Today is Valentine's Day and heart shaped candies and cards abound. Perhaps you've seen doors plastered with dozens of paper hearts with a note saying, "This is a Heart Attack! Happy Valentine's Day." While gestures like these are made in the spirit of fun and love, let's pause to consider the heart and how Yoga Therapy can help keep it healthy. 715,000 Americans suffer from real heart attacks every year, and heart disease, caused by genetics, stress, or lifestyle, is the leading cause of deaths. Becoming educated in heart health and following a plan for prevention is truly the key to reversing this epidemic in our country. The yogic perspective that the heart is part of a whole being, and that our actions, emotions, and environment affect heart health, offers a comprehensive and holistic path to wellness and healing that is not found in Western medicine. Millions of Americans have discovered over the last quarter century that yoga heals. Overwhelming evidence persuaded former President Bill Clinton to turn to a yoga based holistic treatment plan after undergoing bypass surgery and angioplasty. He adopted a near Vegan diet, began walking, doing yoga stretches, reversed his heart disease and lost 24 pounds in the process. This is not to say, however, that modern medicine is wrong. For those patients with already blocked vessels subsequently damaged beyond normal function, or cardiomyopathy, open heart surgery is quite literally a life saver. According to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, open heart surgery alone saves the lives of about 500,000 Americans a year. The marvelous inventions, research, and developments in cardiology are an essential and respected aspect of cardiac health and wellness. Yet even after centuries and billions of dollars in allopathic research, 600,000 Americans still die of heart disease every year.
While modern medicine heals and alleviates disease and disorders, a solely medicinal approach is far less effective in healing the emotional, intellectual, and personality layers of the human entity. Ergo, a whole-body and comprehensive yoga based plan can heal and restore the heart to health. Eastern medicine offers this comprehensive, body-as-one belief system.
The seven chakras run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. As energy centers of the body, they perform natural functions and when balanced, the body achieves optimal health. The heart chakra is at the center. It connects the lower three chakras that encompass the physical world, with the upper three chakras that represent the spiritual world. As the pivotal balancing point, a healthy, balanced heart chakra is essential for full body health. Consequently out of balance or physically diseased, the heart chakra easily overpowers the other seven chakras. When this occurs, emotions associated with the heart, such as jealousy, lack of empathy, loneliness, co-dependency, possessiveness, or obsessive love, dominate our life. The opposite occurs when the heart chakra is healthy and in balance, and joy and love permeate our actions and thoughts.
Barbara Herring of Yoga Journal writes, “In sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anahata which means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” Its name implies that deep beneath our personal stories of brokenness and the pain in our heart, wholeness, boundless love, and a wellspring of compassion reside.” A yoga practice focused on keeping the heart chakra open and healthy includes asanas that enliven and open the chest. Try gentle chest openers, like lying on a bolster or blanket, Gomukasana (cows head pose), and Matsyasana (fish pose). If you feel strong enough you can practice bolder poses that strengthen the heart chakra and build courage, trust, and love. These may include deep forward folds and back bending poses like Ustrasana (camel pose), Dhanurasana (bow pose), and Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose or wheel). A more rigorous asana practice while visualizing the heart chakra also strengthens the walls of the muscle and improves circulation.
A regular yoga practice should be accompanied by a diet high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and low in fats. Try also to limit stimulants like caffeine, sugar, spices, alcohol, and tobacco. Having a community of support is also important for healing the heart. Taking time with friends, being in nature, volunteer work, and spending quality time with a loved one not only uplifts our spirit but improves heart health. Because of their relaxing affect on the mind and body, these activities allow the nervous system to be in a state of rest and recovery. A Yoga Therapist offers a personalized treatment plan where your specific needs and limitation are considered and you can work together to keep or bring your heart back to health and wellness.
Although Western medicine does much good, surgeries and invasive procedures disrupt the sacred energy balances of the body and are traumatic for the spirit and mind. When possible, patients can avoid these by choosing to follow a holistic yoga treatment plan which offers healing and recovery in a way that Western medicine can’t provide. The yogic perspective that the heart is part of a whole being offers a comprehensive and joyous path of healing that connections the mind, body, and spirit. Perhaps if more people adopt one of these plans for their lifestyle, we can lower the number of cardiac related deaths in our country and increase the number of peaceful, well rounded body conscious humans in our universe.
So on this Valentine's Day, show love first to yourself by making good choices for a healthy heart!