The yogic management of the diseased heart is slightly different from that devised by the medical scientists, but in my experience, both systems can be used in conjunction for the patient’s benefit. As you know, many yoga experts in India have appeared publicly from time to time and stopped the heart completely for some minutes, hours or even for many days.
In earlier times, people either witnessed these events or believed in them, but in recent years, such feats as burial underground followed by resurrection have been carried out in the presence of physiologists and cardiac physicians, using laboratory monitoring equipment, and the results have been validated scientifically and widely publicized in medical journals and newspapers in India and other countries.
The clinical definition of death is stoppage of the heart for three minutes or more and a death certificate is issued on that basis. But these experiments on yogis have shown conclusively that the human heart can be voluntarily stopped and then induced to function again after more prolonged time periods, as a result of yogic training.
How is this relevant for cardiac patients? In the first place, it leads to the conclusion that the heart is not an independent organ failing of its own accord, and that heart disease is an effect or result of an imbalance or loss of control occurring elsewhere. Where then does heart disease originate from? Surely, it is in the brain, where specific vasomotor centres have been isolated which control the rate, intensity and regularity of the coronary impulses. Therefore, if someone is suffering from cardiac arrhythmia (uncontrolled, irregular heart beat), angina (pain due to cardiac insufficiency) or a slow failing heart, we should really say that he has some malfunction in the coronary control centres of the brain, rather than something fundamentally and irreversibly wrong with the heart itself.
The most important factor leading to derangement in the coronary impulses emerging from the brain is a prolonged, excessive build up of anxiety and emotional conflict arising in domestic, marital or employment situations, coupled with a high level of subconscious intra-psychic stress arising from deeper unresolved and suppressed conflicts and memories from childhood and early life experiences. These cause fear and insecurity whenever they bubble up to the surface of the mind. When deep feelings of anger, competitiveness, jealousy, aggression, rejection and so on are not vented but are denied expression and suppressed back within the mind, the cardiac impulse becomes unsteady. This occurs when the tension and strain relayed down to the heart as an excessive level of sympathetic nervous activity. As a result, the heart strains and labours excessively, and heart strain and failure is the end result. Therefore, our mental and emotional metabolism is directly reflected in the performance of our hearts, and this is why in yogic therapy we approach the problem here at its roots, whereas medical science, which focuses more upon the heart itself, relies on long-term drug therapy to bolster up the failing heart mechanism, with little reference to the underlying causes on the mental and emotional planes.
If a yogi can stop and restart the heart through specific psycho-physiological training, then surely a cardiac sufferer can learn to recognize and gain control over the anxiety generating mental patterns which are constantly throwing his own heart mechanisms into revolt and disarray. We have found that lasting cardiac relief cannot be gained while the load of environmental and intra-psychic stress remain suppressed and unresolved.
Approaching heart disease in this way, we follow a yogic treatment program which has proved tremendously effective for cardiac patient, and a new awareness of his situation soon emerges. He begins to recognize and understand his problem more objectively, in the light of this relaxation, as confidence in his ability to relax his mind is gained. By going beyond the constructive confines of his mental anguish into a refreshing realm of relaxation, a new, more joyful person begins to emerge spontaneously, confident of his abilities to live. He no longer feels confined in an impossible predicament in which he is estranged from his own failing heart, but sees that the root cause is his own thinking, and that he possesses the power to heal his own heart and mind through yoga.
printed in YOGA, Vol. 19, No. 2 (February 1981)