Goals for Radiant Health

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Despite my best intentions, I have been unable to write the next segment on the issue of health in 2011. But here goes..

By now, we know that health is not merely the absence of disease. We’ve also taken stock of our current condition and situations. We may have resolved to go through some of the recommended screening examinations and lastly, we may know our numbers for certain parameters by which health is traditionally measured. Now that we may have those in hand, what next?

The next step is to become familiar with goals for these numbers. Here they are, in the same order as the earlier post:

Physical:

  • Blood pressure: The ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. What is blood pressure anyway? The two numbers that make up this reading are called “systolic” and “diastolic” blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure represents the pressure or force against the arteries when the heart is contracting; diastolic blood pressure is the force against the arterial walls between heart contractions. Nearly 80 million Americans have high blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms warning us that our blood pressure may be high, we may walk around untreated for several years. And that is a problem – over time, high blood pressure damages pretty much every organ system in our bodies and puts us at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. Treatment of high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medications has been shown to prevent such calamities.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol is the fatty, wax-like substance that sticks to the artery walls and “clogs” up our plumbing system – of the heart, the brain, the digestive system, legs, and like high blood pressure, damage every organ eventually. Cholesterol is produced by the liver but also makes its way into our systems via the food we eat. This is where diet comes in, and we will examine dietary issues in depth later. Goals for the various cholesterol numbers are: total cholesterol less than 150 mg/dL, LDL (bad) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, HDL (good) cholesterol more than 45 mg/dL and triglycerides (bad) less than 150 mg/dL.
  • Body Mass Index: It goes without saying that we are in the midst of the obesity epidemic. While most of think of malnutrition as a condition that afflicts impoverished kids in third-world countries, it must be remembered that overweight/obesity is also a form of malnutrition. When there is an excess of fat within the abdominal cavity around the organs, there is the potential for developing  Metabolic Syndrome. This is a result of insulin resistance, which means that although the pancreas is producing insulin, the insulin cannot get to the organs because of the fat barrier. As the insulin builds up, people with this syndrome become diabetic. Because of the conglomeration of effects from the insulin and blood sugar, as well as the overall obesity, blood pressure and blood cholesterol rise (particularly triglycerides), creating the “perfect storm” for heart attacks, strokes, vascular disease, etc. The ideal body mass index is less than 25. In South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, etc), the ideal body mass index is less than 23.
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: (or triple A as it is called) is a dangerous condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel coming off the heart becomes enlarged, usually as a result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other common risk factors. The concern here is the potential for rupture (which is often fatal). Sadly, more often than not, there are no signs or symptoms that can pinpoint to this condition other than sudden collapse or death. Hence, getting checked for it is recommended, particularly in men at age 65.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is probably the worst disease one can have – a silent killer that attacks every cell and causes cunning havoc while seemingly nothing looks/feels different about the person harboring it. In fact, diabetes is such a strong risk factor for heart disease that it is considered a coronary artery disease equivalent. This means that diabetics are treated as if they already have heart disease, even before a diagnosis of the latter is made. Because, like high blood pressure, this condition causes no outward symptoms, diagnosis is often made incidentally by which time much damage is already done. Hence, getting regular check-ups for diabetes is essential, particularly in those that have a family history, are 45 years of age or older, are obese, have had diabetes during pregnancy or a history of heart or vascular disease or other risks for heart disease. Fasting blood sugar levels between 100-125 mg/dL indicate pre-diabetes (which means there is a high risk of developing it) and levels of higher than 126 mg/dL indicate diabetes.

Mental/Social:

