Guestpost by Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D
A Heart Filled with Bliss is a Healthy Heart
One who wants to protect the heart, the great vessels and the ojas, should avoid particularly the causes due to affliction of the mind. — Charaka Samhita
Above all, the heart in Ayurveda is known as the seat of ojas in the body. Ojas is the finest, most subtle level of the physical body. Ojas connects the intelligence level of the body with the matter level. It is the doorway through which biological intelligence functions to heal and balance us and therefore is the key to immunity and longevity.
Due to the vital nature of ojas’s role in health, Ayurveda recommends engaging in only those behaviors that support and uphold ojas and carefully avoiding those that destroy it. The Vedic texts very specifically address those behaviors that enhance ojas, pointing to fully half of them as particular qualities of the mind and emotions. In addition, as the quote above from the Charaka Samhita states, to protect the heart from disease, “avoiding afflictions of the mind” is of paramount importance.
Lowering Your Mental and Emotional Stress
Over the recent decades, a large body of research has accumulated showing that personality traits such as anger, hostility, anxiety, and depression increase the risk of heart disease in women and men by as much as 200 to 300 percent. Qualities of the mind and emotions, such as less anger, inner calm, more positive thoughts, and more feelings of love and compassion are described in the Charak Samhita as qualities that uphold ojas and lessen the risk of heart disease and all illnesses.
The Heart As The Seat of Consciousness
Interestingly, Ayurveda long ago acknowledged and described the intimate connection between our emotional life and the health of the heart. According to Ayurveda your heart is not simply a physical organ, a muscular pump that circulates our blood, but also, like your brain, the seat of consciousness itself.
In the terminology of modern mind-body medicine, or psychoneuroimmunology, your brain and the heart speak the same language. The neurotransmitter and neuro-hormonal signals your body secretes in response to your ever-changing mental and emotional experiences are simultaneously “understood” by your mind, and “felt” in your heart, as if both were listening in on the same conversation, with one organ reacting more intellectually, and the other, more on the level of feeling.
These neurochemical “conversations” are seldom trivial. On the contrary, their biochemical effects can be healthy to your cardiovascular system by reducing cortisol – the stress hormone, lowering blood pressure, and increasing serotonin, the “well-being” neurotransmitter. It is important to note that the main Vedic recommendation for healthy consciousness is to meditate and the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique has been shown in research studies to create all of the above positive biochemical changes. TM has been shown to 1) reduce cortisol, 2) lower blood pressure and 3) increase serotonin.
Nourishing Rasayanas For Your Heart
A rasayana is defined in Ayurveda as “that which causes ojas to be produced all over.” That is, a rasayana is anything that nourishes and upholds the fundamental level of health in the body. Rasayanas operate at the level of the deepest “gap” which lies between intelligence and matter, consciousness and the body. It is this level of physiology that must be filled with ojas so as to coordinate all the parts into a seamless, life-breathing, vital whole.
The Role of Exercise.
Rasayanas are not restricted to the plant and herb kingdom. There is a story told in the Vedic tradition of a king who was interviewing a group of Vaidyas (Vedic physicians) for the position of royal physician. One of the questions he asked to test them was:
“What is the simplest rasayana available to the common man, of no material cost, that is both relaxing and invigorating and is available every day to everyone?”
The correct answer was a morning walk.
Daily exercise was an integral part of life in Vedic times—desk jobs did not abound as they do today!—and so lack of exercise is not specifically mentioned as contributing to heart disease. However, the principle of balanced daily rest and activity is fundamental to health according to Ayurveda. For best results from exercise, follow the principles listed below.
1. A brisk walk daily for 30 minutes provides an excellent basic program for most women. Additional exercise accelerates and increases the myriad health benefits of exercise and is highly encouraged.
2. Include yoga or yoga-type stretching, aerobic and strengthening components in your routine, according to your ability.
3. Exercise early in the morning if possible.
4. Maintain a state of mental and emotional bliss and don’t strain.
Behavioral Rasayana (Acharya Rasayana)
In addition to balanced rest and activity, the following behavioral rasayanas are traits and behaviors listed in the classical text, and are particularly supportive for heart health. Read them and enjoy. If you find that you are already behaving in these ways, then know that your body is creating ojas and neurochemicals that support good heart health. If not, you can adopt them little by little over time to grow those qualities of mind and heart that produce abundant ojas and certain heart health.
“The individual who is of the following qualities should be regarded as continuously using rasayana.” —Charaka Samhita, Chikitasthan 1, 30-35
1. Truthful, without guile or cunning
2. Balanced in sleep and wakefulness.
3. Free of anger
7. Sweet spoken
8. Engaging in meditation
10. Practicing religion
11. Giving and charitable
13. Engaged in cleanliness
14. Keeping the company of elders
15. Devoted to love and compassion
16. Not conceited
17. Well-behaved with everybody
18. Respectful of teachers, mentors and elders
19. Not overly-indulgent in alcohol or sexual intercourse
20. Being positive
The quality of your inner emotions directly determines the quality of your heart health. Be vigilant to prevent negative emotions and thinking from creeping into your inner life. When you make the choice to be positive in emotions and healthy in behavior and a multitude of health benefits will naturally be yours.
Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D
Named “one of the nation’s most prominent Ayurvedic doctors” by the Chicago Tribune, Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. is an author, teacher and Ayurvedic specialist in women’s health issues. Dr. Lonsdorf is board-certified in integrative medicine by the American Board of Integrative, Holistic Medicine (ABIHM), has a private practice in Fairfield, Iowa, and teaches Clinical Ayurveda training courses for medical doctors at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.
Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. received her medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and did her residency training in psychiatry at Stanford University. She trained in Ayurveda with leading Ayurvedic physicians and scholars in India, Europe and the United States.
Dr. Lonsdorf has served as the medical director of The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, an award-winning Ayurvedic treatment center, and The Maharishi Ayurveda Medical Center in Washington D.C., the first Ayurvedic medical clinic in the nation’s capital.
Dr. Lonsdorf has special expertise in women’s health and is author of The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty After Forty with Maharishi Ayurveda (MCD Century, May 2004), and co-author of a best-selling Ayurvedic health guide for women of all ages entitled A Woman’s Best Medicine: Health, Happiness and Long Life through Maharishi Ayur-Veda, published in 1995 by Tarcher/Putnam of New York.
Dr. Lonsdorf is the recipient of the Atreya Award for excellence in Ayurvedic practice given by the Association of Ayurvedic Pracitioners of North America. She has served as a consultant and grant reviewer in complementary and alternative medicine for the National Institutes of Health and currently serves on the editorial board of Natural Medicine Journal. She has lectured at leading medical schools including Johns Hopkins, Columbia-Presbyterian, NIH and the CDC, is a frequently quoted expert on Ayurveda and natural health in the lay press, and has been featured in numerous local and national TV and radio shows as well as the print media.