Could Yoga And Ayurveda Help Reverse Heart Damage?
IntroductionThe supply of blood that carries oxygen and nutrients is facilitated by the heart, which makes the heart indispensable for the body. The heart is made of a special muscle that works all the time non-stop and never gets tired. But it does get worn out and obstructed due to many physical and lifestyle factors. Stress, poor food choices, and habits such as smoking, put an extra pressure inside the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body, called the arteries and clog them. This blockage interferes with normal blood circulation and causes high blood pressure, slower cellular metabolism and difficult respiration. These are just symptoms but are often confused as independent conditions. Symptoms should not be ignored since untreated mild heart disease can worsen to heart failure.
Heart Diseases And How They Develop
Diseases on the interior or the exterior of the peripheral blood vessels, the major arteries and veins and the heart itself, all count as cardiovascular diseases. Common diseases affecting this system are:
- Abnormally high blood pressure caused by faulty diet and lifestyle, known as hypertension.
- Too much circulating lipoproteins in the blood, caused by faulty diet and lifestyle; known as high cholesterol or hyperlipidemia.
- Abnormal heart rate caused by hypertension; known as arrhythmia.
- Stiffness in the arteries caused by hyperlipidemia; known as atherosclerosis.
- Weakened and stiffened heart walls, caused by chronic hypertension and hyperlipidemia; known as cardiomyopathy.
- Poorly functioning arteries caused by chronic atherosclerosis, known as coronary artery disease (CAD).
There are many factors that contribute to an impaired functioning of the cardiovascular system. They can be categorized into: genetic factors, lifestyle factors and environmental factors.
Genetic or Birth defectsabnormalities in the heart present at birth such as leaking valves, leaking chambers, or even missing valves are genetic and sometimes need surgery. Such defects cannot be restored without medical intervention.
Lifestyle related causesLifestyle can make or break one's health. A faulty lifestyle is one that starts disturbing one's health physically as well as mentally. Poor diet choices, lack of physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and a routine non-adherent to time all count as faulty habits. Such disorders can be managed very well with lifestyle and diet modification.
- Poor dietary choices: diet makes up the body and if it lacks in any aspect; be it nutrients, freshness, proper portion sizes or plant/animal sources; the body suffers. Just by taking care of what one eats, all deficiencies and as well as poor immunity can be eliminated.
- Lack of Physical Activity: when we move, the heart is awakened from its laziness and it starts pumping fuller volumes of blood. Being physically active keeps the cardiac muscles working and the blood vessels in great condition.
- Smoking, Alcohol and Drug abuse: all these activities put an extra load on the heart as they severely increase the blood pressure. Also, the nervous system gets cut off from the body on consumption of intoxicants, which further affects decision making abilities that harm health in every way.
- Relation with other diseases: conditions such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, stress and anxiety are causes as well as consequences of heart diseases. They also contribute to each other and complicate the situation further, hence shouldn't be ignored.
Environmental causesThe components present around us also contribute in determining our state of health. The decreased exposure to fresh air due to air conditioning becoming common, increased atmospheric temperature due to global warming, and a dangerous amount of pollutants present in the air are environmental triggers for an impaired cardiovascular performance. Environmental factors also count as lifestyle factors.
- Temperature shocks: even the middle class home has ACs and heaters installed. It all counts for an artificial environment. When the temperature outside a building differs greatly with the atmosphere outside it, the cardiovascular system gets a shock and contracts or dilates in response to the temperature change. This adversely affects the heart as well as the arteries.
- Pollutants: fumes from petrol and diesel, and gaseous pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide inflame the cardiovascular system by first entering the lungs and then obstructing the arteries. Even room fresheners count as indoor air pollutants.
Is It Possible To Reverse Heart Disease?Heart diseases can be managed, depending on the cause and kind of the disease and for how long it has been with the individual. Although some experts may disagree about the possibility of reversing heart disease completely, most would agree that they can be prevented from becoming more severe. In fact, doctors and hospitals are conducting restorative programs as part of treatment of heart diseases after the American physician Dr. Dean Ornish successfully demonstrated that following a strict lifestyle can dramatically restore health even in the severest of diseases. 
Yoga Practices For Heart HealthYoga physiology holds the heart and the blood vessels in high regard since the heart is an important energy centre or chakra, by meditating on which, life energy can be transformed into spiritual energy. Those practices that have a powerful impact on the heart are described here. The practices described here are not contraindicated for anyone. For healthy individuals and those with only mild conditions, all yoga practices are safe and recommended.
