow with a long version of the relaxation.

Of course, all the Yoga postures help tone up the circulation and thus would be beneficial. The only stipulation is that no strain be applied to the legs, e.g. in the forward bending.

In combination with the poses, it is important that proper weight be achieved (or even a little below average weight). Try to have a simple, pure vegetarian diet, consisting primarily of fruits, and vitamin E taken along with a teaspoon of sesame oil may be beneficial, as well as vitamin C.

Most important, remember to check the posture frequently and to keep the spine straight. If awareness of the posture is maintained, many troubles can be avoided.

Consciousness is the key to good health. Gradually we can learn to live within the laws of nature. Then we can begin to more perfectly express that immortal principle of which we are all the manifestations.