Close your eyes and tune in to your heart.
Take a deep breath… and get a sense. What do you feel there?
Does your heart feel light, clear and joyful? Do you sense the powerful, connected energy that radiates from this center of your being?
Perhaps this isn’t how your heart feels… maybe not today, or maybe not ever. But the great news is, it can. In fact, this kind of joy and connectivity is your natural state of being!
Your natural state is harmonious, a feeling in which your body, heart-mind and spirit are united in a sense of wholeness. In this state, which the HeartMath Institute calls “coherence, you feel connected not only to your deepest self, but to others and to the Earth.
Imagine what the world could be like if everyone was flowing through life in this state of joyful coherence. We would likely see far less conflict around us if we were all making choices from a place of love for ourselves, our communities and the planet, rather than insecurity or fear… in every moment.
So how do we bring ourselves back into this state of coherence?
First let’s take a moment to understand the significance of this miraculous organ we call the heart.
Contemporary research is finally catching up to what some ancient cultures have known for millennia: that your heart is a powerful energetic center in addition to being a miraculous organ that supports circulation. In fact, it has now been demonstrated that the heart is an endocrine gland, producing neurotransmitters in response to emotional stimuli. The heart also produces adrenaline and dopamine as well as oxytocin, the “love hormone. Perhaps this is why Tibetans do not differentiate between the heart and the mind, having only one word to describe what we perceive as two concepts!
In the Vedic scriptures this energetic center is the fourth chakra, known in Sanskrit as Anahata, which means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” The name implies that beneath the pain of past experiences lies a pure and divine place where no hurt exists. It is the source of deep and profound truths that cannot be expressed in words, and is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras, integrating our being from the physical to the spiritual.
When your heart chakra is open, you feel as if you are flowing with love and compassion, you are quick to forgive, and you accept others and yourself. There is a deep sense of connection with the world and cosmos around you. On the contrary, a closed or misaligned heart chakra can give way to grief, anger, jealousy, fear, worthiness issues and co-dependence, as well as poor circulation, high or low blood pressure, and other heart and lung conditions.
Indeed, the heart-mind connection is undeniable. This is demonstrated clearly by the countless stories of heart transplant recipients who have soon-after developed a taste for the same things their heart donor had loved. As another example, according to ancient Ayurvedic texts, the highly prevalent disease known as metabolic syndrome is a manifestation of severe kapha imbalance. The symptoms of metabolic syndrome, which nearly 35% of all US adults suffer from, include abdominal obesity, elevated serum cholesterol and triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and insulin resistance. One of its main causes, both according to contemporary studies and to Ayurveda, is negative emotion. This may take the form of excessive worry, fear, stress or hostility. And modern science agrees: according to the American Psychiatric association, “Hostility is a better predictor of coronary heart disease (CHD) in older men than a variety of other sociodemographic and physiological risk factors, including smoking, drinking, high caloric intake and high levels of LDL cholesterol, according to a new study published in Health Psychology (Vol. 21, No. 6)”.
With this new understanding of the dynamic nature of the heart, it is important that we protect and nourish this precious organ within us, not only on a physical level, but on an emotional and spiritual level as well. Below are a few simple and unique tips for caring for your heart. Many of these practices impact the heart on each of these three levels. Implement them in your own life, and as you do, believe that compassion, joy and love will unfold around you… you may be surprised at the results!
Tips for ensuring your heart is healthy, thriving & connected
Sip cinnamon-ginger-cardamom tea in the morning
Sip cinnamon-ginger-cardamom tea in the morning to burn toxins (ama) and increase the digestive fire (agni). The Ayurvedic spice cinnamon has been shown to strengthen the heart, enhance the activity of insulin, improve blood lipids, and provide valuable anti-oxidants to help prevent metabolic syndrome. Ginger is used to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol, to increase circulation, and to improve overall heart health (note that fresh ginger is best for vata and pitta and dry ginger for kapha type constitutions). Cardamom stimulates the heart-mind and gives clarity and joy.
Incorporate heart healthy essential oils into your routine
Rose is one of the best herbs to soothe negative emotion and to open the heart to love and compassion. Sandalwood is also helpful in the presence of strong pitta emotion such as anger, anxiety, frustration, greed or jealousy. Orange bergamot helps reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Try either diffusing these oils into the air or adding them to a roller applicator with a carrier oil and applying the blend to your pulse points throughout the day.
