The word ‘heart’ describes something that is central, of prime importance, and which keeps everything else going. This literary usage in our day-to-day lives should normally be enough to remind us how key an organ like our heart is for our body, and yet most of us fail to do enough to keep it healthy. According to a study put out by the American Heart Association, in 2019 almost half the population of the United States suffered from one or the other kind of cardiac disorders. How crazy is that?!
The Ayurvedic Perspective on Heart Health
Vayana vayu, a subtype of vata dosha is responsible for heart movement, pumping and propelling the blood—basically regulating the blood circulation from the heart to the entire body. Sadhak pitta governs our emotional balance while avalambaka kapha nourishes, protects, and lubricates the heart. Cardiac diseases are mainly the result of imbalance in one or more of these bodily humours. The umbrella term ‘cardiac diseases’ includes all the disorders related to heart including rheumatic heart disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease, arrhythmia. and inflammations like myocarditis, endocarditis and pericarditis.
Today’s sedentary lifestyle coupled with alcohol, cigarettes, and junk food rich in trans fats leads to a constant imbalance of kapha dosha and is the main reason behind increasing cases of coronary heart disease. The accumulation of toxins in the system due to faulty diet patterns and habits that are not synchronized with the natural rhythm of the body also play some role in this. The inflammations are mainly caused by pitta imbalance while vata vitiation is the main reason behind most issues that stem from the nervous system like palpitations and hypertension. A vitiated pitta dosha also leads to anger and irritability that can make it worse for a patient already suffering from heart problems. Stress, obesity, high blood pressure and increased cholesterols are some other major risk factors for coronary diseases.
Shodhan chikitsa (treatment by elimination) is one of the effective treatment modalities in Ayurveda which is based on elimination of vitiated doshas and accumulated toxins from the body through various interventions. A set of five such effective procedures, Panchakarma and the preparatory procedures of massage and sudation have been widely used to treat a number of ailments including high blood pressure, obesity, stress, and similar risk factors for cardiac disorders. In addition, these procedures also nourish and rejuvenate your mind and body, prevent a number of other ailments from manifesting and promote health and vitality.
Panchakarma for Treating Cardiac Disorders
Pizichil. This deeply relaxing procedure brings the advantages of both snehana (oleation) and swedana (sudation or perspiration) therapies. A uniform stream of warm medicated oil is gently poured on the body in a specific manner which is combined with a light massage. The body is covered in warm oil which simultaneously induces perspiration and loosens the Ama (toxins) by this preparatory procedure. Upon completion, the individual is covered with a cotton sheet or blanket and rests for a few minutes; this is followed by a hot water bath. Rasnadi Churna, an ayurvedic formulation that balances vata and kapha doshas is then applied on the scalp. Pizichil is highly effective in the treatment of coronary artery disease, hypertension, high blood pressure and many neurological issues that also impact heart health.
Urovasthi. In this procedure, warm medicated oil is poured on the chest region in a leak proof trough made of fine paste of black lentils, sealed to the area. The oil is retained in the trough for 30–40 minutes after which the lentil paste is wiped off. The medicated oil nourishes the muscles, nerves and joints of the chest region and helps in increasing blood circulation. Urovasthi is effective in treating cardiovascular issues like coronary artery disease, chest pain, and also respiratory issues. This procedure is usually performed for seven days, but can vary depending upon the requirements.
Sirovasthi. This procedure is similar to Urovasthi, but is performed on the head instead of chest. After completion, a gentle massage is performed on the back, neck and shoulders and Rasnadi Churna is applied on the head. This procedure nourishes the head region and is an effective therapy for treating neurological issues, insomnia, and hypertension.
Shirodhara. Shiro means head and dhara beautifully translates to stream. Shirodhara is a deeply relaxing procedure in which a continuous and uniform stream of medicated oil/medicated liquids is allowed to flow on the head in a defined manner for a certain period of time. This procedure is done daily for 5–21 days, depending upon the requirement of the individual’s vikritis. In addition to soothing the entire nervous system, this process is extremely beneficial in anxiety disorders, insomnia, headache, psychological disorders, and cardiac issues like hypertension.
Shiropichu. In this process, a folded sterile cotton cloth or a cotton pad is soaked in warm oil and placed over the head for a certain period of time. A relaxing head and neck massage can be done after the process. A few hours of rest is advised before going for a relaxing hot water bath. Rasnadi Churna is rubbed on the crown of the head to prevent cold and related symptoms. Shiropichu is particularly effective in treating neurological and psychosomatic issues in addition to its efficacy in ameliorating hypertension and other cardiac disorders.
Abhyanga. This is the ayurvedic body massage performed using medicated oils and specific techniques like regulated stroke and pressure on the different parts of the body. Following procedures like shirovasti, shirodhara, or shiropichu with abhyanga shows better efficacy in treating a number of ailments including cardiac problems. The massage helps improve blood circulation and opens up the coronary channels thus increasing the blood supply to the heart.
Virechana. This procedure involves elimination of vitiated doshas via anal route using tools of induced purgation. Virechan is one of the five pradhan karma (main procedures) of the panchakarma procedures, and is done after preparing the body using preparatory procedures called poorvakarma, which include stages of deepan-pachana (oral administration of medications), snehan (external and internal oleation methods like massages and oral intake of medicated fats for 3–5 days) and swedan (induced perspiration by sauna or other therapies). Virechan primarily eliminates the vitiated pitta dosha which the poorvakarma procedures have already channeled into the gastro-intestinal tract for elimination. This procedure effectively reduces weight and improves metabolism, both of which play an important role in saving your heart. The sticky toxins accumulated in the arteries and veins are removed and the blood vessels regain their elasticity thus improving the blood supply to the heart. Elimination of toxic pitta also pacifies the nervous system and brings a sense of balance and calmness in the mind which in turn ameliorates the problems like hypertension.
Vasti. Another of the pradhankarma (main procedures), this process involves use of medicated oils or ayurvedic decoctions in the form of enema which is administered through the rectal passage and retained there for a while followed by an urge to excrete. Vasti is effective in balancing vitiated vata dosha and hence helps in preventing vata related disorders of the heart.
Different treatments for Different Individuals
What is suitable for one might be detrimental for another, which is why the treatment options in panchakarma are always personalized for each individual and the medications, the type of oils, and the types of treatments are always decided after analyzing and understanding the individual’s body and health conditions by way of diagnostic methods like Nadi Pariksha. The age-old panchakarma treatments are designed keeping in mind the unique physiological and mental constitutional differences in individuals.