Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a global phenomenon. In India, increasingly more people in the prime of life are victims of this disease. The tell-tale causes of coronary heart disease are: heredity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high serum cholesterol and smoking. The way of living and the way of feeling appear to be quite important factors in its increasing incidence. Hostility, lack of social support, job and family stress are major causes of heart attack amongst the young.
Present Medical Approach
The present medical approach is to dilate the arteries and increase the blood flow through them and diminish the need of oxygenated blood by the heart muscle. The surgical approach is bypassing the narrowed arteries or dilating them by inflating a balloon inserted in the narrowed artery. These are palliative measures and do not deal with the root cause of the problem.
It has been shown that CHD can be reversed and its progress halted by comprehensive lifestyle changes. They include a very low fat vegetarian diet, mind body stress management, moderate exercise, like walking smoking cessation and psychosocial support. Providing life style changes as a valid alternative to the patients, who otherwise would undergo coronary bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty, results in immediate and substantial cost savings .
We launched Universal Healing Programme at Ahmedabad on October 2, 1991, Gandhi Jayanti day. Since then thousand of patients have participated. We have quite an encouraging feed-back from these patients in their feeling of wellbeing and improvement in the objective assessment of their cardiovascular status.
Our Programme Consists of:
Moderate exercise like walking on level for 30 to 40 minutes.
Stretching and relaxation exercises leading to progressive deep relaxation i.e. shavasana.
Meditation and visual imagery.
Group discussion with emphasis on sharing of feeling.
Ordinarily our diet is rich in fats and simple carbohydrates, and contains excess of salt. Fat is almost 30% to 40% of the total calorie intake. It is recommended that dietary fat should not exceed 10% of the total calories.
Non-vegetarian diet is rich in fat, cholesterol and oxidants which increase the production of free radicals in the body. The excess of free radicals damages body cells, accelerates aging and arteriosclerosis, and increases the proneness to heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, and cataract. Hence vegetarian diet is recommended. Vegetarian diet being rich in complex carbohydrates has antioxidant properties which reduce free radicals in blood.
Regular daily walk on level at a moderate speed for 30 to 40 minutes is recommended.
Shavasana has been practised from ancient times in different ways. It has been considered the king of asanas. Physical and mental relaxation achieved by shavasana has no equal. During shavasana slow rhythmic alpha activity is recorded from the frontal lobe of the brain, and various chemical changes occurring in the body promote healing by increasing the immune status of the individual.
Meditation and Visual Imagery
It is difficult to calm the mind even for a few seconds. It is estimated that out of 16 hours of our waking time, hardly for an hour and a half do we live in the present. Most of the time our awareness is in the past or future. Meditation helps us to stay in the present moment. It diminishes the need of oxygen by the heart muscles. Within only three minutes of meditation, 20% of oxygen consumption is reduced as against only 8% reduction in oxygen consumption after six hours of sound sleep.
Meditation brings our awareness into the present by focusing it on the process of breathing as It slows down the rate of entropy. In other words, wear and tear are reduced. This results in better health and longevity. The progressive deep relaxation, i.e. shavasana prepares one for meditation. The technique of meditation is simple. Sit in a comfortable manner and gently close your eyes. Bring your awareness to the process of breathing. Simply watch the inhaling and exhaling of your breath. Thoughts may come and go but you remain unconcerned. Breath is life. When you are breathing, it is not only air that you inhale, you breathe in light and life force also. Thus your consciousness becomes one with your breath and life force, and healing follows. When we try to focus our awareness on the natural process of breathing, various thoughts disturb us and our awareness wander. However, we humans have a unique gift of being able to direct our awareness wherever we wish. Thousand times that the awareness wanders to the thoughts, thousand times it is gently brought back to breathing. This is the essence of meditation. Meditation motivates the individuals to adopt a healthy life-style. During meditation one experiences that one is eternal and boundless. The feeling of connectedness with the universe and wisdom dawns on the individual. This experience helps healing in The perception of our real identity and non-flowing time brings about the desired changes. Our greatest limitation is that we perceive ourselves as individuals limited in space and time. This perception is incomplete. There is another dimension of our reality (our larger self) free from the bounds of space and time, which is the source of our everyday reality (our smaller self). During meditation one experiences the boundless dimension of one's reality. Moreover, no experiment in physics has proved the flow of time. What we experience as the flowing time accelerates wear and tear. When we experience the eternal present and the our real identity, the sense of isolation, self-centeredness and hostility come to an end.
Visualization means formation of images in one's mind. It is not wishful thinking or fantasy, both of which are unfocussed and passive, whereas, visualization is direct and active. It is a therapeutic use of meditation. During meditation, the patient can visualize the cleaning up of blockages in coronary arteries and resumption of blood supply to heart muscles. It also enables us to forgive others for wrongs done to us and it also redeems us of any sense of guilt.
Group Discussion and Sharing of Feeling
This is also a useful part of the programme. Mere expression and sharing of the problems result in reduction in the stress response and substantially benefit healing.
Results of the Programme
The occurrence of a heart attack is a dynamic process. This is usually the result of extreme sympathetic activity following undue physical and mental exhaustion and stress. A heavy meal, excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking aggravate the arterial spasm and the clotting of blood. The practice of shavasana, meditation, and change in food habits with avoidance of alcohol and smoking blunt the edge of these harmful reactions and save the patient from heart attack.
It has been noted that self-centeredness, hostility, and cynicism are toxins to the heart. They constrict the arteries, whereas selfless benevolent work opens them up. The feeling of isolation is by far the most important factor in increasing incidence of heart attack in the individuals who are prone to it on other scores.
In one study 46 patients of coronary heart disease were randomly divided into two groups of 23 each. All the 46 patients were given the conventional advice and treatment and a diet very low in fat. One group was taught stress management, which consisted of shavasana, meditation and visualization. The results of a twenty-four day study revealed a significant difference in the clinical improvement between the two groups. The group, which was taught the stress management technique, showed much greater improvement, indicated by increase in work performance by 55% due to the improvement in the left ventricular function. There was 20% fall in cholesterol level and 90% reduction in the frequency of anginal attack.
We have a similar experience with as many thousands of participants uptil now. In our study, over and above the physical benefits of reduction in the frequency of angina and the increased capacity to work, a very encouraging spiritual gain was observed in the increased confidence and wholesome attitude towards life circumstances. Surprisingly, the fear of death almost vanished in a large number of them.
The programme does not claim to be a panacea, nor is it opposed to the conventional medical approach including bypass surgery..
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