  • Stress: While stress may be inevitable, the way we deal with it makes all the difference. Stress usually results from (a) overload – being pulled in multiple directions, with pressure to perform on various levels and in various roles, (b) life-altering situations – a new job, losing a job, marriage, divorce, new baby, death, accidents, etc that make us think we have no control, (c) biology – being “wired” in a certain way; classically the “type A”,  “high need”, resentful, regretful, hostile and angry personalities. Of course, there may be other causes of stress, but they can usually be fit into one of these three bins. Ideally, there should be no stress! Easy to say, hard to do. We will examine ways to reduce stress in these writings.
  • Dissatisfaction: Dissatisfaction results from the impulsive desire to be somewhere else at any given time. And this arises most often from comparison with others – real or imagined. In this mode, we can always look better, weigh less (or more), be smarter, have more money, have more fame, better job, better home, better car, better spouse and better children. Being able to love what we already have and experience contentment seems to be a lost art. Regaining this sense of being complete in any situation brings about harmony within and without.
  • Anxiety/low level depression: Anxiety and sadness always arises from remembrance of past events or imagined future events, never in the present moment. To be able to free ourselves of this nagging voice is worth the effort. With a dedicated plan and consistent effort, these can be overcome to a large extent.
  • Sleep disturbances: Ideally, we must follow a regular sleep schedule, with adequate sleep hygeine. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, being refreshed upon waking up, with no periods of waking up, or tossing and turning at night. While it is generally recommended that adults get about 8 hours of sleep daily, many can manage just fine with about 6-7 hours. Sleep disturbances can lead to many serious problems and must be checked out by a physician.
  • Food, alcohol, tobacco and other addictions: Clearly addiction to anything can pose a problem to our overall health and well-being. As we move further along in this series, we will examine the why’s and how’s and what-to-do’s of addictions.

Tip #2: Know your goals for radiant health

The New Heart Disease Guidelines – the Good and the Bad

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Earlier this week, the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) released long-awaited updates on guidelines for managing high cholesterol. In addition, they simultaneously released three other guidelines – on heart disease prevention, management of obesity, and on risk stratification for cardiovascular disease. These guidelines are definite steps in the right direction. For example, the new cholesterol management guidelines have done away with treating LDL cholesterol to specific “numbers” (such as less than 70 mg/dL in those with known cardiovascular disease, and less than 100 mg/dL to prevent the first event in those without known disease), and have adopted a more “individualized” approach to treatment with moderate-intensity (medium dose) or high-intensity (high dose) statin drugs.

Along these lines, four risk groups have been identified that might benefit the most from statin therapy – those with known cardiovascular disease, those with LDL cholesterol >190 mg/dL, those with diabetes and no known disease in the age range of 40-75 years with LDL cholesterol anywhere between 70 and 189 mg/dL and those with estimated 10-year risk of clinical cardiovascular disease of >7.5%. The general recommendation is to use the maximum dose of statin drugs that an individual patient may tolerate, to achieve LDL levels that may be optimum for them. For example, the lowest LDL level that someone with known disease is able to achieve on the highest dose of statins may be optimal for them. The new guidelines specifically discard the notion of using  additional non-statin drugs just to get the LDL “number” lower, since no big study has definitely proven the additive value of such an approach.

These guidelines also make an attempt to incorporate the use of imaging data in decision-making, albeit minimally. The recommendation is to possibly treat individuals with calcium scores >300 Agatston units with intermediate-to-high intensity statins. Alarmingly, in this recommendation, the guidelines miss an important lesson learned from the vast wealth of cardiac calcium scoring studies – any calcium in the coronary arteries confers a higher risk of downstream events, not just >300 Agatston units.

Unfortunately, the most important factors in prevention and management of cardiovascular disease have been somewhat glossed over in these new guidelines – lifestyle changes. By emphasizing the use of statins (which are not benign in terms of side effects), the guidelines are indirectly broadcasting the message of licentiousness for those variables that cause the majority of heart disease – lifestyle choices. The prevention guidelines effectively consolidate lifestyle choices into eating right and exercising. However, in my own cardiology practice, I have not come across one patient who does not already know this. Yet, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. Unfortunately, most doctors simply do not have the time or the motivation to inspire meaningful lifestyle changes in their patients. And to inspire such changes would require delving deep into the patient’s psyche to discover what prevents them from adopting healthful changes. There are innumerable reasons for not being able to adopt right choices – psychosocial stress, depression, other concomitant chronic illnesses and so on. From the provider’s perspective, it is far easier to write out a prescription than spend time talking or counseling, a behavior that might potentially be reinforced with these new guidelines favoring drug therapy in an already prevalent “pill popping” culture.

Heart disease is a disease of lifestyle. And largely preventable. In the rapidly changing landscape of the practice of medicine, it would serve us well to focus on prevention – as in making the time and effort to help our patients make meaningful changes “from within”. And that would mean spending enough time and effort to alleviate their unique stresses and blocks that prevent them from doing what they need to do, instead of adopting the approach of a “blanket” statin prescription for all. This is true personalized medicine.

