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Monday, June 21, 2010

Ayurveda and Heart Disease

Today heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. Some experts believe that nearly half of the U.S. population will die prematurely because of this disease (Shneider, Fields, 2006). Heart disease claims more lifes per year than any other chronic illness and the future holds dire news for the more chronic symptoms associated with heart disease: cholesterol, high blood pressure, hypertension, and obesity. Obesity, in particular will only increase occurrences of heart disease as individuals unfortunately at a younger age now are only making the job of their heart more difficult with above average weight gain and poor diet.
Heart disease accounts for nearly half of all deaths in the developed world and 25% deaths in the developing world. The increases in obesity, diabetes, and other risk factors within the younger generations have also led some to draw concern towards how we're going to care for such a future patient popluation.
And there is not one population that is not affected by heart disease. Amongst women, heart disease is the number one killer. Not cancer, heart disase. In fact, amongst women there are twice as many deaths due to heart disease than all cancers combined (Trader, 2009). And more women die from heart disease per year than men, so this is definitely not a gender specific issue. However, it is worth mentioning that men and women often exhibit different symptoms of heart disease: Men often complain of specific locations In the body: the chest, an arm that feels tight, Irregular; whereas women often complain of much more "general", "overall" feelings of lousiness-type symptoms.
In regards to age: the youth obesity rate in United States has tripled since 1980, and according to the figures from government, 32 percent of United States children are overweight and 16 percent are obese. (Hock, 2009). In 2006, heart disease is projected to cost more than $258 billion, including health care services, medications, and lost productivity. (hock, 2009). So, the increasing rates of obesity in today’s youth further highlight that heart disease is not going to be a short-term problem.
The options left to heart disease patients from the more conventional perspective are essentially, drugs and/or surgery. What’s missing in conventional medicine and/or approaches to heart disease is the understanding that the body heals itself, naturally. There is an underlying balance of the body: mind/body/spirit that has been disrupted and healing involves allowing the body to re-balance itself and heal. Ayurveda attempts to uncover the inner pharmacy within our body to heal itself rather than to look for external solutions in drugs and surgery.

To first have a clear understanding and description of not only heart disease but what the heart is functioned to do for us in the first place is important. The heart's primary function, or better said the role of the circulatory system is to feed the approximately 60,000 billion cells in your body (Schneider, Fields, 2006). The flow of blood through the entire network of 60,000 miles of arteries and veins takes not more than an astounding 90 seconds. The body requires the constant workings of the heart, to continually feed the cells of the body to do what they're supposed to do. Bottomline: No heart, no life.

The heart is a pump made of muscle and “pumps” 2000 gallons of blood through your circulatory system everyday! But of course the heart is not alone in the circulatory sytem, as the entire “tubing” of the system is made of arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry the blood to and from the heart to the infinite places in your body. The network is expansive to say the least. There is also an “electrical” system of sorts that triggers each contraction of the heart which are coordinated by tiny fibers within the heart muscle itself.

There are 2 sides to the heart. The right side receives oxygen-depleted blood from the body, sends it to the lungs, then back through the left side of the heart, where it is then pumped out to nourish the rest of the body. On each side are two chambers, an upper chamber, or atrium which receives the blood and the lower chamber, the ventricle, which pumps blood out through the arteries to the rest of the body. The right ventricle only pumps blood to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, whereas the left ventricle pumps blood to the entire body via the aorta artery. The blood, of course, is returned back to the heart via veins. The entire network of veins and arteries is approximately 60,000 miles in hypothetical length. The first arteries that branch off of the aorta artery, are the 2 coronary arteries, left and right. It is these arteries that the relies upon to feed itself the necessary nutrients and oxygen the heart itself needs to operate. It is blockage in one of these arteries that is the most common cause of heart disease. Heart attacks, angina pectoris, heart failure, or sudden cardiac arrest originate in this fashion via atherosclerosis.

