The Wisdom of a Healthy Heart
by John Peterson, M.D.
Today my heart swelled with love as my daughter and I listened to the heartbeat of my unborn grandchild. At 18 weeks, the baby's heart is about the size of the tip of my little finger. Yet it's already been beating for two months and will continue beating, hopefully well into the next century. My heart feels a similar connection when I take the pulse of each of my patients. Blood flows throughout the body and carries the song of the heart and all the cells and tissues. When you learn Maharishi Ayurveda pulse diagnosis, you can pick up that song of the heart with three fingers on the radial pulse.
Getting to the Heart of It All
The heart delivers oxygen and nutrients to all of the tissues in a coordinated rhythmic fashion. But it's not only a pump. The "Valentine's Day heart" can swell with happiness, leap for joy, fall in love, become downhearted or be broken. Maharishi Ayurveda considers the heart to be the seat of ojas, the subtle substance of immunity, strength and bliss.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Maharishi Ayurveda, said that the function of the heart is to bring together, to unite. Even an individual heart cell knows this. Heart muscle cells are born to contract rhythmically and tirelessly. Individual heart muscle cells, teased apart and grown on a Petri dish, will beat on their own and tend to come together and beat as one. Anatomically, the heart consists of four chambers. The right atrium of the heart accepts blood from the veins in the body and moves it through the tricuspid valve to the right ventricle, which then pumps the blood to the lungs to be oxygenated. The left atrium receives the oxygenated blood and pumps it through the mitral valve to the left ventricle. The left ventricle pumps the blood through the aortic valve into the aorta, from where the blood flows to the whole body.
Heart Wisdom: Take Care of Yourself First!
The first arteries to branch off from the aorta are the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart itself. The right coronary artery nourishes the right side and underside of the heart. The left main coronary artery, with all of its branches, nourishes the left side of the heart, especially the left ventricle, which is the largest chamber with the biggest job — to pump the blood to the entire body.
Heart disease comes in many forms. The electrical system of the heart can malfunction and create life-threatening heart rhythm disorders. Viral and bacterial infections can affect the heart valves. The heart muscle can be weakened by infection, stress, hypertension and inadequate blood supply from the coronary arteries. In congestive heart failure the weakened heart muscle cannot adequately pump the blood, which results in fluid backing up in the lungs and the legs.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is listed as the #1 cause of death in developing countries. There are two types of plaque that can build up and block the coronary arteries. Hard plaques consist of a slowly-evolving buildup of fibrin, platelets and lipids (fats). Soft plaques, which are more dangerous, involve the build-up of toxic lipids in the artery wall, separated from the blood flow by a thin membrane. If the membrane is irritated or injured, toxic lipids can rupture through the membrane quickly, creating a clot and total occlusion of the coronary artery. Statin drugs stabilize soft plaques and convert them to hard plaques.
Western science has demonstrated multiple risk factors for the development of both kinds of coronary artery plaques. These risk factors include family history for CAD (most important), hypertension, smoking, stress, Type A personality, (characterized by driven, competitive, angry people with high expectation levels) and Metabolic Syndrome, indicated by a waist measurement for women of greater than 36" and for men greater than 40". In this common syndrome, increasing intra-abdominal fat triggers a shift in the liver's metabolism, creating insulin-resistance and elevated triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and clotting tendencies.
A final risk factor is hyperlipidemia — too much fat in the blood. Lipids and cholesterol are necessary building blocks of cell membranes and the nervous system. There are two types of lipids: cholesterol and triglycerides (chains of fatty acids linked with three carbons). There are two types of cholesterol: low density (LDL=bad) and high density (HDL=good). LDL cholesterol is carried from the liver to the arteries by low-density lipoproteins, resulting in a buildup of toxic lipid plaques. HDL (good) cholesterol is carried from the arteries back to the liver to be metabolized. In Metabolic Syndrome triglycerides are increased and HDL cholesterol is reduced. In other types of hyperlipidemia, LDL and total cholesterol are elevated.
Western medicine emphasizes reducing these risk factors. Recommendations include blood pressure control and weight management, reducing dietary cholesterol and bad fats (hydrogenated and saturated fats), increasing exercise (which increases good cholesterol) and quitting smoking. Western medicine is also starting to realize the emotional connections between the heart, mind and the rest of the body. Patients who develop heart disease, especially those recovering from heart surgery, tend to have significant depression.
Happiness is Medicine for the Heart
Maharishi Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to heart problems, beginning with connecting the whole mind/body/spirit back to its source in bliss through the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation® program. Through extensive, well-designed studies, the TM technique has been shown to prevent and treat hypertension and Coronary Artery Disease. Click here to view some of the research. The most recently published study showed a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes for Afro-American patients with previous heart disease who learned and practiced the TM technique, over the matched control group who followed standard post-heart-attack protocols but did not learn to meditate.
