“… there is other music in these hills
on still night, when the campfire is low
the pleids climbed over rimrocks
You may hear it….
A vast pulsing harmony
its score inscribed on thousand hills,
its notes the lives and death of plants and animals,
its rhythms spanning
the seconds and the centuries.”
I had a very busy winter in which I took an online course called “Natural Cardio Care” taught by herbalist Guido Masé and hosted by BotanicWise. I feel well-nourished and inspired to start the season with new products and with great enthusiasm. So I thought I might share with you, my friends and customers, some of the insights that I gained this winter. Some are new and some that are reaffirmed.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the western world. It is called a silent killer because there are often no preliminary symptoms. Hence, the way to heal heart disease is mainly to prevent it. Since herbalism is considered a holistic practice, it deals with whole aspects of life in order to heal - but mostly prevent - disease.
There are two ways to care for your cardiovascular system. First, caring for the endothelium, the inner lining (or skin) of the heart and blood vessels through diet and herbs. Second, taking care of your autonomic nervous system, the patterns of stress and relax “letting go of the banana” but more on that below.
One of the most important roles of the cardiovascular systems in the body is to ensure the flow of blood to every cell in the body. Blood flow provides the cells with oxygen and nutrients and transfers carbon dioxide and waste products from the cell out of the body. A healthy endothelium allows smooth blood flow in the blood vessels and the heart.
One of the things that intrigued me was to learn that the endothelium is negatively charged and so are the proteins, fats, and cells (white, red, pallets) of the blood. Which means that they repel each other, creating a levity band that ensures that the blood flows in our blood vessel without direct contact with the endothelium. As we get older, or through inflammation that is related to our lifestyle choices, the endothelium loses its elasticity and its charge might turn positive in order to attract white blood cell in the case of inflammation. This process makes the endothelium very vulnerable to even more inflammation and more hardening process which result in high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
The way to support the endothelium is through our lifestyle choices. The diet is where I would start, and of course, every diet starts by eating organic, home-cooked meals. Other considerations for your diet are:
1. Eating a diet rich with flavonoids. Flavonoids are vegetables and fruits that are rich with pigments - dark leafy greens, carrots, and beets.
2. Until recently, it was believed that a diet rich with fat causes cholesterol in the blood which leads to the formation of plaque and narrows the blood vessels. Today, we know that it is not the quantity of fat that we eat in our diet but rather its quality that is important for the health of our entire body, from our blood to the endocrine system to our muscles and brain. High-quality fats are found both in the plant world (avocado, olive oil) and animal sources (whole milk, cream, and butter from organic, grass-fed cows). Fat is the most efficient source of energy to our cells and serves as a building block to many of the hormones that our body produces. Contrary to popular belief, a diet that is rich in fat does not cause weight gain. It is actually a diet that is low in fat and high in carbs that results in weight gain. For more about that, read Sally Fallon’s book “Nourishing Traditions”.
3. The Rose family has an affinity to the cardiovascular system, both in mythology and in practical medicinal use. Rose petals are known to calm and uplift a “broken heart”. Adding dark blue fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries to your daily diet are known to nourish and protect the endothelium. Eating fruits from the Rose family such as apples and cherries does that as well. Hawthorn has been known as a cardiovascular tonic for millennia.
In 1628, an English physician named William Harvey published his book “De Motu Cordis” which described the heart as a pump. Until that time it was Galen’s view of circulation that prevailed, in which vital forces were the engines that are responsible for blood circulation. Harvey’s mechanistic view of the heart is the dominant view in modern conventional cardiology. A more holistic view of the heart sees it as an organ of integration of information from the brain (mood and stress) and the body (the blood carries information about each and every cell including hormone levels, enzymes, etc). Thomas Cowan, M.D., describes in his book, “Human Heart Cosmic Heart” the heart as a mechanism which does not pump the blood but creates two kinds of vortex one vertical on the right side of the heart, and one horizontal on its left side. Which, for me, immediately resonated with Biodynamic preparations and Homeopathic medicine.