Coronary Heart Disease, which is the blocking of these coronary heart arteries, the heart’s lifeline to the nutrients and oxygen it needs to work. (Shneider, Fields, 2006). Artheroclosis is the the main culprit as it involves a gradual hardening of the coronary arteries that provide the heart with the nutrients and energy it needs to live, and keep us alive as a result.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease in which fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This build-up, also known as plaque, can lead to heart attack and stroke. As Atherclsoiss develops in the inner arteries around the heart, the risk for heart attack increases as the arteries are clogged, hardened and otherwise unable to transport the necessary nutrients and oxygen the heart needs.
The western lifestyle diet has exacerbated this with its sweet and salty food, animal fats and fried food makes one prone to heart attacks. The sedentary and sluggish lifestyle, the lack of proper exercise, physical or emotional trauma, congenital or hereditary factors, suppressed emotions or excess strain and anxiety are cited as other causes for the high incidence of heart disease in the West.

Of course, hypertension, which is high blood pressure which can be caused either by too much fluid in the blood vessels or by narrowing of the blood vessels plays a tremendously damaging role in the progress of heart disease. High blood pressure is usually defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90 that fails to come down regardless of your activity. When blood pressure is too high and remains that way, arterial walls become weakened and more prone to atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty substances on the inner walls of the arteries). The heart must then work harder to try to pump oxygenated blood through the clogged arteries. The clogged arteries are also more prone to blood clots that can block the flow of blood entirely. Consistent high blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than it should and can damage the coronary arteries over the long term.
So heart disease is when our heart doesn’t get enough nutrient-rich blood. The arteries which feed the heart, the same away arteries feed other parts of the body, when they become hardened, inelastic a chronic condition can occur whereby the ability of those arteries to deliver and pump that blood is diminished. Ultimately, cutting off nutrients to various parts of the heart which if are not treated immediately can lead to death. Heart disease can become a chronic condition because often we don’t know when trouble has been developing, often over many years. The condition known as atherosclerosis causes our arteries to harden as cholesterol, fat, and other substances build up in the artery walls; blockage can result in a heart attack. If not “fixed” by surgery or medical interventions (such as bypass, angioplasty, or medication), the condition will worsen, which can lead to disability or death.. Certainly a large portion of our population are in the dark as to how to empower themselves through a "balanced" diet and general know-how when it comes to allowing ourselves to rest our hearts, liteally. This is where and how Ayurveda can play a critical role in our fight against heart disease

Some of the more popular Ayurvedic supplements include, Amalaki, The amalaki fruit has been shown to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties amalaki has also shown in a human study to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood in both people who had normal cholesterol levels as well as people who had high cholesterol. (Mishra et al 1981).
There are so many herbs and formulations, too many to mention for sure, but listed here are a few of the recommended herbal medicine useful in heart disease.
Arjun (terminalia arjuna); Garlic (Allium Sativum); Ashwagandha, (Withania somnifera); Bramhi (Hydrotyle Asiatica/Centella Asiatica ) ; Guduchi (tinospora cardifolia; Tulasi (ocimum sanctum); Yestimadhu (glycyrrhiza glabra) ; Kutki (picrorhiza kurro guggul (Commiphora mukul), a traditional Ayurvedic medication used to treat high cholesterol. It lowers cholesterol by blocking the production of cholesterol in the liver. Similarly, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) seeds can decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as, increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent diseases before they occur. And this is one area where we must reverse our conventional wisdom on heart disease. If we begin to educate the public about how the heart works, etc. we can begin to educate the public about how to maintain “heart” healthy diet and lifestyle.. Daily, even hour to hour, gauged activity of healthy diet, meditation and sleep. This will give us each as individuals the tools, the means, the knowledge to on a day to day basis reduce their risk of artherclosis, and/or ultimate heart disease. How can you alleviate, ease and/or de-stress your heart now. Do it now and then integrate into your daily routine. Much of this, Ayurvedically, involves following a Dosha-specific diet which I won't bother attempting to reproduce here, but its importance cannot be overestimated.
Studies have already suggested that Ayurveda may be particularly effective at reducing the risk of heart disease. For example, a recent study found that this traditional Indian medicine helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls known as atherosclerosis in both healthy adults as well as adults at high risk for heart disease. The future ought to have more studies around the benefits of ayurveda in combatting heart disease.

