Heart to HeartThink Yoga
Whether you have an enlightened health-care provider (who also happens to be covered by your insurance plan) or one who plays solely by the AMA rulebook is sometimes a matter of chance. The good news is that you don't need to obtain anyone's permission to begin yoga for heart disease prevention. You also don't have to choose between the yogic path and the allopathic. If your doctor suggests yoga, great. If not, you'll still find that yoga can help you accomplish what the doctor does order.
Eat right. Chances are you've heard all the dietary watchwords by now. Certain fats, such as the saturated kind-those that stay solid at room temperature, like butter, cream, and margarine—can raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Sources like the Food and Drug Administration advise that fats consume 10 percent or less of your diet to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. On the flip side, complex carbohydrates—such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, peas, and beans—provide basic fuel, plus a dollop of heart-healthy antioxidants—and none of the drawbacks of processed food. You have probably also heard nutritionists discuss portion size: Supersizing is bad; eating in moderation is good.
But it's not always easy to put knowledge into action. Charles MacInerney, a yoga teacher who leads classes at the Hearts and Minds Cardiac Rehabilitation Clinic located at the Austin Heart Hospital, understands this from a yogic standpoint. He takes issue with the tendency of health experts to emphasize what we can't eat. "This leads to internal conflict, resistance, and suppression," he says. "I favor a positive approach, one that requires tuning inward.
"After you've eaten your fill of healthy foods, if you still want ice cream, take a moment to determine whether you're really hungry or trying to satisfy an emotional need," MacInerney advises. Maybe you are bored, lonely, or still reeling from a bad day at work. Recognize that you need to do something nice for yourself and eat with self-compassion instead of guilt. When you eat with this awareness, the deeper emotional needs are satisfied, often with a single mouthful.
"It's almost classic Krishnamurti," MacInerney adds, referring to the famed Indian philosopher and author. "Rather than controlling the mind with negative messages about food, practice detached observation. This kind of mindfulness will eventually engender a deep awareness of how you might be using food for comfort."
Exercise. It's difficult to pick up a newspaper without seeing health reminders-in this case, about getting your 30-minutes a day of moderate, heart-pumping movement. And here again, your greatest challenge is internal resistance, although it manifests differently in men and women. "When you ask patients why they don't exercise, men will say they don't have the time," says Oz. "But women, they often feel they're not important enough."
This translates into a reluctance to carve out time for exercise. "Many women work outside the home, doing the same type of work that men do," explains Devi. "Then they come home and begin their other career, taking care of kids, cleaning, cooking, and so on. It's too much pressure." When it comes time to choose between a workout or emptying the dishwasher, household efficiency often triumphs.