Valentine’s Day is around the corner. In keeping with the American tradition of heart-centeredness at this time of year, I offer you the following!
In many ancient cultures, the heart was considered a seat of wisdom. Ayurveda considers the heart to be the most precious organ and the seat of human consciousness. Because Ayurveda believes that the mind, body, and spirit are inseparable, it comes as no surprise that Ayurveda believes that supporting the emotions supports the heart. When our emotions are healthy and stable, our heart thrives. Deep-seated issues of identity, emotions, and consciousness manifest in heart disease. These need to be considered when treating heart disease. We are, after all, more than our physical parts and engaging all aspects of the human being is essential to practicing Ayurveda.
Balancing activity and rest, making appropriate food choices for your dosha (constitution), managing stress and tension, and incorporating spiritual practice are all ways that we can take care of your heart as a body/mind/spirit element.
Following are some general Ayurveda recommendations for a healthy heart:
Set your intention.
Mindfulness brings not only greater focus, but also greater pleasure. When you imbue what you do with your intention, your awareness deepens the benefits that you would enjoy anyway!
Eat according to the season.
Unfortunately, we frequently use the New Year to set resolutions, often to lose weight. Winter is the worst time to make such resolutions. Rather, winter is a time to go inward, to allow the mind/body/spirit to follow nature’s example and conserve, insulate, reflect, restore, drawing all of our resources to us. Here, we might reflect on what we hope to gain this year and lay the groundwork for the spring when it would be a more appropriate time to take action on those resolutions. (See my article on setting intentions for the ayurvedic approach to resolutions.)
Ayurveda’s suggestion for the winter is to protect yourself, nurture yourself. Eat warm, cooked foods like soups and stews. Choose cooked foods over raw and warm drinks over cold. Allow the natural rhythms to lead your food choices to those that soothe the increased agni. It’s natural to eat more and do less in winter: The shrinking channels drive the fire of the body (agni) to the center so that our digestive fire increases in the winter.
Rest and restore.
Bears hibernate. Perennials rejuvenate their root system by focusing their attention on what’s going on below ground level. Ayurveda advocates using rest and appropriate herbs to support and build the immune system.
Sleep later. Have more sex. Spend more time with those you love. Do more meditation, more relaxing and restorative yoga. Treat yourself to some ayurveda body treatments like abhyanga with warm oil, shirodhara, five sense therapy.
People with strong vata in their constitution are encouraged to sleep til 7; pitta till 6 or 7 and even kapha is encouraged to sleep in til 6. It’s healthiest to go to bed between 9 and 10 to maximize the internal shifting and integration that occurs in the body overnight.
Keeping in mind that everything is relative to our unique nature, we would be better served to learn and practice restorative yoga poses and to integrate meditation into our day. Studies have shown that 10 minutes of daily meditation reduces the physical symptoms of stress. Stress reduction helps build our immune system.
Ayurveda body treatments and the sense of release and relaxation that come from these treatments and the above-mentioned yoga and meditation help the mind/body/spirit release deep-seated emotions that impair our ability to integrate positive emotions and thoughts.
Set an intention for your day, for the moment, for the words or activity to follow.
Self love in the form of daily abhyanga (Sneha, the Sanskrit word for oil means self-love.) gives ourself the message that we’re worth the work. Every day before your shower or bath, massage organic oil over your entire body, including your hair. (Olive oil is good for all doshas, but there are dosha-specific oils that you can use. Always choose organic.) Sit with the oil on your skin for as long as you’re able up to 15 minutes before you step into the shower/bath. If you only have time to massage the oil into your skin before your shower, then do that and allow it be good.
Scrape your tongue with a spoon or a tongue scraper before ingesting any food or drink. Rinse.
Soothe your sinuses by rinsing the nasal passages with gently salted water, one at a time, blowing your nose after each side. Remember to massage organic oil into and around the passages after you finish rinsing.
Eat warm, cooked pears or apples or oatmeal seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom for breakfast.
Meditate for 10 minutes at the beginning or at the end of your day. Pause for slow, long, even, deep breaths throughout your day. 30-40 seconds of deep breathing alleviates the physiological symptoms of stress.
Walking briskly early in the day and leisurely in the evening nourishes the mind/body/spirit’s need for appropriate exercise.
Overexercising can be as harmful to the immune system and to the mind/body balance as not exercising at all.
Having a daily yoga practice does not mean that we do the same thing every day for the same amount of time. To assure that our practice reflects mindful choices, we can mix up the poses from day to day to reflect how we feel on any given day. We need to incorporate heart-opening poses (bridge, hands behind the back, version of wheel, for example) and restorative poses. By restorative poses, I mean those advocated by Judith Lasater, for example, in her Relax and Renew® trainings and practices.
Arjuna, believed in ayurveda to have been created by the gods to help the famous warrior Arjuna make a difficult decision, is a great restorative herb and soothes both the physical and the emotional heart. Arjuna can be taken as in its herb form in honey and water or in a transdermal cream, massaged gently into the chest at the heart center.
Ashwaganda is a rejuvenative herb that sweeps away stress and ensures good sleep, helpful to the healthy heart. For those who suffer thyroid issues, it’s advised to consult a integrative physician.
Eating or drinking a little bit of ginger every day helps every dosha balance the digestive system which contributes to good heart health.
Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is believed to the heart and mind and bestow love, compassion, and faith. Drink a cup of tulsi tea each day.
And last, but not least, rose is beneficial to soothing the heart and its emotions. Rose has a calming effect on grief, anger, depression, stress, and resentment. Rose oil can be massaged into the soles of the feet and the center of the sternum. Rose petals can be added to any tea or other warm fluid (Warm milk at night flavored with rose petals can help with good sleep.).
All of the things mentioned can be considered spiritual practices when performed with that intention. Honoring the mind/body/spirit is, in itself, a recognition of their integrative nature and is, therefore, a spiritual practice.
I’d like to recommend a beautiful book that I recently found: Love yourself as though your life depends on it by Kamal Ravikant. It’s a little book, found on Amazon, that will warm your heart and, when you practice what it preaches, will help you see how beautiful you are.
Health and well-being
The Western world is beginning to more readily accept the mind/body/spirit as an integrated entity. More and more information is becoming available about the powerful connections and how honoring those connections puts us in better stead to get and stay healthy.
Since Ayurveda embraces the mind, body, and spirit as inseparable, doing any or all of the above-mentioned with the intention of honoring that connection helps us enjoy a greater sense of overall health and well-being and especially heart health.
Ayurveda encourages you to spend time every day doing things that bring you pleasure, contentment, joy. Listen to soothing music. Pause to savor a beautiful sunset or the new-fallen snow. Give yourself time with a cherished friend who feeds your positive sense of yourself, an uplifting book, a walk in the woods. Have your meditation be as your feel the heat, smell and sip your morning tea or coffee. Focus on the beauty within and outside. Love. And whatever you do, do it with joy.
Remember, please, that I am NOT providing medical advice. Rather, I am sharing with you the Ayurveda philosophy and approach to health and well-being.