Ayurvedic treatments incorporate and address the whole person, body, mind and spirit. Ayurvedically, of course, a practitioner would address client’s said heart disease through the understanding of the client’s predominant dosha. There are, however, more specific treatments aimed at a general population and treatment of heart disease:
I believe that when we actually perceive the truth of how/what the circulatory system does for us, we will be able to be more cognizant and thus capable of living a healthy heart lifestyle. I believe Ayurveda is crucial for those embattled by heart disease, but also extremely useful for anyone interested in more balanced health.
In Ayurveda, the heart is the most vital organ. It is the seat of prana, ojas, and Atman, the true or Divine Self. Western medicine, even culture, views the brain as the ulimate center of control in the human body. Ayurveda, however, considers the heart as the seat of human consciousness, as it reflects who really are, and how we really feel. Heart disease reflects the deep-seated issues of memory, feeling and consciousness. That is why many emotional problems usually play a key role in heart disease and should always be considered when treating heart disease. The heart is viewed as an organ of emotion, so emotional triggers and stressors should always be considered, such as problems at work or in relationships. Many proponents of Ayurveda claim that Western countries suffer the most from heart disease because of our focus on achievements at the expense of relationships. This, in turn, leads to heart break, isolation and loneliness.

The Raj Institute in Iowa offers a Cardiovascular disease program which treats the entire individual, consistent with ayurvedic teachings, and addresses three essential components of this disease: the clogging of the vessels with cholesterol and plaque, due to pressure and free radical activity; a loss of vessel well thickness; and artherthoclosis.
Cardiovascular disease has many components to it, but the main aspect of the disorder is a physical deterioration of the structure of cardiovascular vessel walls.
So, what are some of the Ayurvedic treatments? At the Raj Institute in Iowa, for the cardiovascular treatment program they follow nutritional guidelines, how to combat stress, as well as, encompasses herbal massages in line with client's dosha. Other Ayurvedic treatments for stress and overall relaxation are often considered for patients with heart disease. Much of it does center around emotions, feelings, and issues such as fear or even hostility. These types of practices and treatments are practiced in many Ayurvedic clinics around the world.
Dr. David Simon, neurologist and co-founder, Chopra Center, La Jolla, California on the use of ayurveda as an alternative treatment for heart disease spoke of
hypertension is related to perception of stress in the environment and that it's a natural, built-in, evolutionary response. "When we're perceiving a stressful challenge in life, that we activate the system by increasing the heart rate, by increasing the blood pressure, by increasing the breathing response, by sending out stress hormones in the body." All of which, over time, lead to increased risk of high blood pressure so we must learn to reduce our stimulatory response to situations In life. Like we learn in Yoga, how we react to situations, with breath.

I believe it’s critical for the general population to understand that heart disease allows and deserves for the heart to rest, to heal. It is like the baseball pitcher who must wait, rest out a few games before he is ready to pitch again. His arm, his/her muscles must heal and recuperate before they are asked to perform at peak performance again. So, the question must become how does one introduce rest to the cardiovascular system on a daily basis?

Yet how do we heal a muscle/organ that is constantly and persistently being used to keep us alive? But Ayurveda's contribution to Ayurveda also involves how it deals with regaining "balance" and attaining health, before it is "disease". Heart disease is a now problem. Later might be too late. Your heart has been beating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An organ that works so unceasingly hard for you deserves the proper attention and care. The most beneficial attention you can give your heart is meditation.

The benefits of meditation upon the effects of heart disease cannot be overestimated. Coronary Heart Disease patients underwent a sixteen week trial period of incorporating the practice of Transcendental Meditation into their activities. For comparison, a second group of patients in the study received health instruction. The study found that patients learning meditation had ower blood pressure, improved fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, and greater stability of autonomic nervous system functions. Other forms of meditation probably have similar benefits.

So, teaching people how to manage stress, both day-to-day stress and the providing underlying meditation and relaxation techniques are really key to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. There are even studies which have shown that people who have a heart attack and are in a coronary care unit, who listen to soothing music will have less irregular heartbeats. There's actually been a study that looked at men whose beds either faced the parking lot or a park. And if your visual stimulation was more soothing and natural, you'd get out of the hospital sooner than if you were looking into a congested urban scene.
And one of the other really important risk factors, which is just beginning to really be acknowledged, is whether or not a person is carrying hostility. If you look at all the risk factors, still the most important predictor of sudden cardiac death, particularly in a younger person between late 40s and 60s, is how high they're carrying hostility in their lives. And so we really focus on what people need to do to reduce that sense that the world is their enemy. Shifting that internal dialogue from one of hostility to one of increasing acceptance, creativity, playfulness, really can have a profound impact on reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease.
One thing that separates Ayurveda apart from conventional wisdom is the continual focus on the “present”, particularly in terms of thoughts, emotions, staying centered on the present and not worrying about the future and/or complaining of the past. It has been said in class and I can think of no better example that the heart literally operates in the present and the more our thoughts, feelings, anxieties revolve around what it can not control, this physiological disruption can prove very detrimental to those with heart disease. Ayurveda, at the very least, is a gift of showing us how to truly accept the gift of the present, and give our heart a break.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Autism and Ayurveda

Autism Speaks offers a straightforward definition of Autism as “a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges.”

