A Healthy Heart with Ayurveda: It’s All About Balance
By Dr. Somesh N. Kaushik
Ayurveda, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, is thought to be the oldest healing system. Rooted in ancient books of wisdom, the Vedas, Ayurveda is deeply spiritual and epitomizes a true body-mind approach to health and wellness. Given this holistic philosophy, the Ayurvedic view of the optimal functioning of every part of the body considers its relationship to every other part of the body, as well as the individual’s environment and lifestyle.
The heart has two aspects in Ayurveda: the physical (as a pumping mechanism) and the emotional (as a seat of joy, sorrow, etc.). Both aspects affect and are affected by every other part of the body. The heart is the center of prana, our life force, and is considered an energetic station where diverse pathways—physical and emotional—intersect. According to Ayurveda, the heart is intricately connected to every cell and tissue in the body. No other organ shares this complete integration.
Ayurveda explains that there are several energy channels present in the body. Three of them are rooted in the heart, and they affect myriad functions: the mind, responsible for thinking, feeling, memory and communication; the respiratory system, responsible for circulation and life force energy as well as its connection to emotions and the higher self; and the lymph and plasma system, responsible for delivering nourishment to every cell and tissue. Therefore heart health is of utmost importance to overall body function.
Doshas and Energy Channels
Maintaining health, according to Ayurveda, requires keeping the body in balance physically, emotionally and spiritually. As we are all composed of the five natural elements of space, air, water, fire, and earth, in combinations that Ayurveda calls doshas, maintaining their balance is critical. All three doshas—Vata (space/air); Pitta (fire/water); and Kapha (earth/water)—dwell in the heart. Their balance is primary to the health of the rest of the body.
Among other things, Vata governs circulation and respiration; Pitta governs metabolism, absorption, and emotions; and Kapha governs the immune system. As the seat of these three doshas is in the gastrointestinal tract, diet and digestion play a pivotal role in their balance and, in turn, heart and whole-body health.
Another critical connection to the heart is the energy channels that run through the spine and control the flow of prana. Because these energy channels depend upon the breath, Ayurvedic breath exercises are an important part of cleansing, calming and supporting heart health. The lunar left channel (feminine) and solar right channel (masculine) are balanced with alternate-nostril breathing. The center channel is balanced with both-nostril breathing.
Physical and Emotional Toxins
Keeping the doshas in balance, and the heart-healthy involves reducing physical and emotional toxins that interfere with a free flow of energy. Improper diet, poor eating habits or digestive issues result in accumulated toxins that clog arteries. Exposure to pollutants and harmful lifestyle habits create free radicals that impair heart function. Stress, worry, anxiety, anger, fear, jealousy, frustration, resentment, and negative thinking aggravate the system. Tension constricts and stagnates. Over time, the accumulated effect creates physical and emotional damage.
The most significant way to counteract that damage is with a proper diet that improves digestion and absorption, creating a feeling of well-being and dispelling negativity. In Ayurveda, doshas are also present in the food we eat, and so a balanced diet includes foods that match the individual’s dosha profile.
In general, choose a diet of fresh-cooked foods (not canned or processed); fresh fruits and vegetables; spices that aid digestion, such as ginger; turmeric for its antioxidant properties; garlic for immunity and blood flow; and black pepper to improve the flow of oxygen to the brain. Make sure to increase your fiber intake; use whole grains and healthy fats, such as olive oil and ghee; and drink liquids that are warm or room temperature, not cold, to aid digestion.
The Ayurvedic Lifestyle
Ayurveda and Western modalities agree that stress reduction techniques (moderate exercise, meditation, massage, soothing music, sufficient sleep, daily routines, and regular meals) offer positive effects physically and emotionally. Ayurveda adds to those effects with a personalized nutrition and lifestyle program, herbal remedies or homeopathy, vitamin and mineral supplements, and a detox or cleansing program. Breathing techniques, yoga exercises, and mantras might also be included.
For heart health, Ayurveda looks at the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. In Ayurveda these are inseparable. When we are in balance, our outlook is in sync with life, the environment, and the well-ordered universe. Furthermore, if our heart is healthy, both physically and emotionally, we start embodying overall health.
Dr. Somesh N. Kaushik is an Ayurvedic and naturopathic physician and the owner of Dr. Kaushik’s Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Clinic, located at 792 Rte. 35, Cross River, NY. For more info, call 914.875.9088 during business hours Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday; email [email protected]; or visit DrKaushik.com. See ad pg. XX