Your Magnificent Heart
By Mark Toomey, Ph.D., Maharishi Ayurveda expert at The Raj
Heart health is essential for a long, happy life. From a Western medical perspective, the heart is a truly amazing pump. It is responsible for circulating blood through an estimated 60,000 miles of blood vessels. It pumps more than 3,000 gallons a day, and 2.4 million gallons a year just while you're sleeping. Imagine how active the heart is during the waking hours in a day.
Non-human hearts are also a marvel to behold. For instance, the largest of the blue whales (150 tons) has a heart that weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kg) and has 14,000 pounds (6,400 kg) of blood circulating throughout its body. The heart is about the size of a Volkswagen bug car. A human could crawl through the aorta (a major blood vessel). But let's not forget smaller versions. A mouse heart beats about 500 times a minute. And at 7 millimeters long — about the size of Thomas Jefferson's head on a nickel — a mouse heart is about one-thousandth the size of a human heart. So, the equipment must be super sensitive, accurate and fast.
Blue whales and mice are at the mercy of their environment when it comes to heart health, but human beings have the unique ability to make choices. One would think that heart health would be a priority, but the statistics show otherwise. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the US. Estimates for the year 2006 showed that 81,100,000 people in the United States have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
One of the major reasons for this astounding statistic is a lack of awareness about what to do for heart health. Ayurveda has been offering solutions for balancing physical and emotional heart health for 5,000 years, a knowledge which is indispensable for life.
In the ayurvedic texts the heart is described as "Hrdaya." This Sanskrit word consists of several parts, each with its own meaning: Hr means to receive, Da to give, and Ya to move. The very qualities of the heart are contained within its Sanskrit name. It is further described as Mahata (great) and Artha (serving all purposes). Thus, it is an organ par excellence.
The ayurvedic text Charaka describes the heart as, "indispensable for all mental and physical activities," because the entire sense perception representing animation depends on the heart. It is further described as Pranayatana — the seat of consciousness and the mind. The heart is like the main support beam in a house; without that support, the house collapses.
The heart is also, most importantly, the seat of ojas. Ojas is the most refined substance in the physiology; it is the essence of the body's inner intelligence that keeps all those billions of cells and chemical reactions functioning to support the daily existence of you! Needless to say, the continued existence of ojas is essential not just to heart health but to life itself. Ojas is maintained through good diet, digestion, and living a happy, stress-free life.
The cause, symptoms and treatment of cardiovascular disease in ayurveda are too large a subject for this article. Prevention is the key word, so some of the following tips will help maintain your heart and contribute to a long, joyful life.
Over the past 20 years there has been an abundance of articles, books, research, and television shows espousing the benefits of a healthy heart diet. Authors have made their names from their heart-health books. While there are many different approaches, they all have one thing in common. Good food helps create a healthy heart, while bad food negatively impacts heart health. So what do we mean by good food? In ayurveda it means eating according to your doshas (or mind-body operators), avoiding excessive indulgence in food that is too hot and spicy, or food that is too heavy or astringent. For instance, people with a Kapha disposition should avoid foods that are likely to aggravate their Kapha. Pitta people who have more heat in their physiology should not indulge in foods that will increase that heat element. Vata people who have more dryness should avoid light, dry and rough foods.
Maharishi Ayurveda emphasizes the quality and quantity of food. Overeating and undereating are not desirable. Food should be easily digested and neither too greasy nor too dry. Food should be consumed at the right time of day, should contain all six tastes and should be fresh, in the right proportions and eaten only when the previous meal is digested.
Maharishi Ayurveda also promotes a diet that is fresh, well-cooked, and organic, favoring whole grains, organic fruit and vegetables and good-quality protein, along with spices that are balancing to the doshas and digestion. For more information about a diet that is best for you, seek advice from a Maharishi Ayurvedic expert (Vaidya).
There is an abundance of information about the benefits of exercise for the heart. Maharishi Ayurveda recommends exercising according to your body type and avoiding physical exertion, which can be the cause of heart problems. The following advice will be useful.
