Yoga teaches a tried and proven method of alleviating emotional conflicts which impose enormous strain on the human heart and could also lead to heart diseases and its related complications. Yoga provides a way of life through which the heart can be maintained in an optimal condition right up to old-age, as well as a way of relieving cardiac strain and illness.
In order to relieve the heart of its continuing burden, the emotional conflicts, dependencies, needs and requirements must first be known, accepted and expressed. Then, ultimately, they can be transcended. The emotional metabolism cannot simply be suppressed out of existence, because suppression may lead to mental disorders and physical diseases. However, by following the path of yoga systematically, emotions can be known and expressed in a healthy and a fulfilling way which is not detrimental to the health. These methods should help preserve the heart from crisis or even an early demise.
Meditation is fundamental to yogic life:
Heart disease patients who are trapped in negative feelings like fear, pain, emotional agony and insecurity may benefit from meditation. These negative feelings allegedly often accompany heart diseases. Therefore meditation is believed to progressively instill a feeling of stability, peace and increase awareness of one’s life.
Meditation can also induce profound changes in both the mind and body. Through meditation the body temperature, metabolic rate and endocrine secretion patterns undergo a profound and spontaneous change, the mind becomes deeply relaxed, and the heart becomes very quiet. Emotions are not killed but their expression alters. Gradually, the heart rejoices as if it is relieved of a tremendous burden and expresses emotion in a joyful and transcendental way, no longer limited by the instinctive personality.
Yogic program for heart and circulatory disease:
A tired and an overworked heart may be in need of a lot of rest, because rest enables the levels of vital energy and prana to build up and begin regeneration. Adequate rest can be coupled with asana and pranayama, a short walk taken per day and a moderate lifestyle.
Asanas are vitally important, but should never be practiced beyond capacity. The heart must never be strained and at the slightest sign of heart strain or pain the practice of relaxation should supervene.
1. Asana: Begin with Pawanmuktasana. These could be practiced every morning, after bathing with cold water in summer and warm water in winter. If Pawanmuktasana proves to be difficult, then it could be omitted. Shavasana can be practiced whenever tiredness is felt. Another important thing is that one should never hurry to finish any of these practices. Yoga should be a source of rest, relief and relaxation which will gradually spill over and transform one’s entire life. These asanas could be continued daily for at least two months. Then if possible, Shakti bandha asanas can be introduced.
The following major asanas have been recommended: Vajrasana, Shashankasana (relaxing for several minutes), Sarpasana, Yoga mudra and Bhu namanasana.
Pawanmuktasana: It comprises of Utthanpadasana, Chakra Padasana, Pada Sanchalanasana, Supta Pawanmuktasana and Naukasana.
Technique of Utthanpadasana:
Lie in the base position with palms flat on the floor. Inhale and raise right leg as high as comfortable. Keep foot straight and relaxed. The left leg should remain straight and in contact with the floor. Hold the posture for about 5 seconds counting on breath with retention of breath. Exhale slowly and gently lower the leg to the floor. Repeating this with the right leg as well completes one round. Do 5 such rounds.
Technique of Chakra Padasana:
After resting for 1 minute, again repeat the above procedure till leg has been raised. Now rotate the entire leg in a clock-wise direction for about 5 times without bending the knee. While rotating, make as large circles as possible. Repeating this with the opposite leg as well completes one round. Do 5 such rounds.
Technique of Pada Sanchalanasana:
After resting for 1 minute again repeat the above procedure till leg has been raised. Now bend the knee and bring thigh to chest. Raise and straighten the leg completely. Then lower the straightened leg in a forward movement (like cycling). In the entire process, heel does not touch the floor. Repeat for about 5 times each in both forward and backward directions. Repeating the same with the opposite leg completes one round. Do 5 such rounds.
Technique of Supta Pawanmuktasana:
While lying in the base position, bend right knee and bring thigh to the chest. Interlock fingers and clasp hands below the shin of the right knee. The left leg has to be kept straight and on the ground. Then inhale deeply, hold breath and raise shoulder and head off the ground trying to touch nose to the right knee. Slowly exhale and release the position gently. Repeating this with the opposite leg as well completes one round. Do 5 such rounds.
Technique of Naukasana:
Lie in base position with palms facing down. Eyes need to be kept open throughout the procedure. Take a deep breath and hold it. Raise your head, shoulder, hands, legs and trunk off the ground. Raising of shoulder and leg should not be more than 15 cms from the ground. Balance the body with buttocks and keep spine straight. Arms should be in the same line with toes. Hands should be open with palms facing down. Remain in this final position for about 5 seconds. Breathe out and slowly resume normal position. Repeat this for 5 times.
Technique of Vajrasana:
Kneeling on the floor, bring big toes together and separate the heels. Lower the buttocks onto the inside surface of the feet with the heels touching the sides of the hips. Place your hand with palms facing down on the knees. Back and head should be straight but not tensed. Avoid excessive backward arching of the spine. Sit in this position for about 10 minutes.
Technique of Shashankasana:
Resume the Vajrasana position. While inhaling raise your arms above your head, keeping them straight and shoulder width apart. Exhale while bending the trunk forward from the hips. Keep arms and head straight and in line with the trunk. At the end of the movement, hands and forehead should rest on the floor in front of the knees. Remain in this position for about 10 minutes.
