Total Heart Health with Maharishi Ayurveda
Maharishi Ayurveda recommends the experience of transcendence, through the practice of Transcendental Meditation®, as a balance-restoring treatment of Ayurveda. The benefits of this experience for health and wellness have been repeatedly verified in hundreds of peer-reviewed, published scientific studies over the last 30 years.
These studies establish the significance of this experience for human health. This article by Robert Schneider, M.D. is intended to provide a context for the behavioral Rasayana of TM, and insights into how and why Ayurveda places such importance on this experience for human health.
Maharishi Ayurveda places huge emphasis on the behavior aspect of health. The fact that one has choice and the opportunity to influence one's health is empowering. It is within this context of choice, and the opportunity to move one's life in a direction of greater happiness, that we present this article.
Robert H. Schneider, M.D., F.A.C.C. is a physician-scientist-educator, and one of the world’s leading authorities on scientific, natural approaches for prevention and treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, stress, and other cardiovascular risk factors. Over the past 25 years, he has directed $25 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations for his pioneering research on natural approaches to heart disease. The results of this groundbreaking research have been published in more than 100 peer-reviewed medical journals and proceedings, and featured in more than 1,000 television, radio, magazine, and newspaper reports, including CNN Headline News, ABC’s 20/20, Fox News, The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death, disability, and health care costs in the US. More than 150 million Americans suffer from heart disease or one of its risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, or diabetes. Nearly half the people in this country will die from a heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular disease is also becoming epidemic around the world as developing societies take on modern lifestyles.
Medical scientists are discovering that the most ancient system of natural health care, Maharishi Ayurveda, contains solutions for our most modern health care problems, notably heart disease and its risk factors.
Conventional medical science points to several risk factors that lead to heart disease. Most of these risk factors are related to our lifestyle choices. They include high blood pressure (or hypertension), high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. Psychological stress is another risk factor that is increasingly recognized as a cause of cardiovascular damage as a contributor to many of the other risk factors, such as hypertension. In modern medicine, this is called the mind-heart or brain-heart connection. Simultaneously, medical scientists are discovering that the most ancient system of natural health care, Maharishi Ayurveda, contains understanding and solutions for our contemporary health care problems, notably heart disease and its risk factors.
Veda means “knowledge,” and Ayur means “life” or “lifespan.” Thus the word Ayurveda means “total knowledge of life or lifespan.” After founding and teaching the Transcendental Meditation® program around the world for several decades, Maharishi turned his attention in the early 1980s to restoring the Vedic system of health care, or Ayurveda. Working with the leading Ayurvedic experts of the time, Maharishi found that much of the original knowledge of Ayurveda had been lost, including the core principle that consciousness is the basis of the mind and body and, therefore, the basis of all health. The Ayurvedic literature even describes how consciousness is the basis of the whole universe. Therefore, if we attend to the fundamental level of consciousness, then we can restore balanced, healthy functioning to our mind, body, and the environment around us. A second distinguishing feature of Maharishi’s restoration of Ayurveda is that it should be scientific — that is, systematic, understandable, thorough, and testable. To date, more than 600 scientific studies from 200 universities and research institutes around the world have been published that objectively document the beneficial effects of technologies of the Maharishi Ayurveda program. Third, Maharishi described how all the disciplines of ancient Vedic science are considered in Ayurveda and, indeed, are required for complete health. From this comprehensive point of view, Yoga, for example, is part of Ayurveda, as are healthy architecture and knowledge of biological rhythms associated with movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. For these three main reasons, Maharishi Ayurveda provides a unique paradigm and set of technologies for creating total heart health.
Maharishi found that much of the original knowledge of Ayurveda had been lost, including the core principle that consciousness is at the basis of the mind and body and is, therefore, the basis of all health.
For heart disease, the Maharishi Ayurveda program offers practical, personalized methods for prevention and treatment that address our core imbalances and are time tested, safe, and effective. These methods include the Transcendental Meditation® program, daily and seasonal routines, yoga exercises, diet, herbal nutritional supplements, purification procedures, five-sense therapies (e.g., sound, light, and aroma therapies), and suggestions for healthy architecture and how biological rhythms affect our long-term health patterns. Thus Maharishi Ayurveda treatments offer a holistic approach for lowering blood pressure, losing weight, stopping smoking, and controlling cholesterol and diabetes by transforming our physiology in a way that awakens the most fundamental level of the body and mind — our own inner intelligence.
While modern medicine focuses on fixing the “parts” of a person, such as diseased arteries, Maharishi Ayurveda does something more profound. It looks to this biological intelligence as a source of self-healing mechanisms to repair imbalances at the basis of disease and restore balanced physiological functioning, ideally before disease arises. And while modern medicine tends to treat the heart patient as a sophisticated collection of pumps, valves, and pipes, the Maharishi Ayurveda program treats the whole person in the context of his or her mental, physical, social, and ecological environment. It also recognizes that every person and their condition are unique. Therefore, treatment programs are customized to the individual. This is personalized medicine within holistic medicine.
Modern medicine tends to focus on fixing the “parts” of a person, such as diseased arteries, but Maharishi Ayurveda does something more profound. It looks to our own biological intelligence and self-healing mechanisms to repair imbalances and restore proper physiological functioning.