Although each individual exhibits varying forms of Autism (hence the “spectrum” of Autistic diagnoses), some groups of symptoms and behaviors are commonly associated with the disease. Catherine Lord, Director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, offers the following answers about Autism Spectrum diagnoses:
ASDs are defined by difficulty in three areas of behaviors: 1) reciprocal social interaction, 2) communication and 3) repetition and insistence on sameness. Exactly how an individual is impacted across these three areas varies greatly. There is no one behavior that is present in all individuals with ASDs or that would rule out ASDs in every person. Many, but not all, individuals with ASD have language delays. Some individuals with ASD, but not all, have lifelong language disorders. Some, but not all, individuals with ASD also have mental retardation that affects development of nonverbal problem-solving, everyday self-care (e.g., dressing; academics) and language.
Within the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (sometimes known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders or PDD), there are a number of subtypes that are associated with different levels of severity in different areas.
Autism is the disorder that has received the most study and has been recognized for the longest time. It is defined by the presence of difficulties in each of the three areas listed above (social deficits, communication problems and repetitive or restricted behaviors), with onset in at least one area by age 3 years. It may or may not be associated with language delays or mental retardation.
Asperger Syndrome is a form of ASD that is often identified later (e.g., after age 3, usually after age 5) and is associated with the social symptoms of autism and some repetitive interests or behaviors, but not with language delay or mental retardation. Many parents and professionals use this term with older and/or more verbally fluent individuals with autism because they feel it is less stigmatizing.
Rett Syndrome and Child Disintegrative Disorder are both very rare, severe forms of ASD that have particular patterns of onset, and, in the case of Rett Syndrome, a specific genetic basis.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a form of ASD used to describe individuals who meet criteria for autism in terms of social difficulties but not in both communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors. It can also be used for children who do not have clearly defined difficulties under age 3 or later. This term is often used by professionals when they are not quite sure of a diagnosis or when the symptoms are mild. Several epidemiological studies have reported that as many or more children have PDD-NOS or less clear symptoms as have classic autism. The difficulties of children and adults with Asperger Syndrome or PDD-NOS are similar, and milder than those of individuals with autism, suggesting that these distinctions are fairly arbitrary and should not be used to limit services or benefits.

About Finn
Mari D. is a beginning Yoga student at the studio where I teach and work as the studio assistant. I received a phone call from her asking about private Yoga classes for her son, Finn, who had been diagnosed years earlier with PDD. Later, I received a book, beautifully and lovingly created for teachers and caregivers, all about Finn and his situation, his development, diagnosis, and likes and dislikes. In speaking further with Mari, she shared that the family had moved to Seattle from Houston in order for Finn to participate in therapeutic programs offered in this area that they could not find in Houston.

I was inspired by his parents’ dedication to giving Finn every opportunity to thrive and develop into the bright and lovely boy he naturally is.

Mari had heard that Yoga was an appropriate therapy for ASD. The sole text I was able to locate on Yoga and ASD is an inspiring book about the journey of Yoga practicing mother and her son who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents and Caregivers by Dion E. Betts and Stacey W. Betts.

The Betts explain about Yoga and ASDs in the introduction to their book:
The physical symptoms of ASDs, while seemingly slight, may drastically impair wellbeing and health. These children need an appropriate and enjoyable physical program. The practice of yoga assists individuals with both strength and balance. The poses improve strength in the large muscles of the body and may increase the tone of the muscles. Yoga poses may also help to improve balance by helping your child become aware of the placement of his or her legs and feet in relations to the rest of the body. The resulting muscle strength and balance control may improve coordination. When the poses are practiced consistently, your child will feel more comfortable in his or her body, which can carry over into other areas of their life.

