Yoga and Ayurveda for the Heart

The darkness of night is coming along fast, and
The shadows of love close in the body and the mind.
Open the window to the west, and disappear into the air inside you.
Near your breastbone there is an open flower,
Drink the honey that is all around that flower.
Waves are coming in; there is so much magnificence near the ocean!
Listen: Sound of big seashells! Sound of bells!
Kabir says: Friend, listen, this is what I have to say:
The Guest I love is inside me!
— Kabir

by Patricia Wickman

The Heart is an organ of perception, says psychotherapist, herbalist and teacher Stephen Harrod Buhner. Buhner explains that at the formation of a heart, a few pace-maker cells start beating and that other heart cells start to join in, like members of a marching band, until all the cells are beating together. This group tapping is not limited to an individual body, but reaches out and entrains the beating cells of other hearts around it:

When the heart field of a healer and patient meet…the electrocardiograph (ECG) or heart pattern of the healer can be found in both the ECG and electroencephalograph or brain patterns of the patient. The heart field of the healer literally paces the patient into new patterns of health (Buhner 40).

This is the kind of evolution of the heart that fascinates me as the recipient and giver of the healing available through yoga and Ayurveda.

It is important to note that there are many heart ailments that require the use of western medications. These drugs facilitate the functioning of the heart in ways that diet, lifestyle and herbs cannot do. This is particularly true in cases where there is damage to the heart tissue itself. Having said that, Ayurveda and yoga provide complementary or preventive methods for maintaining healthy heart functioning.

Preventing heart-related imbalances and helping to correct them once they are already present is an individual process and depends on how the doshas present themselves. People with a predominance of the Vata (air and ether) dosha are more prone to dryness and hardness in the physical channels of the heart. The emotional component to this is the struggle to love and approve of oneself and the ability to give and receive love from others. Pitta (fire and water) heart imbalances are hot and inflammatory on the physical level and involve anger and resentment on the emotional plane. Kapha (earth and water) heart issues are congestive in nature. One quality of kapha is that it is sticky and on an emotional level this manifests as attachments—especially to past hurts. Add to the three doshas all of the other holistic components that come together in a human being (including all of the relationships a person is in with other people) and you have an intricate set of circumstances! When I contemplate the complexity of the heart, what comes to mind is the huge rotary with roads leading to and from L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Ayurvedic practitioners give case-specific recommendations to their clients. Some of the methods of heart treatment include flower essences, gems, herbs, dietary recommendations, mantras, individualized meditation techniques, yoga postures, conscious, deep breathing and more. The heart recommendations for a Vata person will include practices that bring unctuousness, grounding, stabilization, and nourishment. Pitta recommendations will be cooling, anti-inflammatory, soothing, and loving. Kapha recommendations will be depleting, detoxifying and mobilizing in nature.

One of my favorite heart treatments for a person of any dosha is called the Uro Basti. This is the exquisitely unique technique of placing a dam made of dough around the heart. The healer pours a thick layer of herbalized oil or ghee (clarified butter) into the dam. In Sanskrit the term “sneha” means both fat and love. While the oil/love rests over the heart, the practitioner performs a healing touch sequence with specific focus on the layers of the person’s energy body or aura at the heart center. This may sound far-fetched to some, but consider that sensitive scientific equipment can detect heart electromagnetic waves up to 10 feet away from the person’s actual heart (Buhner 40). Think of this treatment as a means of clearing away the traffic jams at L’Arc de Triomphe, but on the much subtler or spiritual plane.

The beautiful ritualistic practice of Uro Basti aids one in healing the emotional imbalances that are at the root of physical heart ailments. It is a fantastic therapy for anyone who has a sad, heavy or grieving heart. It is particularly helpful for those suffering from loss of any kind, whether it is an unfulfilled hope, loss of a job, a pet or a family member. One person reported after having this therapy that she felt as if her heart were being cradled by the oil—that somehow the oil seemed to have gone in and underneath her heart to provide the same kind of saturating and supporting love that a mother has for her infant.

I can attest personally to the heart healing that yoga and Ayurveda provide. Through these wonderful gifts from India, we can have access to greater physical, emotional, and spiritual heart health. A hard heart can transform to a fleshy heart, a broken heart can be mended, a sad heart can be lifted and an empty heart can be filled with love, love, love.

