An estimated 7 million people in the UK are living with some form of cardiovascular disease and over 25% of deaths are a result of this. This umbrella term refers to conditions that affect the heart and circulation, including inherited diseases and developed conditions, such as coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and stroke.
If you were to discuss the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease, the topics of dyslipidaemia, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, obesity and stress would mosy definitely be present in conversation as they are considered to be a chain of events that initiate related CDV diseases.
Sherezade Ruano, yoga therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) in arrhythmias, holds a MSc in Cardiac Nursing and has extensive experience in the Research Field working with highly renowned medical professionals in areas such as interventional cardiology, nuclear medicine, and electrophysiology. Sherezade is the Founder of The Breathing Practice programme and The Breath Method.
We asked her to tell us a little bit more about yoga's ability to heal our heart.
The health of our heart and circulatory system is influenced by many factors but perhaps the most important one may be how we process emotional states like fear, worry, anger, stress and anxiety.
The main structure in the cardiovascular system is the heart, which beats unceasingly from conception until death. No other part of the human body has been so widely commemorated in poetry, art, and anatomy and so commonly used as a symbol for love. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart is believed to store the Spirit, ‘Shen’, and many traditions believe the heart to be the place where all our emotions live. It is also considered to be our most precious book held inside our bodies – which contains a record of a person’s entire life, emotions, ideas, memories, and hope, but of course, the place where our intuition lives.
Modern medicine has come to believe that the heart is simply a mechanical pump, a four-chambered muscle with a bunch of tissues and arteries, which main function is to keep us alive. This is not far from being true, but yoga has so much more to say about it.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that the heart has its own language and poetry. The heart, and its aura is the place where the real meaning of Namasté exists. In the yoga tradition, Hrydaya is the name given to the heart organ and its energetic field, which is connected to the energetic consciousness and our heart chakra Anahata. The Vedas – the oldest Hindu scriptures - named the heart as the light of consciousness. In The Rig Veda, the heart is considered to be the axis mundi between the microcosm and macrocosm.
Yoga is a powerful and extraordinary tool to use as an adjunct therapy for cardiovascular disease and cardiac rehabilitation. This ancient practice has the potential to act at several levels of the chain of pathophysiological events that leads to cardiovascular disease. Scientific research has expanded its views and demonstrated that the use of yoga in cardiac rehabilitation has the same benefits as exercise; it reduces blood pressure and heart rate, reduces respiratory rate and cortisol levels, increases exercise performance after a heart attack, helps to get rid of waste product and toxins, decreases the abnormal activation of the SNS (sympathetic nervous system), reducing the risk of developing or the reappearance of some cardiac arrhythmias. It also helps to decrease stress and anxiety and to deal with the so-commonly known and studied low mood and depression post cardiac event.
Yoga not only helps to reduce some cardiovascular risk factors but also, and most importantly, can be a complete tool of transformation, an opportunity to awakening the spirit or consciousness, and to become more calm so we can live a more fulfilled life. Yoga, when practiced safely and compassionately, helps us tune into the deeper layers of our being and to hear what our heart has to say.
When we immerse in the world of yoga for cardiac health, whether is teaching or practicing, one should always discuss safety first. There are certainly many practices that should be avoided or done carefully… But most importantly, it is a practice that should be taught and received with an open heart.
[This complementary piece written by Sherezade on Yogi Times details four important areas in working with heart disease where yoga practices may be helpful.]