Cardiac Health and Circulatory System
Yoga offers a number of solutions to aid in cardiac illnesses. Yoga therapy provides a way of life to maintain optimal condition of the heart. In order to do this emotional conflicts, dependencies, needs and requirements must first be known, accepted and expresses. Then they can be transcended.
Yogic Program for heart and circulatory disease
A tired heart needs rest first and foremost then a yoga practice can be built in slowly using the following steps.
- Asana: Beginning with pawanmuktasana 1 & 2, moving onto gentle asanas. If tiredness occurs savasana should be adopted to relax the body.
- Pranayama: Should never impose strain on the heart or lungs. The most important practices are nadi shodhana 1 & 2 and ujjayi breath.
- Yoga Nidra: Once a day yoga nidra should be practiced along with savasana and other relaxation techniques.
- Meditation: Should be learned as an enjoyable pastime not a discipline for cardiac patients. Most suitable practices are ajapa japa using the mantra so-ham.
- Shatkarma: Jala Neti is the best practice to be adopted by the heart patient.
- Karma Yoga: Selfless service where one works with all attention and care, without regard to rewards or returns.
- Changing lifestyle: Adopting a more relaxing lifestyle, many cardiac diseases are caused by stress resulting from an over active lifestyle.
- Swadhaya: Study of various scriptures where those have devoted their lies to self-service and realisation of the higher truths rather than material possessions.
- Bhakti Yoga: Channelling energy away from possessions and towards the universal self or god.
- Diet: Avoiding meat, excessive protein, milk and dairy products, oil and spices. Diet should be light. Overeating must be avoided.
Yoga for digestive disorders, deals more with the concept of psychosomatic ailments than with medication. How well does Yoga therapy understand this concept and mechanism of psychosomatic ailments? If you have noticed, the first thing that an Ayurvaid does, to correct the situation, when you have any chronic illness is deal with the digestive system. Similarly, Yoga therapy tackles psychosomatic ailments by cleansing, balancing and correcting internal digestive imbalances. This is result of the knowledge handed down by the ancient yogis since time immemorial. They carried out experiments with their own inner bodies and in states of deep meditation found out that the digestive system is the first target that stress manifests itself. The yogis of yore gave us crystal-clear descriptions of how rise in psychological gives rise to psychosomatic ailments. This understanding is of great use to all sufferers of digestive disorders. It helps them correct the problem and restore normal health.
Practical solution to Digestive disorders in Yoga therapy: Gomukhasana
- Fold your left leg under your right leg in such a way that the heel of your left leg is touches your right buttock.
- Now take your right leg over the top of your bent left leg in such a way that your right heel touches your left buttock.
- Adjust your right knee in such a way that it is on top of your left knee.
- Keep your left arm behind your back and your right arm over your right shoulder.
- The back of your left hand must be in contact with your spine. At the same time your right palm should be resting against your spine.
- Try to hold the fingers of both hands behind your back.
- Take your raised elbow behind your head so that your head forces down against the inside of your raised arm.
- Keep your head, neck and spine in a straight line and close your eyes.
- Remain in this position for around a minute.
- Release your hands, straighten your legs
- Now repeat the position with your left knee uppermost and your left arm over your left shoulder.
Yoga science looks at respiration different to medical science. For example it recognises mucus discharge as beneficial elimination of toxic waste from the body and promotes the cleansing process using the hatha yoga shatkarmas along with heat promotion procedures. This is due to the cold weather causing heat imbalances in the body.
Yogic perspective is a slow subtle process and discourages gross physical manipulations. Jala neti is used to clean the sinuses. Cases of long standing sinusitis have reacted quickly and favourably to the neti procedure. It should be performed twice a day. This will also help alleviate other ear nose and throat disorders also.
Yoga for Endocrine System is extremely important for good health. The endocrine system consists of your thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, adrenal, pineal, and reproductive glands. Their main function is to generate and secrete hormones that help regulate your growth and metabolism, for reproductive purposes and throughout pregnancy.
Certain health conditions are caused as a result of the inability of glands to secrete or produce hormones. The regular practice of Yoga actually helps prevent the incidence of, as well as in dealing with, a number of ailments or health problems resulting from hormonal disharmony or dysfunction.
What Is The Endocrine System?