Technique of Sarpasana:
Resume Shashankasana. Without position of the hands, slowly move the chest forward, and slide it just above the floor until it is in line with the hands. Now move the chest further forward and go upward. As arms straighten, the nose and chest should just brush the surface of floor as the body moves forward like the movement of a snake. Try to bring hips as close to the floor as possible. In the final position, arms should be straight, back arched, and head raised as in Bhujangasana. Navel does not touch the floor. Hold this position for about 5 seconds and resume position. Do this for about 5 times.
2. Pranayama: Pranayama is very important both in the initial recovery of a heart patient and in the subsequent rehabilitation and rejuvenation period. Pranayama should never impose a strain on the heart and lungs. If it does, then its purpose has been defeated. It should be soothing to the anxious mind, relaxing to the excited nerves and stabilizing to the irregular heart and circulation. The most important practices are Nadi shodhana techniques one and two, and Ujjayi pranayama. Breach should be only slightly deeper than normal, without retention, either internal or external. It should be as natural and silent as possible, and the awareness should follow the in-flowing and out-flowing breath very closely. Watching the breath is watching the mind and great relief of tension and anxiety will immediately be experienced. Cardiac function improves and mental stability develops week by week. The heart benefits greatly from the more efficient oxygenation process and damaged tissues are rapidly rejuvenated. Ten rounds of Nadi shodhana and ten rounds of Ujjayi pranayama are recommended.
3. Yoga nidra: Relaxation is to be practiced at regular intervals during the asana program. Shavasana, Matsya kridasana or Advasana can be adopted. The full practice of Yoga nidra is to be followed once a day.
4. Meditation: Cardiac patients should learn meditation not as a discipline but as an enjoyable pastime. Especially while they are confined to bed in the initial phases of recovery, and also later on during rehabilitation, meditation may be useful as a means of becoming aware of various issues. It may aid in making one aware of the physical, mental and emotional tensions which have wrought such havoc on the cardiovascular system. The most suitable practices are Ajapa japa using the mantra Soham and Antar mouna (inner silence). These practices bring detachment from the mental processes, fears and imaginations which are believed to be the root cause of mental agitations and tensions.
5. Shatkarma: Jala neti is an excellent practice for heart patients. It can be learned and practiced every morning even when the patient is still confined to bed. However, Kunjal and Laghoo Shankhaprakshalana should not be adopted by heart patients, for at least many months, because they may impose a strain on the heart.
6. Karma yoga: Selfless service, where one works with their entire attention, care and creativity without any regard for the returns, rewards or profits of the work, can be successfully adopted while recovering from a cardiac illness.
7. Changing lifestyle: Heart attack and cardiac strain occur most frequently in people who have a very rajasic, active and competitive temperament. Businessmen who become obsessively involved in their work may be prime candidates for heart attack, because they neglect taking some time off for relaxation and cell rejuvenation. They totally dedicate themselves to their job and neglect including any relaxing pastimes in their lifestyle.
Many people have lost the ability to completely relax and have replaced it with a concept of relaxation, which usually comprises of stimulating habits like smoking, drinking and social activities which excite and exhaust rather than relax the cardiovascular system. Skipping sleep and over-eating may further tire out the heart, circulatory and nervous systems.
Completely isolating oneself from work and preferably staying in a natural and restful environment is believed to be an important part of recuperation. For this purpose, an ashram environment may often prove to be ideal. This is often the first complete holiday such people may have allowed themselves in many years. There, these people can be introduced to a few new interests that are creative, relaxing and non-competitive, and more in-tune with natural cycles and processes. For example, simple manual work such as carpentry is often a revelation and a great joy to a person who has previously only used his hands to sign cheques! Similarly, simple acts like gardening, where the rate of return on investment does not depend on the economic conditions but on the blessing and abundance of the earth, can often help an anxious and ambitious person to relax and accept the pace of life more in harmony with nature.
8. Swadhyaya: Study of various scriptures and inspiring lives of saints who have devoted their lives to the realization and service of the highest truth, rather than to the realization of material and emotional possessions, is often a revelation to heart patients, setting an example for a whole new dimension of stress-free living.
9. Bhakti Yoga: This is the channeling of emotional energy away from personal objects, desires and attachments towards the universal Self or God. Kirtan, chanting, singing is also very relaxing and relieving for cardiac patients whose emotions may most often be deeply entangled in a mesh of personal attachments. Release of personal emotional entanglement often provides immense relief and paves the way for full recovery.
10. Diet: Diet should be light, avoiding the intake of meat, excessive proteins, milk and dairy products, oil and excessive spices. These could be replaced by whole grains, fruits and fresh vegetables. This may in turn reduce obesity, which imposes constant and excessive strain on the heart. A regular meal time is to be followed. Avoiding the intake of foodstuffs between meals should become a rule of life for such patients. Overeating must be avoided, as it can undoubtedly strain the heart. Evening meals can be taken before 7 p.m. These rules may aid in ensuring that the digestives organs are not continually overtaxed and liberate energy from digestion in to healing.
It is important that heart patients avoid constipation, as this could lead to pranic blockage in the digestive tract. Excessive stool straining is also believed to be stressful for the heart and for this reason, a light and a semi-liquid diet may be advisable post a cardiac crisis. Diet can gradually be normalized as one’s cardiac function is restored, but the intake of oils, fats and dairy products should be resumed cautiously. More so, discontinuing smoking may also prove to be beneficial to heart patients.
– Dr. Hiren Parekh