Many people complain of a tired, heavy, aching feeling in their legs by the end of the day, a result of inefficient function of dilated, lengthened, tortuous, varicose veins. This easily recognizable condition only occurs in man and is related to the special circulatory stresses involved in maintaining an upright posture.
Yoga therapy brings relief to sufferers of this condition and aids in correcting and restoring damaged veins to their former condition. This is especially true of early cases where damage is not yet severe.
The condition is characteristic of middle and old age, but can occur at any time following damage to muscles and veins of the legs. It can be a result of an hereditary tendency, occurring in families from generation to generation, and frequently accompanies pregnancy. It is an occupational hazard for people who spend long periods of time on their feet, such as machine operators, process workers, traffic policemen, barbers, counter workers, cashiers and tellers.
How do varicose veins develop? To answer this question we must first consider the structure and function of the venous return system from the extremities back to the heart. In the average adult body, the column of venous blood must flow at least four feet uphill, against gravity, in order to enter the heart. This is quite an engineering feat which nature has accomplished through a system of one-way flow valves lying along the leg veins. The pumping action is established as the muscles of the thighs and calves contract with walking. These repeated contractions squeeze and milk the blood upwards along the veins towards the heart. The one-way valves within the veins serve to break up the column of blood and prevent it from flowing back down towards the feet.
It is also necessary to understand a little more about the network of veins draining each leg of blood. There are two systems of leg veins- the 'superficial' (flowing just beneath the skin) and the 'deep' (flowing within the muscles of the leg and thigh). The superficial system enters the deep system in two places - in the groin and behind the knee. In addition there are a number of perforating veins along the leg and thigh which interconnect the two systems. Varicose veins develop where the two systems are connected to each other. Normally, blood in the superficial system flows into the deep system, the junctions between the two being protected by one-way valves which prevent any back flow from deep to superficial. Now consider what happens when standing straight and erect. The muscle pump is inactive and the whole weight of the static column of blood, exerting pressures up to 90mm Hg, is bearing down upon the valves.
A varicose vein can occur in three interrelated ways:
The most common complaint of varicose vein sufferers is the above mentioned fatigue and discomfort by the end of each day. This may be accompanied by sharp, well localized pains in the sites of the varicose veins, swelling of the ankles by evening and an itchiness of the skin of the legs. Others find the unsightliness of their varicose veins embarrassing and socially restricting, feeling obliged to keep the veins covered when in public and consequently limiting their activities.
Fortunately, utilizing a combination of common sense, yoga practices and medical science, a satisfactory solution to most varicose vein problems can be found.
By adopting simple measures such as these, much relief can be gained. They have an added, inbuilt benefit- serving as methods of increasing self awareness within the daily routine.
Asanas are very effective in the treatment of varicose veins, providing relief from symptoms and, in some cases, allowing incompetent valves to regain their efficacy. Many sufferers have reported great improvement in their condition with regular and consistent practice of these asanas.
All the inverted asanas are most important. They allow the stagnant pooled blood to drain back to the heart, permitting damaged veins to resume more normal dimensions and facilitating valvular competence. Remember to rest in shavasana after any inverted posture.
Sarvangasana (the shoulder stand) should be adopted for several minutes, morning and evening and whenever the legs feel tired and heavy during the day. Sirshasana (the head stand), although an excellent practice for the condition, is an advanced posture and should not be attempted by beginners nor adopted for long periods of time except under competent, direct supervision.
Asanas which stretch the muscles of the legs, toning and developing the muscle pump, should be practiced regularly as, in many cases, the problem of varicose veins manifests because the pumping system is inefficient and weak. Where the muscles are small and flabby, greater strain and pressure is applied to the valves. It is often the case that when the efficiency of the pumping system is improved through the practice of these asanas, the signs and symptoms of varicose veins disappear. Sumeru asana is excellent for this purpose. The heels must be brought to the floor if possible, stretching the calf muscles to their maximum. Tadasana is especially good for stretching the veins and enhancing the muscle pump. Pada hastasana and paschimottanasana, when correctly performed, bring a positive pressure to bear on the leg muscles which will be appreciated. Cycling (pawanmuktasana ex. 18) is especially beneficial for the veins and muscles of the thighs. Surya namaskara is a dynamic asana series with profound benefits. A few rounds should be included at the beginning of the morning program.
Note; All these practices are fully described in Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha', a BSY publication.
Surgical removal of varicose veins may be found necessary where the condition is severe or incapacitating. It must be remembered, however that surgery does not remove the tendency to varicose veins and often other, previously unaffected veins may become varicose at a later time. Therefore, those who undergo surgical treatment for their condition should adopt the asana program given to facilitate venous return and avoid the possibility of further operations in the future.
There are two main treatments of varicose veins:
It is up to the individual to decide which treatment is best suited to his condition. The decision will depend on the severity of the case and the individual's motivation to help himself. All degrees of varicose veins can be effectively treated through a combination of these therapies.
We suggest you initially try the simpler, self-administered therapies, with special emphasis on the given asana program. Varicose veins do not develop overnight and you should not expect to spontaneously reverse the condition for it will take some time.
Through practice of these asanas you will, however, gain immediate relief from aching legs. Over a period of weeks or months, by developing the muscle pump and emptying the veins of stagnant blood, surprising results can be obtained - especially where the veins are not grossly abnormal to begin with. It is worthwhile to try this approach before rushing off to the surgeon.