The complex living functions of our body are controlled and monitored by a number of very important “ductless” glands. These are called endocrine glands. Their job is to produce and secrete hormones, otherwise called chemical emissaries in our bloodstream. The endocrine system is principally responsible for the balance – one hormone kindles a certain type of reaction, the other holds it back. Together all act in close kinship with each other, as well as with our sympathetic nervous system. All of them are controlled by the pituitary gland, and eventually, by the brain.
Yoga and the Glands
The Endocrine System arbitrates the close, most cherished relationship between the mind and body – emotions like fear or anger, love or hate, all suggest hormonal activity as well as, in many instances, disharmony. Needless to say, they all strongly influence your health.
The Pituitary Gland
The Pituitary Gland is the master gland of the body that regulates the secretion of hormones in all the other glands. It is under the direct control of the brain.
- Sirshasana (Headstand) is most beneficial here.
Thyroid and Parathyroid
The Thyroid Gland is responsible for the basic metabolic rate of the body, its growth as well as cell processes. On the other hand, the Parathyroid Gland controls the production and secretion of phosphate calcium.
- Both these glands are stimulated by the Shoulder Stand.
Pancreatic and Adrenal Glands
The secretions of the Pancreatic and Adrenal Glands are vital to life. They strongly affect our physical, mental and emotional well-being. The pancreas, for instance, secrete insulin that helps regulate the levels of sugar in the blood. When it dysfunctions the body suffers from what is called Diabetes. And when it ceases to function altogether, you need those daily painful insulin injections. However it can be helped, greatly by the
- Mayurasana, Peacock Pose which helps massage the spleen and the pancreas helps greatly
Female Sex Hormones (Ovaries)
The Ovaries, the primary source of oestrogen secretion, help regulate menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and all female physical traits. This includes complexion and sexuality.
Male Sex Hormones (Testes)
These are the primary source of testosterone. It is the male sex hormone responsible for procreation in men.
- Practice relaxation postures to help maintain a healthy balance in the male and female glands and hormones. This relieves you of all sexual disorders and problems.
Implications of Meditation towards holistic health
We have already seen that the mind can have a profound effect on the physical condition of the body, particularly through psycho-somatic disorders. Therefor it would be a logical conclusion to deduct that better control of the mind would allow for improved physical and mental health.
The use of meditation is particularly prevalent in better controlling our mental state. The premise of meditation is one of encapsulating a more relaxed state of mind removing obstacles. This improved and relaxed state of mind is complimentary to improved physical health particularly in the case stress induced illnesses along with other psycho-somatic disorders.
True holistic health requires a long term change in the structure of the mind. Meditation can be practiced and the effects can be seen almost instantaneously on a personal level. This however is not scientific in it’s approach and relies on personal evidence. Therefor in order to prove the efficacy of meditation towards long term health we must rely on more scientific studies. Three studies outlined below are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of meditation on holistic health.
1: Meditation affects our DNA (Harvard University, 2008)
A Harvard University study published in 2008 found the first compelling evidence that the Relaxation Response (RR) – the physiological response to meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong or repetitive prayer – affects our genes.
Nineteen adults were long-term daily practitioners of various RR techniques, 20 were trained in RR eliciting techniques (breathing, mantra and mindfulness meditation) for 8 weeks, and 19 served as controls.
By analysis of blood samples, the study found that 2209 genes were differently expressed (switched on or off) between the long-term meditators and control group. Specifically, 1275 were up-regulated (their activity was increased) and 934 were down-regulated (their activity was reduced). It also found that 1561 genes were expressed differently between the group who did the 8 weeks meditation training, who were considered novice meditators, and the control group. Specifically, 874 were up-regulated and 687 were down-regulated.
In other words, meditation – short or long term – causes hundreds of genes to turn on or off.
Many of the genes were involved in cellular metabolism and in the body’s response to ‘oxidative stress’. Oxidative stress is one of the biological products of mental and emotional stress. It produces free radicals and is known to be involved in a host of disease processes, including atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It also accelerates aging at the cellular level. Ideally, we want a good response to oxidative stress so that we can prevent the negative effects.
In the study, blood analysis found significant changes in cellular metabolism and response to oxidative stress in the two meditation groups relative to the control group.
The scientists proposed that the Relaxation Response – whether it is induced through meditation, yoga or prayer – may counteract cellular damage due to chronic psychological stress.