Another prevalent feature of children with ASDs is that they have many sensory issues. For example, they are often extremely sensitive to bright lights. These children also cannot tolerate loud noise. The taste, texture, and smell of food may present a problem to them . . . Some children, when presented with such stimuli, become upset and agitated. This behavior may cause your child’s peers to view him or her as different. These behaviors may lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Yoga may address and decrease these sensory problems in several ways. First, the physical practice of yoga soothes the nervous system. Yoga provides poses of flowing movements that allow energy to be released from the body. As your child goes through the movements of the yoga program, his or her body will become soothed and anxiety will lessen. By practicing poses, an over burdened sensory system is calmed and quieted. Moreover, the physical poses offer a non-competitive physical activity that releases pent-up energy. By practicing yoga, your child will have a respite from his or her usual experience of a sensory overloaded body.

Practicing yoga may help a child feel more at peace with his or her body. Once your child is calmer and more focused, he or she may be able to concentrate better on learning social skills.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Those who understand see themselves in all,
and all, in themselves.

We're afraid of losing what we have,
whether it's our life or our possessions and property.
But this fear evaporates when we understand
that our life stories and the history of the world
were written by the same hand.
-The Alchemist

Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains,
at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars;
and they pass by themselves with out wondering.
-Saint Augustine

There are so many wizards of the computer,
stock market, test tube, and spectator sport,
but so few of the art of life.
-Mantak Chia

Miracles happen, not in opposition to nature,
but in opposition to what we know of nature.
-Saint Augustine

We are not human beings learning to be spiritual;
we are spiritual beings learning to be human.
-Jacquelyn Small

Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.
-Richard Bach

When we see everyone is a part of us,
that any criticism we make is self-criticism,
we will extend to ourselves an unconditional love
that will light the world.
-Harry Palmer

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
-Marianne Williamson

Our own pulse beats in every stranger's throat.
-Barbara Deming

When you want something,
all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
-The Alchemist

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
-Otto Rank

Life is meant to be extraodinary,
our bodies are meant to be vital,
and like a candle, burn brightly until their final moment.

Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and to sickness,
to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery.
It is we who control these things and not another.
-Richard Bach

Everything in this world has a hidden meaning...
People, animals, trees, stars are all hieroglyphics...
We think they are really only people, animals, trees, stars.
It is only years later... that some of us understand.
-Nikos Kazantzakis

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ashwagandha: Relax and Renew

Ashwagandha is a very popular herb used in Ayurveda. This herb helps to improve the body's ability to maintain physical effort and helps the body to deal with stress and anxiety. This revitalizing herb helps maintain the proper nourishment of tissues, particularly muscles and bones, while supporting the proper function of adrenals and the reproductive system.

Ashwagandha has been used as an herbal remedy for hundreds of years. It has many applications, and has been used by Native Americans and Africans to treat inflammation, fevers, and to protect against infection or illness. It has also been used to boost the immune system, improve memory, and to promote overall wellness.

Ashwagandha has many beneficial elements, including flavonoids and members of the withanolide class. Numerous modern studies have found that ashwagandha shows great promise for being effective in reducing inflammation, decreasing stress, increasing mental activity, invigorating the body, and as an antioxidant.

Ashwagandha With a nia somnifera
Ashva = Horse, gandha = smell, Gives energy like a horse
Part used: root
Guna: Light, Moist
Rasa: Sweet, Bitter, Astringent Vipaka: Sweet Virya: Heating (ushana)
Effect on Dosha: decreases Vata and Kapha, increases Pitta and Ama if taken in excess
Main Action: Aphrodisiac, sedative, rasayana, antiaging, nervine, analgesic


• Local – paste on enlarged lymph glands, oil in vata diseases
• Infertility, sexual or general debility, low sperm count, low vitality
• Useful for pregnant women for strengthening the uterus and the fetus
• Promotes sleep, used in stress, anxiety, nerve pain, muscle pain, overwork, emaciation, insomnia, nerve tonic
• Arthritis, sciatica, rheumatism, MS, paralysis
• Respiratory – Cough, Asthma, migraine headache
• Juice of Ashvagandha leaves is used as ear drops in ear discharge
• Builds Dhatus, especially mamsa and shukra
• Used in debilitating diseases, improves immunity
Forms used – Decoction, arishta, powder, ghrita, avaleha