What is the Root Cause of, and Approach to, Heart Disease?
To answer this question, we may look at a parallel in modern science. Over the past 300 years, modern science has progressively uncovered deeper layers of order in nature. In recent years, quantum physicists have described a unified field that gives rise to all fundamental forces and particles in the physical world. In a similar way, Maharishi Ayurveda describes a fundamental level of human physiology — the inner intelligence of the body that gives rise to all its molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and systems. In Ayurvedic terms this field is called Atma, the Self, or pure consciousness. Modern theoretical physics calls this the unified field. The ultimate goal of the Maharishi Ayurveda program is to enliven this unified field at the basis of mind and body, to restore and maintain health, and to promote higher states of well-being and fulfillment known as enlightenment. (Refer to Issue 3 for more about enlivening the body's healing intelligence.)
Heart disease, like all disease in the body, starts when the body loses connection with its inner intelligence or consciousness. This results in a specific mind/body imbalance at the most subtle level of functioning. If this imbalance continues, it eventually manifests as a disorder or risk factor, such as psychological stress, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, and eventually blocked arteries in the heart.
A fundamental program for enlivening the inner intelligence of the mind and body is the Transcendental Meditation® program. Research shows that the Transcendental Meditation® technique reduces psychological stress, its physiological correlates, and other risk factors and measures of heart disease. As just one example, over the past 20 years, our Institute for Natural Medicine and collaborators at academic medical centers around the country have conducted a series of randomized controlled trials on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation® program on hypertension and related disorders. These studies have been published in leading medical journals, such as the American Heart Association’s Hypertension and the American Medical Association’s journal, Archives of Internal Medicine. The results have shown that this technique lowers blood pressure on average — alone or in combination with conventional medications — but without the harmful side effects. And along with lowering of blood pressure, there are positive side benefits for mind, body, and even the people around us.
The body’s functions and processes are governed by three main physiological principles, or doshas, that are the first vibrations or physiological manifestations of the unified field in our bodies. These are the quantum mechanical building blocks of our bodies and the whole universe.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Hypertension from the Maharishi Ayurveda Perspective
Let’s see what other modalities might be used to bring high blood pressure or hypertension back into balance through Maharishi Ayurveda. As a major risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. It contributes to hardening and thickening of the inside of the arteries in the heart and brain. In medical terms, this is called “atherosclerosis.” From a modern medicine point of view, atherosclerosis or damaged arteries is the single most deadly condition in the world today, since it is the cause of most heart attacks and many strokes — the number one cause of mortality globally.
However, according to Maharishi Ayurveda, the story of heart health and disease is a bit different. The body’s functions and processes are governed by three main physiological principles, or doshas, that are the first vibrations or physiological manifestations of the unified field in our bodies. These are the quantum mechanical building blocks of individual physiology and the whole universe. The first of these building blocks is Vata, the principle of movement or activity. Pitta is the principle of transformation, metabolism, or fire. Kapha is the principle of fluidity and structure. In the case of an individual or a disorder in that individual, one or more of these doshas may predominate. This leads to a mind-body type for an individual and a mind-body type for any disorder that might afflict that individual (refer to Issue 4 for more about mind-body types). Since there are three main physiological operating principles and each of them may go out of balance, it follows that there are three main types of heart disease — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha predominant. Here are some possible causes of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha types of hypertension:
Vata - Taxing the mind with too much mental stress or strain can aggravate nervous system activity, or Vata. So not getting enough sleep, having an irregular lifestyle, working late, watching TV late at night, constantly dividing the mind by doing two things at once (such as talking on the phone while cooking or driving), or rushing from one thing to the next could contribute to this type of hypertension. In modern terms, this may be called anxiety or simply “stress.”
Pitta - Emotional stress and too much spicy, salty, or sour food are some of the factors that may aggravate Pitta. When Pitta is out of balance, people have less capacity to cope with emotional challenges, may tend to anger or hostility, and may have elevated blood pressure. One modern term used for this is Type A behavior.
Kapha - Sluggish digestion, lack of exercise, and a fatty diet with excess sweets and processed foods can lead to being overweight, feeling depressed, and having high blood pressure.
From the point of view of the Maharishi Ayurveda program, high blood pressure or any other cardiovascular condition is not a “one-size-fits-all” disorder. It is personalized and related to your mind-body type or particular variation of dosha imbalance. For example, to treat the Vata type of blood pressure, you might be advised to follow a soothing Vata-pacifying diet, regular daily routine, behavioral suggestions to reduce stress, gentle exercise, and to take herbal food supplements that are targeted for calming your brain and nervous system. This would produce a calming, relaxing effect in your mind-body system overall. If you have the Kapha type of high blood pressure, there would be a more energizing, stimulating Kapha-pacifying diet, along with a daily routine with exercise, activities, and herbal supplements to increase your digestion and metabolism. By contrast, a Pitta program would be cooling for your physiology and emotions. In other words, the Total Heart Health approach is personalized to you and to what is causing your high blood pressure. Ultimately all Maharishi Ayurveda treatment modalities lead to a reconnection with your own inner intelligence and healing power. In this way we can prevent and heal heart disease from within.
- Further information on the Maharishi Ayurveda Total Heart Health program
- Maharishi Ayurveda Products International
- Maharishi University E-Learning Courses
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