I have a twisted ability to view the timely collision of unrelated events as a signal from the Universe. Recently, a secret message was delivered in the form of:
- a conversation regarding the leading cause of death
- February’s status as heart month
- a gift my daughter made me of a heart protected in a box
This was most certainly the Universe’s reminder to care for the heart. Thanks to yoga, nurturing the heart is natural. The heart is an organ that functions on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level; places united in yoga through the breath as life force energy (prana). Places that diet and exercise often overlook and pills cannot heal.
February comes with an all-access media pass to cardiac facts; Statistics such as one in every three deaths of both men and women in the US is from heart disease and stroke. Diagnostically there is no disagreement. But my Pitta/Aries fire fueled by yogic philosophy argues that stress is the leading cause of death. Five thousand year old yoga teachings do not dispute medical research, but view “dis-ease” from a whole body perspective, with stress being the common denominator. Genetics are important, but according to yoga and Ayurveda, “dis-ease” begins in the mind and spreads to the body. Despite a genetic disposition for heart disease, a yogic path allows me to go to bed at night knowing I do what I can to release stress. There is no immunity from stress, but an outcome of the practice is the ability to recognize the associated sensations; when rage tightens the face, sadness fills the stomach to the point of no appetite and anxiety takes the mind for a ride into worry land. This not a quest for perfection or denial of emotion. It’s observation. Awareness is where the ride in the sympathetic system stops and the breath leads to Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response super highway.
In addition to stress, factors in heart disease that cannot be ignored are diet and weight. Yoga is not a weight loss program. But a yogic lifestyle is attentive to what the body is filled with on both the physical and emotional level. Mindful moderation is a byproduct of self-reflective practices. In terms of treating the physical body as the temple, yoga teaches Ahimsa, the first ethical standard that translates to “non-harming”. The do-no-harm principle starts with self-respect; the idea that you have to love and care for yourself first. Additionally, Ahimsa extends to all living creatures. It is certainly not required, but yoga suggests a vegetarian diet. Eating vegetarian makes some hearts happy in a fuzzy-respect-animals way. But less subjective is the fact that plaque build up in the walls of the blood vessels leads to heart problems. Eating less or no meat, which contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol, has been proven to prevent and even reverse plaque buildup (Dr. Dean Ornish Heart Reversal Study). If you don’t want to pass up a juicy cheeseburger, in the very least Ahimsa leads to healthier food choices.
Emotionally, yoga protects the heart by teaching that the heart trumps the mind. In certain paths of yoga, such as Bhakti, emotion is channeled through the heart as love. The ego mind can’t give without first asking why and what’s in it for me. The heart is compassion. The mind craves attention and wants to be liked. The heart is unconditional love and doesn’t care what others think as long as you don’t lie to it – which you can’t. The heart also knows when someone or something leads you away from your true Self and gives you permission to protect it – to put it in a box enclosed with forgiveness.
As Xavier Rudd sings “Emphasis placed on the body and mind. The heart is often somewhere behind. Strange.”
Maybe not so strange this February.