Yoga and Ayurveda for the Heart
The darkness of night is coming along fast, and
The shadows of love close in the body and the mind.
Open the window to the west, and disappear into the air inside you.
Near your breastbone there is an open flower,
Drink the honey that is all around that flower.
Waves are coming in; there is so much magnificence near the ocean!
Listen: Sound of big seashells! Sound of bells!
Kabir says: Friend, listen, this is what I have to say:
The Guest I love is inside me!
by Patricia Wickman
The Heart is an organ of perception, says psychotherapist, herbalist and teacher Stephen Harrod Buhner. Buhner explains that at the formation of a heart, a few pace-maker cells start beating and that other heart cells start to join in, like members of a marching band, until all the cells are beating together. This group tapping is not limited to an individual body, but reaches out and entrains the beating cells of other hearts around it:
When the heart field of a healer and patient meet…the electrocardiograph (ECG) or heart pattern of the healer can be found in both the ECG and electroencephalograph or brain patterns of the patient. The heart field of the healer literally paces the patient into new patterns of health (Buhner 40).
This is the kind of evolution of the heart that fascinates me as the recipient and giver of the healing available through yoga and Ayurveda.
It is important to note that there are many heart ailments that require the use of western medications. These drugs facilitate the functioning of the heart in ways that diet, lifestyle and herbs cannot do. This is particularly true in cases where there is damage to the heart tissue itself. Having said that, Ayurveda and yoga provide complementary or preventive methods for maintaining healthy heart functioning.
Preventing heart-related imbalances and helping to correct them once they are already present is an individual process and depends on how the doshas present themselves. People with a predominance of the Vata (air and ether) dosha are more prone to dryness and hardness in the physical channels of the heart. The emotional component to this is the struggle to love and approve of oneself and the ability to give and receive love from others. Pitta (fire and water) heart imbalances are hot and inflammatory on the physical level and involve anger and resentment on the emotional plane. Kapha (earth and water) heart issues are congestive in nature. One quality of kapha is that it is sticky and on an emotional level this manifests as attachments—especially to past hurts. Add to the three doshas all of the other holistic components that come together in a human being (including all of the relationships a person is in with other people) and you have an intricate set of circumstances! When I contemplate the complexity of the heart, what comes to mind is the huge rotary with roads leading to and from L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Ayurvedic practitioners give case-specific recommendations to their clients. Some of the methods of heart treatment include flower essences, gems, herbs, dietary recommendations, mantras, individualized meditation techniques, yoga postures, conscious, deep breathing and more. The heart recommendations for a Vata person will include practices that bring unctuousness, grounding, stabilization, and nourishment. Pitta recommendations will be cooling, anti-inflammatory, soothing, and loving. Kapha recommendations will be depleting, detoxifying and mobilizing in nature.
One of my favorite heart treatments for a person of any dosha is called the Uro Basti. This is the exquisitely unique technique of placing a dam made of dough around the heart. The healer pours a thick layer of herbalized oil or ghee (clarified butter) into the dam. In Sanskrit the term “sneha” means both fat and love. While the oil/love rests over the heart, the practitioner performs a healing touch sequence with specific focus on the layers of the person’s energy body or aura at the heart center. This may sound far-fetched to some, but consider that sensitive scientific equipment can detect heart electromagnetic waves up to 10 feet away from the person’s actual heart (Buhner 40). Think of this treatment as a means of clearing away the traffic jams at L’Arc de Triomphe, but on the much subtler or spiritual plane.
The beautiful ritualistic practice of Uro Basti aids one in healing the emotional imbalances that are at the root of physical heart ailments. It is a fantastic therapy for anyone who has a sad, heavy or grieving heart. It is particularly helpful for those suffering from loss of any kind, whether it is an unfulfilled hope, loss of a job, a pet or a family member. One person reported after having this therapy that she felt as if her heart were being cradled by the oil—that somehow the oil seemed to have gone in and underneath her heart to provide the same kind of saturating and supporting love that a mother has for her infant.
I can attest personally to the heart healing that yoga and Ayurveda provide. Through these wonderful gifts from India, we can have access to greater physical, emotional, and spiritual heart health. A hard heart can transform to a fleshy heart, a broken heart can be mended, a sad heart can be lifted and an empty heart can be filled with love, love, love.
Patricia Wickman is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Certified Panchakarma Technician and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds a BA in French Literature and has over ten years of teaching experience. She loves people and enjoys inspiring individuals to perceive their beauty and potential. She lives in Eau Claire, WI with her husband and two children.