Want To Beat Heart Disease? Deal With Your Emotional Issues

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health, Yoga Practices

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The following post appeared originally on Mindbodygreen.com on March 4, 2014.

(Last week, two studies were published simultaneously: one, a meta-analysis of the association between outbursts of anger and acute coronary syndrome (that includes heart attacks) and the other a scientific statement from the American Heart Association to include depression as a risk factor for heart disease. These two recent studies provide  further evidence regarding the need to address and ameliorate emotional issues.)

As a cardiologist, my main job is to see people with heart disease and to counsel them on treatment and prevention. What many people don’t realize, however, is that there’s an intimate connection between emotional health and heart disease. Most patients of cardiovascular illness have deep-seated psychosocial issues that have never been addressed.

Despite these data however, while almost every cardiologist understands the importance of lifestyle changes (exercising, quitting smoking, and following a heart-healthy diet), very few of us address an essential component for heart health, which entails healing the emotional heart.

The physical heart lies in the vicinity of the heart chakra (also called the anahata, which means “unstuck sound”), an important area worked on in yoga and most spiritual traditions. Chakras are energy centers that are said to resemble wheels; there are innumerable chakras throughout the body, of which seven are best known.

Each of these chakras corresponds loosely to a nerve network that supplies vital organs. The heart chakra, corresponding to the cardiac network, is considered to be the seat of emotions. The accumulation of guilt, shame, resentment, hatred, anger, hostility, anxiety and similar qualities results in “closing off” of the anahata, a constriction of energy flow and resulting in heartache—both emotionally as well as in the form of heart disease.

An extreme example of this intimate heart-anahata connection is the “broken heart syndrome,” caused by sudden, extreme stress in the form of shock, grief or sadness that results in a sick heart. These patients present with symptoms and signs of a typical heart attack, but have no “physical” cause (say, blocked coronary arteries) to explain them.

Not only do these negative qualities distort our perception of life events, but they also make us incapable of living fully in the moment. Although most of us would agree that hanging on to nonserving emotional patterns is undesirable, we have never learned how to effectively let go of them, which must occur at the heart level and not the mind. It’s not enough to reason away these patterns, since they reside at deeper energetic levels.

As with all other lifestyle changes, this process takes willingness, commitment, consistent effort, and practice, and broadly involves the following:

1. Cultivate silence.

In order to notice our behavioral and emotional patterns, it is essential to “step out” of the mind. Inner silence provides this much-needed space and distance, and is cultivated via a regular meditation practice.

2. Get curious.

Inquiry into the nature of our psyche throws much-needed light upon our deeply embedded issues. We can begin the process of inquiry by asking, Where in my body is this feeling? In the response, we can begin to notice that there are three parts:

  • The actual feeling
  • The mind story about it (for example, “How could she do this?” or “Wish I had never met him!”)
  • The label of the feeling as anger, sadness, grief, etc.

Once this ability to notice is developed through practice, we can then ignore the stories and labels and focus entirely on the felt-sense.

3. Let go.

This all-important step is developed simultaneously with inquiry. Without cultivating effective ways to let go, inquiry can remain incomplete, resulting in further confusion and pain. With further cultivation of inner silence, we can ease into the next phase of inquiry by asking, Where in time is this event that causes this?

In the response, we will be transported back to the time of the original event. The next step is crucial, and involves asking, Where is it now?

In the response, it becomes clear that the past does not exist any “where.”

We then ask, How does it exist now? In this response, we see that it exists merely as a thought/memory.

When this is clearly seen through, the issue, along with the physical feeling, the story and the label dissolves. Once we’re no longer caught up in the mind as the thought, the thought loses its enslaving power over us.

As non-serving emotional patterns drop away, the anahata finally begins to “open.” Rushing to replace the dissolving negativity are qualities of love, peace, harmony and equanimity. The past is forgiven and we become joyfully rooted in the present, with no anxiety about the future. Healing of the heart finally begins in earnest—from the inside out.

 

Eating for Yoga and for Health, Part I – General Principles

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health, Yogic Diet

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As a cardiologist, I spend enormous amounts of time counseling patients about lifestyle changes. This is because cardiovascular disease as well as most other chronic illnesses are the result of lifestyle. Surgeries and procedures help tremendously in acute settings; however, studies have shown again and again that there is no substitute for lifestyle changes (and medications) in preventing illness as well as events such as heart attacks, strokes and repeated procedures.