Enjoy flax and olive oils in your diet
Flax oil contains essential fatty acids, lignans, and omega-3 oils, which are each vital to heart health. Olive oil is thought to reduce inflammation, prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure. Flax oil and olive oil also have the unique ability to dissolve and displace bad fats in the arteries, making them pliable and smooth so they maintain their youthfulness. Try incorporating flax and olive oil into your diet via this dreamy tahini miso recipe!
Craving the sweet taste? Reach for raisins
It is said in Ayurveda that the sweet taste is associated with feelings of love and fulfillment. This is probably why we tend to reach for sweets when the heart feels heavy with sadness or anger. It’s okay to sometimes soothe your pitta type emotions with the sweet taste, but do it in a heart-healthy way! Rather than diving into a bag of candy, reach for a handful of raisins. Raisins contain iron and polyphenols (reservatol), which are great for the heart.
Recite affirmations daily
Health originates in heart consciousness and finds expression in your body and mind as well as your relationships and community. This means that our mental state and the things we tell ourselves on a daily basis are profoundly impactful on our wellbeing. Affirmations are a simple but effective tool for altering the subtle mind, shifting the heart consciousness toward supporting your deep health. Start with reciting the following affirmations to yourself daily. To keep this exercise present, try handwriting these out and pasting them on your refrigerator or mirror.
I have true peace in my heart.
I am deeply loved, appreciated and supported by those around me.
I hold within my heart all beings with love and compassion.
Use the grief-spot meditation
Many of us are carrying in our hearts deep-seated grief from experiences we’ve had in this lifetime or previous ones. To soothe grief, try this grief-spot meditation. Gently rest your middle finger on your sternum. Feel around until you find the spot on the sternum where it feels tender and soft. This is the marma point where grief is held. Slowly increase pressure on this point while breathing into the sensation that arises. Continue to breathe deeply into the sensation as the tenderness relaxes and dissipates. Take five deep breaths here.
Reduce stress in your life
Stress and anxiety are among the leading causes of heart disease according to the World Heart Federation. This is because acute stress triggers reduced blood flow to the heart, causes irregular heartbeat and increases the likelihood of your blood clotting. So find creative ways to reduce stress in your life, like taking 10 minutes to candle gaze, taking a walk outside, or spending some time tending to plants.
Let go of hurt
Many of us are attached to feelings of pain, anger or fear that we took on from a past experience, believing that holding on to these emotions serves us in some way. However, holding onto hurt harbors negative feelings and cuts us off from opportunities to connect, love and serve. So, when you encounter hurt feelings from your past or present, choose to first feel them fully and then let them go. By letting them go, you’re able to open your heart to new people and new experiences with compassion, love, and understanding. To do so, simply make the choice to let go. It really is that simple.
The practice of lovingkindness is revolutionary because, using the power of the heart, it has the potential to radically change our lives, helping us cultivate true happiness in ourselves, and thus genuine compassion for others and care for the planet. The book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg shows how the Buddhist path of lovingkindness can help us discover the radiant, joyful heart within each of us.
Practice heart-opening yoga asana
Easing in to yoga poses that open the area of the chest will help to balance the heart chakra, release grief from the heart and strengthen the heart-mind. Some poses include camel, standing bow pose, and cow face pose. This heart opening yoga pose sequence is a great option for beginner to intermediate yogis seeking to energize the body and lift the spirit.
Get plenty of exercise!
Of course we all know this, but just a reminder: it is critical for our vibrant our physical, emotional and spiritual heart health that we get our blood pumping regularly. According to Ayurvedic theory, though, we should only exercise to half of our capacity... in other words, quality exercise doesn’t mean torturing yourself. In addition, your level of exercise depends on your Ayurvedic constitution: vata needs the lowest impact exercise (yoga or tai chi), pitta needs slightly more intensive (swimming and brisk walking) and kapha needs the highest intensity (trail running or kick boxing). Make sure to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day to keep your heart thriving!
With heart disease continuing to top the charts as the leading cause of death around the world, it is critical that we take the time to truly nourish this essential center of our wellness. When we wake up each morning feeling light, clear and joyful is when we can truly thrive. And when we’re thriving, we attract true love… we fulfill our life’s purpose… and we can take the best care of our selves, our families, each other and the planet.