Friday, June 17, 2005

Affairs of the Heart

I saw former President Bill Clinton on the T.V. last night with David Letterman. He was promoting the unique paperback version of his autobiography My Life. He's written so much it takes two volumes for him to say it all in softcover. He's long-winded, like me, I guess.

It was fascinating to listen in as these two men, both of whose lives were saved by heart bypass surgery, conversed about health, lifestyle choices, and affairs of the heart.

Bill Clinton mentioned that for many people it is possible to reverse heart disease through diet and exercise. His coronary artery blockages, however, were too advanced. They had to be addressed by surgery.

More than ten years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish published a book called Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery.

I read that book when it came out and for the nearly four years that followed I was a vegetarian. I eat meat now, but that's a story for another message.

Ornish's book was the product of years of scientific research. It showed for the first time that arterial blockages in the heart could be cleaned out if people were diligent about doing a few simple things, including: 1) eating a vegetarian diet, 2) improving communication with those around them, and 3) addressing stress through practicing yoga.

Yes! Yoga.

Subsequent research, in which the components of the program were studied individually, showed that yoga was a key element in reversing heart disease. When those affected by heart disease didn't handle their stress with yoga, they didn't achieve the same results.

Yoga is good for your heart.

BKS Iyengar describes how yoga can rest the heart in his discussion of paschimottanasana in Light on Yoga.
"The spines of animals are horizontal and their hearts are below the spine. This keeps them healthy and gives them great power of endurance. In humans the spine is vertical and the heart is not lower than the spine, so that they soon feel the effects of exertion and are also more susceptible to heart diseases. In Paschimottanasana the spine is kept straight and horizontal and the heart is at a lower level than the spine. A good stay in this pose massages the heart, the spinal column and the abdominal organs which feel refreshed and the mind is rested." (p. 170)

paschimottanasana, intense stretch to the west side pose Posted by Hello

I discovered this same phenomenon when I was an avid bicyclist years ago. I was riding my trainer in my garage one day. My back was killing me so I sat up. When I came up out the crouch I was in I noticed that the pulse reading on my heart rate monitor shot way up.

When I crouched in the racing position (spine horizontal), my heart rate immediately dropped.

This surprised me so much I repeated it over and over just to be sure it wasn't a fluke. No fluke. It's true.

And it's just as true that you can rest your heart with yoga.

What might you be doing to improve your heart health? Follow Iyengar's advice.

About uttanasana he says, "The heart beats are slowed down and the spinal nerves rejuvenated." (p. 93)

About adho mukha svanasana he says, "As the diaphragm is lifted to the chest cavity the rate of the heart beat is slowed down." (p. 111)

He even recommends karnapidasana. (p. 221)

Probably the best advice he gives is to practice savasana (corpse pose) twice a day for 15 minutes. (p. 494)

A caution: if you have heart disease you shouldn't do any of these poses without first consulting with an experienced teacher.

But for the rest of you, do some yoga. You might avoid the fate of Bill Clinton and David Letterman.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., None of what you read here is medical advice. Please get your medical advice and diagnoses from a licensed medical professional.

p.p.s., Bill Clinton also talked about the Asian Tsunami last night. He said: 300,000 people died or remain missing. More than 1 million are still homeless. Half of these are in Indonesia alone. 500 million people lost their livelihoods. In Sri Lanka alone, over 100,000 houses need to be built. Approximately $1.4 billion have been donated for Tsunami relief by Americans; $600M by Britains. Through the coordinating efforts of the UN over 1 million people in Tsunami-affected areas have been immunized. The Indonesian government recently signed a contract that will provide $700 million for building homes, clinics and schools. Of that $700 million, $500 million came directly from individual donors in the U.S. The biggest issue at hand is finding ways to restore or replace the work people did.

Although all of the emergency relief work is done, long-term reconstruction has not yet begun.

If you'd like to be a part of the yoga community response to the Tsunami disaster, go to to get your orange I DO YOGA wristband.

Also, please read my message "Yoga Community Bands Together for Tsunami Relief."

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.


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