As a yogini, my focus remains on changing the inner substance of being that then manifests in the outer in terms of lifestyle changes, disease, health and wellness. No amount of counseling works in many of my patients, whether it is about quitting smoking, changing their diet or exercising more. It is not that they do not understand the benefits of such changes; often, they know more about the damaging effects of their habits than those that do not struggle with them. Yet, there is inner resistance to change in the form of excuses, mental or intellectual reasoning to keep up their nonserving patterns, or the emotional seduction of the habit that is extremely difficult to overcome by sheer will alone. Some make changes driven by will and succeed for short periods of time, only to fall back into the comfort zone of the ingrained habits. Yet, some seem to suddenly wake up one day for no particular reason and find they have undergone an internal shift. Within a very short period of time thereafter, the specific change they have been struggling with seems to occur all on its own. They quit smoking once and for all, take up exercising, lose and maintain a lower weight, change their diet for good, and report feeling great overall. Such miraculous transformations are delightful to observe and share in and are the true rewards of my vocation. These observations have proven to me time and again that all meaningful changes must necessarily come from within.

Interestingly, dietary suggestions of yoga are similar to those for prevention and management of chronic illness as well. In yoga, every aspect of life is included in the practice. This involves how we talk and think, interact with others, express our emotions, go about our daily business, eat, sleep, maintain intimate and other relationships, etc – no aspect of life (seen or unseen by others) is excluded. Thus, when it comes to food, the emphasis is not only on what we eat but how we treat and prepare the food and its overall significance in a yogi’s life. While food has become the tool for celebration and grief alike, this is not so for a yogi. As with all other aspects, food is another vehicle through which the yogi finds the calm, inner stillness behind the veils of thought, personality, emotions and conditioning. Thus, the preparation and consumption of food is aimed for this higher purpose only. Living this way and aligned with this small still voice, lifestyle choices arise automatically to support health and well-being. The need for external guidelines falls away when the wisdom of the still center is listened and surrendered to.

A word of caution is necessary here. Many spiritual aspirants will assert that because inner wisdom trumps in choices, they need no external guidelines or “rules”. To the guideline of vegetarianism for example, some may vehemently quote the example that the Buddha ate meat. Yes, this may be true. But the point here is this – if one is already a Buddha, there is nothing more to discuss. Until we get there however, guidelines are helpful. At various stages of yoga sadhana, we may become highly sensitive to various foods where they affect the ability to dive deep within. At a very advanced stage of sadhana, the yogi becomes one with the entire cosmos. What he/she eats is not seen to be different or other than himself/herself. At this stage, he/she has the ability to consume anything and remain unaffected. The penchant to fool ourselves that we are already there is merely the demonstration of the mind’s power over us to prevent us from making a meaningful change and that of our slavery to the mind’s pull.  It must be emphasized that (with very few and rare exceptions), it takes months/years of dedicated practice to arrive at the still center and to be directed by this higher wisdom. Thus, the first obstacle in sadhana is the belief we are more advanced than we actually are.

The guidelines for eating like a yogi encompass different aspects of our beings. The body is said to be made up of the gross body, the subtle body and the causal body. The gross or physical body is made up of flesh and bones, the sense organs (eyes, nose, ears, skin and tongue) and the organs of action (movement, grasping, speech, elimination and reproduction). The physical body grows or shrinks in size and shape and decays and disintegrates in the form of disease and death. The physical body is dependent upon food for sustenance. The subtle body is made up of energy or prana, mind and intellect. It is where the sense organs and organs of action are registered – it is here that the external world is brought “in” through the sense organs (in the form of seeing, smelling, hearing, touch and taste) and reaction or response is sent “out” through the organs of action. These registrations occur through the complex play of the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), past learned impressions/memory/habit patterns (chitta) and ego (ahamkara, or sense of a distinct “I”). The causal body consists of the root or the causal ignorance that in turn gives rise the subtle and physical bodies. Ignorance of what? Ignorance of one’s true nature. It is that which leads us to believe we are separate entities because our bodies, upbringing, culture and other influences seem different. It is that which gives rise to “me” versus “not me”. These three bodies can be imagined to form three “sheaths” or veils that cloud or cover our knowing of our true nature as Atman, soul or spirit. The aim of yoga is to part these veils so there is direct seeing that this separate self is indeed an illusion.