Patricia Wickman is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Certified Panchakarma Technician and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds a BA in French Literature and has over ten years of teaching experience. She loves people and enjoys inspiring individuals to perceive their beauty and potential. She lives in Eau Claire, WI with her husband and two children.

Meditate Your Heart Healthy

Meditation has been a practice for centuries in the east, and while it’s just gaining popularity in other parts of the world now, research shows that the ancient Yogis were on to something way before their time. Meditation can train the brain to feel more compassion and happiness. A new study out of UW-Madison states that meditating monks showed more activity in the regions of the brain that involved processing empathy when given brain scans while testing emotional cues. So bring more happiness to yourself and others by practicing meditation regularly. It could do the world a whole lot of good.

Take Healthy Heart Action

It takes a lot of conscious thought and life approach to maintain a strong and healthy heart. Eat a rainbow of colors. Dr. Linda Van Horn, a nutritionist and a clinical nutrition epidemiologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says, “Colorful vegetables and fruits are where the majority of antioxidants, isoflavones, and other phytochemicals exist.” Aim for 8 servings a day.

Prime Choices: Avocados, Artichokes, Grapefruit.

Many herbs like garlic, ginger, and turmeric also have healthy, anti-inflammatory benefits for your heart.

Alcohol

Alcohol also has been found to have heart healthy benefits. Limit yourself to one glass of wine a day. Or grab some grapes, which have all the same benefits as wine plus the added fiber of the grape skins.

Beans

Many of us stay away from beans because of the after affects; however, beans can be one of the best things you can eat to protect your heart.

The soluble fiber in beans helps reduce risks by blocking cholesterol and fats from being absorbed into your bloodstream. More soluble fiber can lower your LDL by 5 to 10 percent. A recent study showed that eating a legume rich diet can lower your cholesterol by 14 points in only 4 weeks. Trish Ross, author of Easy Beans says, “At a time when most of us are trying to combat rising food prices, but eat healthfully, beans are the thing.”

Add beans to rice dishes, wraps, and even lasagna. Beans can not only fill out the meal, but make it more heart healthy too. You may want to start slow to avoid the gas troubles. Start with one serving a week for a few weeks and gradually add more. Preparing beans with ginger can also help soothe the stomach.

Garlic

New research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows that eating raw garlic is much healthier for you than dried varieties. In a test on rats recovering from heart attacks, those who were given fresh garlic had greater flow of blood to the aorta than those given processed garlic. The reasoning is thought that fresh garlic may increase the amount of hydrogen sulfide which helps relax blood vessels and increases circulation.

Fresh Garlic should be a daily requirement for obtaining long lasting heart health. Try incorporating more fresh garlic into meals or eating it straight up (if you’re brave enough).

Be Healthy, Be Hearty!

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Heart Health and Menopause

Did you know that after menopause, women burn 500 fewer calories daily? Keep your heart healthy by watching what you eat and adding more exercise into your schedule. Keeping these two things in balance will keep the pounds off while strengthening your muscles, lungs and heart.

Green Tea and Heart Disease

Bonus! You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: green tea is your heart’s best friend. Aim to drink one glass a day to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising HDL, or good cholesterol, levels.

Start brewing daily. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that green tea offers hope to millions of people who are and may suffer from heart disease.

Research began in 1994 on a group of 40,000+ 40 to 79 year olds with no history of stroke or heart disease. For 11 years they followed this group and found that those who drank 5 or more cups of green tea a day had 31% lower risk of heart disease than those who drank 1 cup or less. Do drink up and mix it up. Hot and Cold teas provide the same benefits and with the options of fruit and sweeteners like honey, you can enjoy a different beverage each time.

Am I at risk for heart disease?

You are at higher risk for heart disease if:

• You are a woman age 55 or older
• You are a man age 45 or older
• Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
• Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65
• The good news is that heart disease can be prevented.

Find more information at www.healthfinder.gov

February 4, 2011

Americans nationwide will wear red to show their support for women’s heart disease awareness on National Wear Red Day.