Yoga and Ayurveda for the Heart

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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 pacemaker 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, as Buhner explains:

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. (1)

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 function.

Understanding the Doshas

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 the 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.

Uro Basti

One of my favorite heart treatments for a person of any dosha is called the Uro Basti. This is the 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.

The beautiful ritualistic practice of Uro Basti helps a person heal 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.

Through these wonderful healing gifts of yoga and Ayurveda 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.

(1) Buhner, Stephen Harrod. “The Heart as an Organ of Perception.” Spirituality and Health March/April 2006.

Patricia WickmanPatricia Wickman is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, registered yoga teacher and certified Panchakarma technician. She owns Radiant Living Yoga and Ayurveda and offers Ayurvedic nutritional and lifestyle counseling, Ayurvedic body therapies, Panchakarma (Ayurvedic detox) guidance and private and group yoga lessons. Learn more about Wickman and her practice at www.radiantlivingayurveda.com. www.YogaInMotionSA.

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