Minding Your Heart – A Whole Body Approach
“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” - Marc Chagall
Daily existence has changed, magnifying the importance of health and maintaining wellness. While the focus is on protecting yourself against Covid-19 virus, it's essential to consider your whole body and mind when cultivating healthy habits. Especially now, given that stress has been linked to high blood pressure and cholesterol, and heart disease is still the leading cause of death in America (Center for Disease Control and Protection); a shocking 1-5 heart attacks goes unnoticed because they are silent. Unlike other organs, the heart and brain never get a chance to rest. So be mindful to care for your heart. It deserves boundless gratitude.
Awaken Your Energy
When searching for wisdom and intuition, look to the heart-center for passion and resilience. The heart chakra is represented as green with the ability to transform into pink; and its element is air. When this chakra is in harmony, you are able to embrace positivity and release negative feelings with ease; you maintain intimate relationships, express compassion and freely open yourself up to vulnerability. On the flip-side, if you're holding onto things, unable to release and move on, your heart chakra may be imbalanced. In the book, “Essential Guide to the Chakras,” author Swami Saradananda, suggests performing the lotus mudra to awaken and balance your heart chakra. Swami Saradananda's instructions are as follows: Bring your palms together at your chest, fingers relaxed. Keep fingers and palms together and turn your knuckles out like a flower. Take 3 or four deep breaths, and repeat, “I open my heart to receive whatever comes my way.” Bring your fingers back together and repeat several times.
Omegas & Healing Foods
There's a lot of talk about bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein LDL) and good cholesterol (High-density lipoprotein or HDL). While bad cholesterol can result from high processed foods, high saturated fat and sugar diet, it can be hereditary too. It's also true that eating a heart healthy diet can raise your good cholesterol levels, which may serve to balance out the bad LDL numbers. How do the various Omegas, 3,6,and 9 affect the heart? The body needs a delicate balance of these three essential fatty acids. Omega 3 is polyunsaturated; since the human body cannot produce it, you need to either supplement your intake or consume enough in your daily diet. Foods rich in Omega 3 are small fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, also salmon; vegetarian sources: flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and chia seeds.
While Omega 6 is also polyunsaturated, unlike Omega 3, 6 promotes inflammation within the body so you want to have some for balance, but not too much. Foods that contain Omega 6, include hemp seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, eggs and soy.
Omega 9 is monounsaturated, produced by your body, and found in foods such as olive and canola oils, cashews, walnuts, and may reduce risk of heart attack and stroke, and also help lift your mood.
The mediterranean diet, with its abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it’s low saturated fats, and especially beneficial for the heart. In general, avoid deep frying. Opt for steamed and fresh produce. Add liberal amounts of garlic, shallots and scallions to dishes (fresh or dry). Cut down on your sodium intake; instead, season foods with fresh herbs and spices of oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and cilantro. Substitute olive oil and herbs on bread instead of butter. Look for foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (good) fats, such as avocados, almonds, olive and canola oils.
Foods that naturally lower cholesterol include steel cut oatmeal, tart cherry juice, red wine, and teas containing antioxidants called catechins, contained in black, white, and green tea. Additionally, make an effort to limit processed foods, saturated fats, and white sugar.
How you move the body plays a pivotal role in heart wellness. To keep your heart pumping at its best, you'll want to get regular cardio. So if you are spending time indoors for prolonged periods, walk on a treadmill if possible. If you don't have access to one, walking briskly in place will achieve many of the same benefits, also marching in place. Additionally, for a fun break in the day, dancing to fast-paced music burns calories and works the heart.
Stress Reduction & Heart-opening Yoga
Calm the body and mind, circulate energy, and open the heart with hatha Yoga. Senior instructor, Linda Mangan, certified from Integral Yoga, has twenty years of teaching experience, (including chair Yoga and stress reduction). See Linda’s instructions for two heart-opening asanas below…
*When practicing Yoga make certain it is safe for you; check with your doctor, and modify if needed.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
“Lay on the floor, belly down, legs together and forehead on the floor. Those with lower back issues may want to separate the legs for comfort. Keeping arms close to the body, bend the elbows so they point upward toward the ceiling, fingers line up with shoulders, tops of feet on the floor.”
“With awareness, raise up the forehead, nose, chin, chest. With no weight on the hands, feel the engagement of the lower back muscles and pressure on the abdomen.”
“Think of lengthening the legs towards the wall behind you. You may go deeper by bringing the hands behind you and interlocking the fingers, drawing the hands towards your heels. Engage the lower back muscles and lift the chest higher. Breathe deep.”
Cat (Bidalasana) Cow (Bitilasana)
“Cat Cow is usually practiced together as a gentle flow from one posture to the other. It creates flexibility of the spine as well as strengthens the abdominal and back muscles. It opens the chest (cat pose) and encourages our attention to the heart-center, while gently massaging the internal organs.”
*If you have neck challenges, keep your head in alignment with your torso.
“Start with kneeling on hands and knees. Keep hands under your shoulders and knees under the hips. On the exhale, raise your upper back towards the ceiling as you lower your head and round your back.”
“The tailbone tucks under and you gently draw the belly towards the spine as you empty the air from the lungs. On the inhale, raise your head and buttocks towards the ceiling while lowering the belly towards the floor (cow pose). Alternate between the two poses, keeping it a gentle flow while encouraging the breath to deepen.”
Approaching heart wellness from a whole body/mind/spirit perspective means taking into consideration what's medically been shown to benefit cardiovascular health, while simultaneously coming from an integrative place. For instance, the book, “The Heart of Wellness,” written by Kavitha Chinnaiyan MD, is about meshing Western medicine with the ancient Eastern disciplines, Vedanta and Ayurveda. Dr. Chinnaiyan's method (Bliss Rx) goes beyond body and mind, and incorporates prana (life force energy). From an emotional perspective, Dr. Chinnaiyan believes that one's intention behind wellness plays a critical role in health. So each day as you practice healthful habits, remember to consider and appreciate that miraculous muscular organ beating in your chest. Sensitive yet resilient, treat your heart with the loving care it deserves.