For instance, you don't have to take up jogging; research shows that a daily 30 minute brisk walk can be as beneficial as running. But always remember to consult your doctor before embarking on any new exercise programs, especially if you have a history of heart problems.
The ayurvedic texts instruct one to perform exercise as long as there is no respiratory distress. Exercise should be done to half of your capacity. Of course it again depends on how much Vata, Pitta or Kapha one has in one's doshic makeup. Vata-dominated people do not generally have much stamina and need to be careful. Pitta-dominated people have the speed and drive, but can over-push themselves. The old saying, "No pain, no gain," was coined by a Pitta-dominated person, much to the detriment of those around him. Kapha-dominated people have the best stamina, but they are harder to motivate and need a little encouragement to get off the couch and get out and exercise. Once you get them going, there is no stopping them.
So if you do not know your Prakriti, or nature, then always follow the formula of exercising to 50% of your capacity. A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, it's a risk factor that you can do something about. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits. It can:
- Keep excess pounds at bay. Combined with a healthy diet, aerobic exercise helps you lose weight — and keep it off.
- Increase your stamina. Aerobic exercise may make you tired in the short term. But over the long term, you'll enjoy increased stamina and reduced fatigue.
- Reduce health risks. Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as walking, also reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Manage chronic conditions. Aerobic exercise helps lower high blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you've had a heart attack, aerobic exercise helps prevent subsequent attacks.
- Strengthen your heart. A stronger heart doesn't need to beat as fast. A stronger heart also pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body.
- Keep your arteries clear. Aerobic exercise boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, and lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. The potential result? Less buildup of plaque in your arteries.
- Boost your mood. Aerobic exercise can ease the gloominess of depression, reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Live longer. People who participate in regular aerobic exercise appear to live longer than those who don't exercise regularly.
The Sanskrit word Cintana means mental stress, which is a contributing cause to cardiovascular problems. There is no doubt we live in a stressful world, and chronic stress is a major contributor to this heart-health disease epidemic.
If you are constantly under chronic stress at work or home, there are two ways to reduce that stress. The first and most obvious way is to remove yourself from the cause of the stress. In most cases this is not practical. The second approach is to change the way the mind and physiology deal with the stress. One of the best techniques for this is the Transcendental Meditation® program.
The National Institutes of Health has granted over $20 million to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on the prevention and treatment of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.
The twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces activation of the sympathetic nervous system — which, in turn, dilates the blood vessels and reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and provides stress relief. Published research confirms that the TM® technique:
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Reduces atherosclerosis
- Reduces constriction of blood vessels
- Reduces thickening of coronary arteries
- Reduces use of anti-hypertensive medication
- Reduces mortality rates
- Provides stress relief
Herbs for the Heart
Here are some recommended products from Maharishi Ayurveda to help balance emotional and physical heart health:
- BP Balance — helps support heart function and maintain normal blood pressure.
- Maharishi Amrit Kalash — Ambrosia and Nectar — are full-spectrum antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Cardio Support — Supports the heart by balancing the three factors that govern the emotions, the sense of strength and stability; also supports heartbeat and blood flow. This product contains the renowned ayurvedic herb Arjuna, which nourishes both the physical and emotional heart.
- Blissful Joy — To make your digestion strong, use Blissful joy to help balance the emotions and reduce anger.
- Deep Rest — For sleep Maharishi Ayurveda offers a range of products to support natural sleep, including herbal supplements, herbal teas and therapeutic aroma blends.
Substantial research shows that pollution has adverse effects on our health. Although many studies have focused on respiratory health end points, there is growing evidence showing that pollution is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In ayurveda, the word ama denotes a sticky, heavy toxic material that builds up in the physiology from years of overindulgence in the wrong food, and poor routines and eating habits. External pollution is also a type of ama. This is why ayurveda encourages seasonal cleansing to rid the body of these accumulated toxins, both internal and external. Known as Maharishi Rejuvenation Therapy, these traditional in-residence purification techniques have profound effects on mind, emotions and body. The Raj in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa is America's premier ayurvedic spa, where ayurvedic experts will assess your needs.
To end, here is a nice quote from Goethe about the heart: "What is uttered from the heart alone, will win the hearts of others to your own."
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.