Tips for a healthy heart- The New Indian Express

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Last week, on September 29, we observed World Heart Day to raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death globally. Closer home, heart attacks have become more common even among younger individuals. It is, therefore, crucial that we understand and implement preventive measures to keep the vital organ strong and healthy. In ayurveda, hrdaya (heart) is considered an integral part of koshta (the alimentary tract) and, thus, is called koshtanga. The heart is also one part of the trimarma, alongside shiras (the head) and nabhi (the umbilical area).

Marma points in the body are crucial for various functions, and any injury to them can have severe consequences. The term hrdaya itself encapsulates its function—‘hr’ for aharana (to receive), ‘da’ for daanam (to give away), and ‘ya’ for ayanam (to circulate). This illustrates the heart’s role in receiving, pumping and circulating blood, which carries vital nutrients and oxygen.

Hrdya is also considered the abode of manas (the human mind), which is divided into two aspects: thoughts and emotions. While the brain governs thoughts, the heart is considered the seat of emotions. To keep it healthy, one must distance oneself from negative situations, people, or things that induce feelings of anxiety and stress.

The role of rasa: Rasa is the first element produced after digestion, and is responsible for the body’s nourishment. Ayurveda designates the heart as the central point for the circulation of rasa. Therefore, the process of digestion, absorption and circulation impacts the heart. It is also the dwelling place of vyana vayu, a type of vata responsible for facilitating the movement of various substances throughout the body. Any issue in the heart can affect vyana vayu, or vice versa, as seen in conditions like coronary artery disease and stroke. The traditional system of Indian medicine asserts that emotions like fear and sorrow too can disturb vyana vayu.

Relation between koshta and hrdaya: Because of the connection between the hrdaya and koshta, maintaining optimal digestive and metabolic functions is crucial for heart health. Ayurvedic treatments for heart conditions often begin by correcting digestive issues to regulate bowel movements.

Dietary Considerations: The quantity, timing and contents of our meals impact heart health. Portions should be moderate, and meals should be consumed at specific times—breakfast by 8:30 am, lunch between 12 noon and 1 pm, and dinner by 7 pm. It’s important to incorporate fiber-rich foods and reduce carbohydrates, salt, sugar and spicy food in your diet. One should also avoid chips and deep-fried items, and opt for healthier cooking mediums like sesame oil over ghee or vanaspati.

Physical Activity: One should engage in physical activities till half of their strength. This can include a brisk walk for 30-45 minutes, practising surya namaskara and performing loosening exercises.

Stress Management: Transforming distress into eustress is essential for well-being. Reducing screen time and staying physically active, while connecting with nature, can help alleviate it. Ayurveda advocates achieving a state of being ‘self-settled’ (sthithi in swatvam) as the foundation of good health. 

The Role of Panchakarma: Procedures like virechana and vasti play a significant role in maintaining heart health. Additionally, specific shamanaushadi (medicinal preparations) such as kashaya, arishta and gutikas are prescribed on an individual basis. Therapeutic treatments like abhyanga, shirodhara and urovasthy may also be administered at various stages. 

Panchakarma is particularly beneficial for individuals with a genetic predisposition or a lifestyle that increases the risk of heart diseases. The author is a Professor at the Department of Panchakarma, 
Ashtamgam Ayurveda Medical College, Kerala

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