1. Supta Udarakarshanasana
the spinal twist: this practice gently works on all major blood vessels. It should be done essentially on an empty stomach. It can be done on a mat/ carpet/ dari or even the bed.
- Lie on your back. Keep the arms on the sides.
- Keep the body relaxed.
- This is the initial position.
- Bend the right leg at the knee.
- Move the right knee towards the left of the body and place it on the mat.
- Keep the spine straight as in the initial position.
- Press the right knee with the left elbow.
- Keep the right hand placed as in the initial position.
- Turn the neck to the right.
- This is the final position. Stay in the final position for 5 seconds. Breathing should be normal.
- Return to the initial position.
- Now bend the left leg at the knee.
- Move the left knee towards the right of the body and place it on the mat.
- Press the left knee with the right elbow.
- Keep the left hand as in the initial position.
- Turn the neck to the left.
- Stay in this position for 5 seconds. Breathing should be normal.
- Release the posture. Practice thrice on each side.
2. Ardha Matsyendrasana
named after sage Matsyendra, this asana is an easy practice to pump up the cardiac muscles without tiring the rest of the body. It too should be done on an empty stomach. A mat/ carpet/ dari/ mattress will be required.
- Sit on the mat with both the legs extended in front of the body.
- Keep the back straight.
- Keeping its heel on the mat, bend the left leg at the knee.
- Keep the right leg straight.
- Place your right hand on the left ankle.
- Place the left hand behind you on the back.
- Move the chin close to the left shoulder.
- Exhale while doing so.
- This is the final position.
- Stay in this position for 10 seconds.
- Resume normal breathing.
- Rotate the neck back to the default position.
- Lift the hands from their positions and straighten the leg.
- Now, bend the right leg.
- Place the left hand on the right ankle.
- Place the right hand behind you.
- Move the chin close to the right shoulder.
- Exhale while doing so.
- Resume normal breathing and stay in the final position for 10 seconds.
- Rotate the neck back to the default position.
- Lift the hands from their positions and twist back as in the initial position.
- Practice thrice on each side.
3. Bandha Hasta Utthanasana
Overhead tied arms pose: this is an easy and effective exercise for enhancing blood circulation in the whole body, hence removing arterial plaque buildup. It can be done at a gap of at least three hours after a medium-sized meal. It doesn't require a mat/ carpet.
- Stand straight with the feet together in a neutral position.
- Both the feet should share the body weight equally.
- Put one wrist on the other such that they form a cross with each other.
- Raise the arms and move the crossed wrists above the head.
- Inhale and bend the head backwards to look at the hands.
- Release the crossed wrists.
- Now straighten the arms at the sides slowly.
- Bring the arms down and place the wrists in crossed position as earlier.
- Practice it 10 times.
4. Anuloma Viloma Pranayama
alternate nostril breathing: this practice has numerous benefits and applications. It is majorly used to purify blood channels. It is an excellent practice to minimize chronic hypertension and hyperlipidemia. It should preferably be performed outdoors on an empty stomach. It can be done sitting on the grass.
- Sit with your legs crossed.
- Close your eyes gently.
- The back should be straight and relaxed.
- The wrists should rest on the knees in the default position.
- Put the index finger and the ring finger of the right hand on the forehead on top of the nose.
- Use the thumb to close the right nostril.
- Inhale with the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with the ring finger.
- Exhale with the right nostril.
- Inhale with the right nostril and close it with the thumb.
- Exhale with the left nostril.
- Practice thirty respirations in this way.
5. Shavasana: the corpse pose
An extremely popular practice due to its relaxative effects and fun technique, this pose is used to multiply the benefits of all practices. It is a relaxation exercise done at the end of the Asana and Pranayama routine. It can be performed on a mat/ carpet/ dari/ grass or on the bed.
- Lie on the floor/mat/blanket.
- The whole body should be relaxed.
- Arms should rest on both sides of the body.
- Close your eyes gently.
- Breathing should be normal.
- Pay attention to the breaths. Observe each inhalation and exhalation.
- Don't interfere in natural respiration.
- On instruction by the therapist/instructor, summon attention from the breath.
- Open your eyes when guided.
- Take a side turn and get up from the mat or go to sleep as required.
6. Hridaya Mudra
mudras have a very important place in Hatha Yoga and tantra. Everyone practices mudras knowingly or unknowingly but very few people know about the psychic and healing effects of mudra practice. Hridaya mudra is such a mudra that almost instantly relaxes the heart and when practiced long-term, it strengthens the heart. Hridaya mudra can be practiced at any time of the day.