All lifestyle choices work on all three sheaths – the physical, subtle and causal. There is no action, thought or choice that does not permeate through all three, creating the cascade of what is to come in the form of physical disease or vibrant health (gross), mental happiness, peace or distress (subtle) and further tightening of the grip of separateness or its opposite, liberation (causal). This is why yogis eat and live in specific ways.

What does eating like a yogi entail? We will see in the next post.

The Secret to Healing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Being in the medical profession and as a proponent of holistic care, I frequently come across various misconceptions of what “healing” actually entails. “Holistic” refers to “holism”, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles”. This means that a “holistic” approach to healing is to consider the “whole” person – the mind, the body, and everything that “makes up” that person.

Interestingly, when we begin to define who we are, it becomes a dilemma to find what really “makes up” this entity we think we are. With a little bit of discernment, we can come to realize that our bodies do not define us. Prodding further will reveal that our achievements, wealth, life events (that is, the story of “me”) do not really define us either. And if we push a bit further, the definition of what makes up this “I” will reveal itself to be a conglomeration of beliefs. All beliefs revolve around how the world and I “should” be, and all beliefs are based on what we have learned through our own life experiences (memory), including what we have been taught at home, school, community, religious organizations and leaders, media and so on. Most of us never question these beliefs, and never ask if any of the “shoulds” are really true. And so we life our lives in continuous conflict: what the world or “I” “should be” versus what it is. The voice in the head provides a running commentary – “I should be happier, thinner, healthier, wealthier..” “I should not do this because it goes against my belief..” “He/she/they should be doing this, or should not be doing this..” “This should not be happening to me because I am such a good person..” and on and on and on.. We live and die this way, as slaves to our unexamined beliefs.

In the face of a medical diagnosis, everything that we do conventionally to “heal” stems from a sense of conflict. The “fight against” cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and so on that form the basis of funding organizations, research as well as therapeutic modalities is based on the premise that a person or population “should not” have the particular disease because of an imagined state where the person or population would be happier without it. However, we look at persons and populations without the specific disease and they seem no happier for the lack of it, for they have some other “should not” that keeps them unhappy. The entire language encompassing the management of disease is one of war – to “beat, destroy, conquer..” the xyz disease. The basis of all conflict, be it internal or external is fear. While the fear of death may seem like the “ultimate” fear, often we fear loss of our beliefs even more than death. The attachment to beliefs can be so pivotal to our existence that we find ourselves willing to die to protect them. And so we die holding on to the suffocating pain of fear, unforgiving of ourselves and others,and unwilling to question what we so ardently believe in, right to the very end. In this toxic milieu of internal war, disease sprouts and thrives, ravaging the body and weakening the mind.

The purport of healing holistically is to find and work on the root cause of an ailment. Thus, working on the body alone does not result in healing (it results in “treatment”, a word with a different connotation – the use of an agent, procedure, or regimen, such as a drug, surgery, or exercise, in an attempt to cure or mitigate a disease, condition, or injury according to Webster). Working on the energy body alone does not work either. For true healing to occur, what lies behind both the energy and physical bodies must be addressed. And that which lies behind it all is the conglomeration of beliefs that make up the “I”. This conglomeration of I-ness drives all our habitual ways of thinking and acting. These patterns are so deeply ingrained that we seem to be pushed by the power of habit to run along these grooves, helplessly reacting in habitual ways to everything that arises in our experience. For true healing to occur, we must become willing to change our habitual ways at any cost (even at the cost of losing all those precious beliefs). However, this willingness to change radically does not arise spontaneously for all of us. Often, an external push is needed to jar us out of the deep grooves of habit. A disease is one such push (the others being tragic loss or life event). Thus, all diseases and afflictions are absolute gifts of Grace, for they present us with the opportunities to stop the mind’s ceaseless activity and take stock of who we think we are. A “dis-ease” is an accurate signal that current patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviors are not serving us, the whole organism to be at “ease”. If we change how we view disease, everything about it changes – our relationship with it, our response to treatment, and that elusive thing, healing.