People have meditated for years and enjoyed better health (and a slower aging process) but many others have been skeptical as to its benefits. Now, we have solid scientific proof of the positive genetic effects of meditation in that it affects genes that positively influence cell metabolism and the response to oxidative stress.
2: Meditation effects persist long after the practice. (Boston University, 2013)
The effects gained from meditation continue to affect brain function for a long time after meditation is over, according to new research.
“This is the first time meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.
“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”
Before beginning the study, the researchers hypothesized that meditation assists in controlling emotional responses, even in a non-meditative state.
During meditation, the area of the brain that contains the amygdala showed decreased activity. The amygdala is a mass of gray matter inside of each cerebral hemisphere that is involved with the experiencing of emotions.
When the subjects were shown images of other people that were good, bad, or neutral for a mindfulness technique known as “compassion meditation,” the amygdala was extraordinarily responsive.
The participants were able to focus their attention and significantly reduce their emotional reactions. The study found that they were able to retain this ability for eight weeks after the testing concluded. The subjects demonstrated subdued emotional response and increased compassion for others when faced with disturbing images, even when they were no longer in the meditative state.
Another group of Harvard Medical School researchers studied the effect of meditation on retaining information. Their hypothesis was that meditators have more intentional influence over alpha rhythm – a brain wave believed to screen out everyday distractions.
“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” said Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center, both at Harvard Medical School.
“Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”
Both studies used participants that did not have prior experience with meditation. Over the course of a two-month period and a three-month period, both groups showed significant change in their daily normal brain function.
This research supports a belief held by some researchers – that meditation may help reduce dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.
“The implications extend far beyond meditation,” said Kerr. “They give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is deregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.”
3: Meditation causes high rate of remission from depression (Department of Physiology, Vardhaman Mahavir Medical College, New Delhi)
Sahaj Yoga is a meditative technique that has been found to have beneficial effects in some psycho-somatic illnesses. The study was carried out on 30 cases (19 Males, 11 females, age 18–45 years) of major depression diagnosed on the basis of DSM IV criteria. The patients were then randomly divided into two groups: Group 1 : (10 Males & 5 Females) Patients who were practicing Sahaj Yoga and also received conventional anti-depressants. Group 2 : (9 Males & 6 Females) Patients who were only receiving conventional anti-depressants. Training in Sahaj yoga was conducted under the supervision of a trained Sahaj Yogi for 8 weeks. At start of the study, all the patients were subjected to Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) and Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety (HAM-A). Above scales were again assessed after two months of treatment.
There was significant improvement in HAM-D as well as HAM-A scores in both Group 1 and Group 2 patients (P<0.001). However, percentage improvement in HAM-D scores and HAM-A scores in patients receiving Sahaj Yoga was significantly higher than in Group 2 patients. The number of patients who went into remission after two months of intervention were also significantly higher in Group 1 patients (P=0.02). The present study demonstrates that Sahaj Yoga has got a potential role as a component in the management of depressive disorders.
A significantly higher number of patients (46.6%) went into remission in Group 1 than in Group 2 (13.3%) (P=0.02), remission being total HAM-D score of 7 or less.
The initial study (Harvard, 2008) conclusively concludes that Meditative techniques affect our ability to turn particular elements of our genes on or off. The majority of these genes related to the Relaxation Response of the body. By having greater control on these through meditation and other techniques we can better control our stress levels in the body and therefore reduce or remove the onset of physical and mental ailments.
The Boston University study shows clearly the benefits of Yoga Therapy and its validity. It also shows in a scientific setting that results from these practices are long lasting. As mentioned earlier, on a personal level one may be able to see the effects of meditation immediately, however this study brings scientific proof that it is not only there but lasts for a prolonged period of time after the actual practice. It also recommended the use of Yoga therapy as a substitute for pharmaceutical drugs.
The third controlled study used meditation versus the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of depression (depression being a particularly acute psycho-somatic disorder). The study proved that meditation was almost four times more effective in bringing the condition into remission in comparison to use of drugs solely. The relatively short study (8 weeks) is quite profound in the fact that it had an extremely high rate of remission leading to conclude that meditation is an extremely effective technique in resolving psycho-somatic illnesses.
These three studies clearly show the efficacy of meditation in changing our mental and physical state on a genetic level rather than a superficial one. This genetic change is the ultimate method of proving the veracity of meditations profoundly positive affects on holistic health.