- Sit in any easy seated posture or lie down in Shavasana
- Relax the whole body.
- Join the tip of the ring finger with the tip of the thumb
- Keep the rest of the fingers straight but do not strain any finger
- Practice for up to thirty minutes.
7. Yoga Nidra
A relaxation meditation, the Yoga Nidra is also known as 'yogic sleep' where the body is reenergized as it is in actual sleep, in much less time. It is actually more beneficial than an actual sleep. It should be guided for non-adepts. It is done by first practicing Shavasana.
- Lie down in Shavasana.
- Start by moving the attention towards the feet. After a few seconds, move the attention up through the legs, the pelvis, the back, the abdomen, the arms, the thorax, the neck, to the head.
- Observe the whole body.
- Breathing should be regular and relaxed.
- When guided, wake up and end the session.
✔ Yoga Nidra relaxes the whole body.
✔ It rejuvenates the mind and relieves stress.
✔ It treats all chronic physical and mental disorders. Sometimes, when the condition of an individual doesn't allow them to perform asana or Pranayama, Yoga Nidra is the only safe and feasible treatment for a patient.
Ayurvedic Herbs For The Heart
Ayurveda and yoga agree that heart health is an indicator of as well as is affected by overall body health. According to Ayurveda masters, some herbs have specifically balancing, relaxing and strengthening effects on the heart and the blood vessels.
- Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) tree has countless medicinal benefits since it possesses the property of restoring balance in all doshas. It is especially recommended in conditions of the circulatory system. It is made in the form of tea, powder or capsules.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is of enormous importance in the treatment of many disorders of the cardiovascular system. It is used as a powder or in the form of capsules.
- Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) along with Shankhapushpi is prescribed in the management of psychosomatic disorders. It reduces inflammation and regulates blood pressure. It is used as a tea, a Chyawanprash or made into syrup.
- Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) is an excellent antioxidant and hence a great cardiac tonic. It can prevent all disorders of blood and the heart. It is used as a floral tea powder, Chyawanprash along with Brahmi and Ashwagandha.
Compulsory Dietary & Lifestyle ModificationsExercise and medications alone shall not work if a person is not willing to mend his diet. Diet makes up our body, how can we expect the body to change if we are not willing to change the diet? Therefore, the following dietary inclusions and exclusions should compulsorily be followed to enhance the effect of the above practices:
1. One should QUIT smoking.
2. One should eat LESS of the following items:Meat, Fish, Eggs: the foods that are not plant-based will be difficult to digest. And vegetarianism has benefitted heart patients more than anything could ever work for anyone.
3. One should AVOID the following dietary items:
- Processed dairy products: Though milk itself is not bad for the heart and neither is ghee, processed dairy products such as cheeses, sweets (especially those made of thickened milk with tons of sugar and fat in them) contribute to total cholesterol in the body.
- Street food: street food is deep fried and has enormous amounts of spices and seasonings which make the food complex, and difficult to digest and absorb.
- Pickles: Pickles contain too much oil, spices, salt and sugar. They should be replaced with fresh chutneys of tomato, coriander, mint, coconut, etc.
- Packed, processed and preserved food: these foods are good for none. They have extra salt, sugar and oil, and processing kills their nutritional value.
- Fried and difficult-to-digest foods: they have excess oil that might have gone chemically bad. They worsen all heart conditions in the long term, after immediately harming digestion and metabolism.
4. One should eat MORE the following items:
- Herbal Teas: Not just as medications, herbal teas should be consumed regularly too, since they shall not only provide medicinal benefits but also give a choice to regular tea-coffee drinkers.
- Fruits: Fruits have a quality of soothing the body. Fruits are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruits: almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, raisins, prunes, cranberries, provide high quality fats and trace micronutrients that may have been missed out on in even the most balanced diets.
- Electrolytes: salt, sugar, rock salt, black salt, etc added to water are helpful in rehydrating the body and maintaining blood tonicity. Potassium is supplied to the body by coconut water which acts even faster than salt.
- Light Meals: dal-rice, Khichari and Dalia are meals that are light, nutritious and balanced in themselves. Also, such meals maintain the ayurvedic balance of the body besides supporting an easy digestion.
- Ghee: Contrary to tempering and frying, consumption of ghee itself or with rice, khichdi & Dalia is a great practice in traditional Indian diet. Ghee extracted from Cow's milk is especially recommended to people with heart problems.