When we stop viewing disease as an enemy and instead begin to examine what it is pointing to, there is an internal shift from fear to acceptance to love. Fear of the unknown (the effects of disease, death) is replaced by the spaciousness of allowing the disease to show us what we need to see. Paradoxically, surrender to the disease results in deep healing of the wounds of self-loathing, rage, terror and grief that resulted in the disease in the first place. This does not mean that we will be miraculously cured of the disease – that may or may not happen. To surrender is to give up the fight, regardless of what the outcome will be. We don’t surrender with the intent to win – that is merely conflict in disguise. We surrender to surrender, with no hidden agendas.

As soon as when we stop fighting, we realize that we were fighting non-existent demons in a non-existent dream. As soon as we stop resisting the disease, we realize that it does not matter – for who we are cannot die. As soon as healing happens, we realize that cure is optional.

Image Source: Flickr

Heal Your Heart 2015 Retreat: May 1 – 3

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Heart Health, Practices, Yoga Practices

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We are pleased to announce the dates for the 2015 Heal Your Heart retreat. The retreat will take place the weekend of May 1 – 3, 2015. The retreat sessions will begin late morning on Friday and will end after lunch on Sunday.

Here are the details:
Where: Clarkston, Michigan at the Colombiere Retreat Center – www.colombiere.com
When: May 1 – 3, 2015
Price: $250 for single or shared (double) rooms, all meals included
Leaders: Kavitha and Matt

The retreat will include a balanced mix of asanas, breathing practices, meditation, discussion and learning sessions. Retreats are a fantastic way to deepen your practice, as all of these practices become more powerful when performed in a group setting. The beneficial effects of retreats can be felt for weeks and months after the retreat is over.

We hope that you can join us for an amazing weekend of growth and unfolding. If you would like to attend, please leave a comment below or email Kavitha.

We look forward to seeing everyone there!!

Lifestyle, Mind and Disease

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Recently, I met a beautiful woman who presented as a new patient. She was fit, curious and intelligent. As I read through her chart, I made note of her history – cancer treated with conventional therapy a few years ago, now in remission. She also had a few risk factors for heart disease, for which she was referred to me. As we talked about her history and her life, she stated that she had chronic insomnia from worrying about her health. What follows is a snippet of this conversation.

Question (me): So, tell me about your lifestyle.

Response (her): You know what? I have always been very conscious about my lifestyle. I eat healthy, I exercise avidly, I have never smoked, I don’t drink alcohol..

Q: That is wonderful!

R: Yes, but look at the irony of it. Compared to all my friends and family, I live a very healthy life. And yet, I am the one that got the cancer.

Q: Hmmm.. So, you think you should not have gotten cancer..

R: Exactly. Cancer runs in my family. My siblings are obese, they smoke, they never took care of themselves and yet I am the one that got it.

Q: So, in your opinion, if anyone should be getting cancer, it should be one of them. Not you. Is that how you feel?

R: Yes (sheepishly). Although I know that sounds terrible and I should not think that.

Q: Well, it is irrelevant what you “should” think. You are thinking it anyway, isn’t it (smile)? So, essentially you are saying that all those people that don’t take care of themselves “should” get the disease, and those that do “should not”. Is that right?

R: Yes.. This makes me so angry. I should be the last person to get cancer.

Q: Because..?

R: Because I am conscious about my lifestyle.

Q: And yet, you got the cancer.. Even when you think you “should not” have. Clearly, life is not listening to you. Tell me something. Have you always felt like you were in control of life?

R: Oh yes! I am a Type A personality.

Q: So was I (smile). Until life showed me who’s boss. Is it the loss of control over life, and things not going your way that is keeping you up at night?

R: Absolutely. I worry about my health. What more can I do? I am already doing everything!

Q: Are you? What do you think a “healthy lifestyle” entails? How about this seething inside you are experiencing? Are anger and resentment a part of healthy lifestyle choices?

R: No.. I have been angry for a long time about how hard I have to work to keep healthy and after I got the cancer, I became more angry and resentful.

Q: Do cancer or heart disease care about how hard you have worked? Have you tried to reason with the cancer about this?

R (Laughing): No. Of course they don’t care. Still..

Q: Still.. Hmm.. So, the cancer won’t listen to you and will do what it wants. Sounds to me like your trying to convince it otherwise is the problem. Would you agree?

R (after several moments): Yes. I can see that.

Q: Would you say that the main problem in your lifestyle is your worrying about something that cannot and will not change? It is like banging your head against a brick wall. What gets hurt – the wall or your head?

