Don’t Let Stress Break Your Heart: An Ayurvedic Approach to a Healthy Heart
In Ayurveda, the heart is seen as a central source of strength and vitality. A beating heart is propelled by an electrical energy and is closely connected with and influenced by the nervous system. In turn, the heart influences the rhythms of many other body systems as well. As such, the heart, in coordination with the breath, is the root of prana or life force in the body.
According to Ayurveda, the heart is governed by three sub-doshas—Sadhaka Pitta or emotional balance, Avalambaka Kaphaor stability and strength, and Vyana Vataor blood flow and circulation. From this Ayurvedic approach, good heart health must address root imbalances in diet, emotions, relationships and body rhythms. Risk for cardiovascular diseases can often be influenced by modifying lifestyle factors and health behaviors, especially stress.
Chronic stress impacts the cardiovascular system as it floods the body with stress hormones. These chemical messengers can raise the heart rate, cause heart palpitations, increase the blood pressure and dysregulate lipid levels in the blood which can contribute to atherosclerosis as fatty plaques accumulate on blood vessel walls, restricting blood flow to the heart and increasing the risk of heart attack.
According to Ayurveda, many heart conditions have an emotional component such as anger, fear or repressed emotions.
Those that respond to stress with anger and hostility are also at risk for negative cardiovascular impacts. Unhealthy coping strategies such as smoking, alcohol use and overeating can also damage the cardiovascular system and increase heart health risks.
It is clear that many factors drive cardiovascular disease, including a significant role of emotional factors. While you cannot eliminate stress completely from your life, you can develop tools and skills to allow your body to cope with the biochemical changes and disruption that can occur under stress.
Meaningful stress management from an Ayurvedic approach allows us to live our lives with ease and calm even in the face of inevitable stressors.
As I prescribe with the exercises in The Whole Cure, cultivating awareness, presence and an ability to pause instead of jumping to automatic reactions helps us control our minds, relax our nervous systems and increase the resiliency of our hearts and bodies.
Find True Meaning: people who engage in meaningful work or hobbies or who attend religious services at once a week have been shown to have a 23% overall lower mortality. Whether it is daily mass, a weekly yoga class, regular meditation sessions or bi-weekly community work, find a community and engage in a practice that is truly meaningful to you.
Take Time to Pause Regularly: find breaks in your day to pause, connect with yourself and find the calm in the present moment. Focus on your breath and allow yourself to let go of stress and worry. Ayurveda teaches us that our breathing patterns are impacted by our thoughts and emotions. As such, an Ayurvedic approach to heart health emphasizes the importance of the strength and tone of the heart as well as emotional and mental balance. Whether you enjoy meditation, prayer, yoga or spending time in nature, take the time to allow your nervous system to rebalance.
Sweat it Out: evidence supports benefits of physical activity for managing stress and protecting the heart. Engaging in regular, enjoyable physical activity that is suitable for your constitution helps to balance the nervous system and stabilize the mood, further supporting a healthy heart.
Nurture Yourself: Taking time to take care of yourself and savor life, helps you find calm and joy while minimizing the impacts of stress. Ayurveda encourages a balance of proper diet, lifestyle, movement and meditation to calm the mind and strengthen the heart. Treat yourself to a massage, savor a healthy and delicious meal or take a nap!
The wellness prescriptions in The Whole Cure are designed to help you have a healthier heart and body while simultaneously cultivating greater resiliency, a more optimistic outlook and greater peace in life! This enhanced mindfulness helps us protect both our physical and emotional strength and balance, a concept that is central to an Ayurvedic approach to life-long heart health.