Pulse diagnosis helps sort out the potential risk factors for heart disease. Vata risk factors include hypertension, stress and smoking. Pitta risk factors include hypertension and Type A personality. Kapha risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol and Metabolic Syndrome. Each dosha also has a subdosha directly involved with the heart. A Vyana Vata imbalance indicates abnormal flow patterns in the blood vessels and the nervous system. A Sadhaka Pitta imbalance indicates an emotional "pinch" between the heart and the mind, leading to lack of fulfillment of desires and eventual depression. An Avalambaka Kapha imbalance indicates strain patterns in the tissues that surround and protect the heart. It is like carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders or needing to get something off your chest.
By individualizing recommendations based on body type and pulse diagnosis, ayurveda can recommend potent specific recommendations for treatment and prevention of heart disease.
Hyperlipidemia can be treated with a Kapha pacifying diet, which involves less heavy foods such as ice cream, yogurt, peanut butter, bananas and cheese. For Sadhaka Pitta disturbances, Charak, in the ancient texts, recommended following your "heart," as opposed to your "head," and spending time with the stars at night. The TM technique is a potent intervention for Vyana Vata disturbances.
Herbs that Make the Heart Sing
Ayurvedic Rasayanas are time-tested formulations of Eastern herbs that holistically bring balance to the physiology and infuse bliss into each cell. The most comprehensive Rasayana is Maharishi Amrit Kalash. There is a large body of research on Maharishi Amrit Kalash and CAD.
MAPI also has several powerful herbal preparations that nourish the heart in different ways. Cardio Support is particularly targeted to protect the heart from high-stress lifestyles and food impurities. It increases physical and emotional heart health, strengthens different levels of heart muscles and improves blood flow.
Cholesterol Protection promotes a healthy, balanced ratio of LDL and HDL cholesterol. It helps strengthen liver function and improves bile secretion. It helps flush cholesterol from the eliminative tract, regulates fat metabolism, purifies blood and fat tissues and flushes excess toxins from the body.
Liver Balance formula stimulates cleansing of the liver and its micro-channels. It helps support digestion by enhancing the five metabolic functions of the liver and promotes the production of healthy blood cells, bile and nutritional fluids.
BP Balance cleanses and nourishes the circulatory system and promotes healthy blood pressure. This traditional combination of Muskroot (Jatamansi) and other herbs can help balance the body's long-term response to stress and its effects.
Stress Free Emotions promotes self-confidence, positive thinking and fulfillment by balancing Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha of Pitta that governs emotional health. Arjuna, Winter Cherry (Ashwagandha), Shankapushpi (Dwarf Morning Glory), Mica, Pearl and Holy Basil help improve coordination of mind and emotions. Arjuna, Mica, Pearl, Cabbage Rose, and Leptadenia support emotional stability. All the herbs in combination support resistance to emotional stress.
Organic Digest Tone is an antioxidant-rich Rasayana that gently rejuvenates the digestive tract and promotes healthy weight loss. It also works as a cardio tonic, enhances circulation and strengthens the capillaries. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps balance cholesterol. Organic Digest Tone detoxifies and strengthens the liver, intestines and blood. Ingredients include Chebulic Myrobalan, Belleric Myrobalan, Amla, and Cabbage Rose.
Don't Worry — Be Happy!
Maharishi Ayurveda behavioral recommendations for heart health include maintaining a good ayurvedic daily routine and having work that brings you joy. It's good to spend time with loved ones and children. It's best to avoid pollutants, egotism, anger, grief and feelings of superiority or inferiority. Take time for yourself — time for meals, rest and family. Avoid suppression of natural urges and excess physical or mental work.
So far I've avoided complications of the heart disease that runs in my family by following a good ayurvedic routine for three decades and loving my family and work. The vaidyas (experts in Maharishi Ayurveda) tell me that grandchildren are a Rasayana for the heart. By next summer I'll be able to follow one of my favorite recommendations for avoiding hypertension: take time to play with grandchildren!
In my practice I often give people with hypertension or heart disease a list of the traditional Behavioral Rasayanas — behaviors that help infuse bliss into the physiology. I ask them to re-write the list in their own words and post it where they can read it daily. Here are the Behavioral Rasayanas:
- Be truthful. (Speak the truth, but speak it sweetly.)
- Be free from anger.
- Abstain from alcohol and non-moderate behavior.
- Be nonviolent and calm.
- Be sweet spoken.
- Practice transcending daily.
- Observe cleanliness.
- Be charitable.
- Worship God according to your religion.
- Be respectful to teachers and elders.
- Be loving and compassionate.
- Observe regularity in daily routine.
- Be unconceited, well-mannered and simple in behavior.
- Be devoted to the development of higher states of consciousness.
- Keep the company of elders.
- Be positive in outlook.
- Be self-controlled and follow the precepts of your religious beliefs.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.