The heart, as I learned, has its own nervous system that stimulates its contractions. The heart’s nervous system is connected in a two-way stream to the autonomic (unconscious nervous system that regulates all our life process) nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is made out of two subsystems, the sympathetic nervous system which is our stress or “fight or flight” response, and the parasympathetic nervous system which is the “rest and digest” system. These two systems stimulate the pace and intensity of heart contractions on an ongoing basis. Keeping these two systems in balance is crucial for the health of our heart.
Dr. Cowan cites research that shows that chronic suppression of the parasympathetic system is the cause for heart attack. An event of stress or trauma that happens in a well-balanced cardiovascular system can be contained by the system. But a stressful event in a system with a weak parasympathetic reactivity might be lethal.
The heart as an integration organ works both to integrate information from within our body and also information about our environment, meaning our relationship with the people, animals, and plants that are around us as is reflected through the autonomic nervous system. It is the place where the “in” and “out” of our being meet. It is not surprising then to learn that heart disease is the number 1 “killer” in Western culture. What nourishes the heart is the experience of connectedness to nature and with other human beings and ourselves. The Western culture is oriented toward individualism, competition, and materialism, all of which counteract connection. Men especially suffer since they are encouraged from an early age to suppress any emotional feelings and “act like a man”, which in effect cuts the connection to their own self. It is not surprising then that men are at higher risk for heart attack than women.
Nourishing and healing our heart is not just important for your personal well-being. Because our hearts are all connected, healing your heart has a ripple effect in the world. So what can we do to nourish and heal our heart?
1. The parasympathetic nervous system connects our heart to our brain via the vagus nerve. Stimulating the vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and strengthens the heart. Herbs that stimulate the vagus nerve are aromatic herbs. Drinking tea made with aromatic herbs such as linden, tulsi, lemon balm, lavender and any other member of the mint family is very beneficial to the parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Using adaptogenic herbs to regulate the body’s stress response can be beneficial too. Again, Tulsi comes to mind, but also schizandra berries (another herb rich with flavonoids), and ashwagandha.
3. Add a mild type of exercise to your daily routine. Mild exercise not only stimulates the heart and blood flow but also stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain, helping relieve pain and stress. It also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, neurotransmitters and hormones that prevent depressions and as such keep us connected to other human being and the environment.
4. Practice “Loving Kindness” meditation. Heart meditation connects you first and foremost with your own heart, but through it to the heart of the world. Hold your heart with care. Learn how to listen to it and love it. To learn more about heart meditation look at any of Sharon Salzberg’s books or any of Tich Nhat Hanh’s books.
5. Last but not least, get off the roller coaster. Take a step back from Western culture. It is your choice whether to play a part in that game or not. We all feel that we do not have an option but here is a story about that:
“I am fascinated by an ancient process of capturing monkeys in India. ….In this process of catching monkeys, small cages with narrow bars are made and a banana is placed inside the cage. The monkeys come along, reach in between the bars, and grab the banana. Then the monkeys begin the impossible task of trying to pull the banana through the bars. And here is the amazing thing – at the moment when the monkeys' catchers come along, the monkeys are totally free. There is nothing keeping them from running off to safety as they hear danger approach. All they have to do is to let go of the banana. Instead, they refuse to release the banana and are easily taken into captivity.”
~The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele
We all hold a couple of bananas that tie us down and hinder our freedom. Can you let go of some of your bananas?
Take time to be with your loved ones. Take time to smile, laugh, hike, play, and pray.
As you can see, it was an amazing winter with both academic studies and knowledge that is coming from the deep fountain of the heart. In a week, we will celebrate the spring equinox and a new season will start in the garden. I know that these inspirations will go with me into the garden both in the way I will hold the consciousness of the garden but also with new products so stay tuned.
But most importantly,
Hold your Heart with gentle loving care,
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