R: My head.

Q: Exactly! You can wage a war with what is really happening by thinking it should not have happened. In this case, you got cancer. What you think about it makes no difference to what has transpired. The cancer happened – yes, despite your lifestyle choices. Is there anything else happening right at this moment, without reference to memory, should or should not have, who should get it or not get it, and what might happen in the future? What is reality at this moment? There are two women talking in a room. Words are spoken and heard. Even as the words are spoken, they are already in the past – nonexistent. Can you find the memory of cancer hidden away some “place”?

R: No.

Q: Can you find anything else at this moment?

R: My heart is beating. I can feel it.

Q (smile): Even as you say “heartbeat” referencing one particular heart beat, it is history. Is anything going on at this moment that isn’t already the past?

R (thinking several minutes): No. Wow! I had never looked at it this way.

Q: I’d say the most important “lifestyle change” is to question the contents of your mind – your assumptions, judgments, comparisons, the incessant commentary about everything. Perhaps the cancer was a wake-up call for you to do just that. Perhaps it was the cancer’s way of telling you that despite your “healthy” living, you are caught in a whirlpool of toxins – the toxins of your thinking, of you trying to dictate what must happen to not just you, but to the whole world. When life doesn’t listen, you go to war with it. And you find yourself losing this war. This is not a war that can be won. The only way out is to wave the white flag in surrender. Tell me, how do you feel about your siblings and friends who don’t live a “healthy lifestyle” and have no disease?

R: I resent them.

Q: I love your honesty! Yes, that is exactly it. You resent these people that you love because they don’t have the disease you have! Look at the insanity of our minds!

R (shaking head): I had never thought of it this way.

Q: Lets see if we can make this most important lifestyle change now. Would you be willing to try something?

R: Anything!

Q: Great. I’ll teach you a simple mindfulness meditation technique to practice twice a day. Don’t expect changes overnight! This is a gradual undoing process of years of toxic thinking (smile).

R: Ok. I’ll do it.

And so this is the pattern I see so very often. Lifestyle changes are great, as long as there is no “tightness” around them. “Tightness” is the fixed expectation of the outcome that an action must bring. When the outcome differs, there is great suffering. The problem then is not around the lifestyle choice, but around the expectation. Why? There are infinite possibilities in every given moment on how the next moment will turn out. When we perform an action, the only thing we have control over is that specific action (and even this is an illusion, actually). We have absolutely no control over the outcome. Sure, we seem to know this intellectually quite well. However, how we take an unexpected outcome is the sure test of how well we really know this!

There is no dispute that most chronic illnesses are related to lifestyle choices. However, it is not as simple as saying that everyone that does “a” will develop “b” or that everyone that does not do “c” will not develop “d”. Even within these lifestyle choices, there are infinite possibilities – the environment, our individual constitutions, genetic predispositions and very importantly, the role of the mind. If fear of disease is the driving force for a particular lifestyle change, that disease is foremost on our minds. This fear “eats away” the sophisticated apparatus that connects the mind and body even as we make those lifestyle changes. Fitness of the body does not guarantee a balanced mind and outlook.

On the other hand, if the relationship with the lifestyle choice is one of wisdom and acceptance (and not of war), we can make the appropriate choices but not be too hung up on the outcome. Perhaps disease is the outcome – perhaps now we can be led to that place within that is already (and always) free of suffering. From this vantage point, there is no dis-ease. There is only wholeness.

Image Source: Cancer cell, Wikipedia Commons.

Heal Your Heart Program 2015-16

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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The fifth annual Heal Your Heart program begins this week. There are many new exciting changes to the program. While we have focused primarily on an inside-out approach the last few years, the program takes a new turn this year. In addition to the inside-out approach, we have added an outside-in component. This component begins with an individual assessment of your constitution and proceeds with a lifestyle plan based on this.

Why is this important? Clearly, one size does not fit all. What seems to be the right diet and lifestyle for one isn’t right for another.

Where does this wisdom come from? The answer is Ayurveda, literally translated as “science of life”.

The program this year will consist of 18 sessions over 6 months. You will learn how your unique constitution responds to the environment, to health and to disease and how to return the body and mind to balance.

For information and to register, please contact: Ann DePetris, RN at ann.depetris@gmail.com or 248.840.8081.