Avoiding Heart Disease: Spiritual Aspects

This is the last post in my series on heart disease.  In case you need a recap or missed any of the previous posts, click the heart disease tag on the right sidebar and you can catch up!

You may be asking yourself what in the world spirituality has to do with heart disease.  The mind and body connection is something that hasn’t been dealt with very much in western medicine, but the concept isn’t new to some of the more traditional eastern medicine practices.  Thankfully, western medicine is slowly catching up in this field, and the research just might surprise you.

Hopelessness Influences the Development of Heart Disease

We talked about the type A traits of hostility and cynicism affecting your risk for heart disease, but hopelessness is most strongly associated with heart disease.  A Finnish study conducted over 10 years showed that the men studied who reported a moderate to high amount of hopelessness died at two to three times the rate of men with low or no hopelessness.  The death rates were higher for all causes, including cancer and heart disease.  What’s even more shocking is that this link held up even when the researchers took into account major risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, frequent alcohol consumption, and lack of social support.  We’ve all heard of the older couples who have been together all their lives, and when one dies, the other one often follows shortly thereafter, even if they were in seemingly good health.  Though modern medicine can’t necessarily explain it, it seems straightforward enough.  If you don’t believe you have a reason to go on living, why should your body keep going?

Tuning in to Your Heart

People all over the globe have found meditation to be an excellent practice for calming their minds and reducing stress in their lives.  Whether its through meditation, prayer, or simply allowing yourself to be still and relaxed, quieting your mind will do wonders for your heart.  Dr. Paul Pearsall wrote a very intriguing book entitled “The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy.”  Through studying heart transplant patients over the years, Dr. Pearsall discovered that those who quieted their minds were more able to tune in to the intuitive, gentle energy of their hearts.  He is now convinced that the heart has its own energy that pulsates through us with every beat, and that our minds are constantly fighting with our hearts for dominance.  Our minds tend to be more active, domineering, and busy.  This stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and keeps us moving.  When we quiet our mind and simply allow ourselves to sit in stillness, we tap into the energy of our hearts.  This is often when our truest selves can emerge, and we become relaxed as our parasympathetic nervous system takes over.  We become more trusting, more caring, and more content.  Whether you believe, as Pearsall does, that the heart has its own energy that competes with the energy of the mind, the effects of quieting your mind and embracing stillness are obvious to any who give it a try.

I encourage you to take some time this week and look at your own life.  Are you struggling with feelings of hopelessness?  Are you constantly running around with a to do list, never stopping to relax and listen to the beating of your own heart?  Make the effort to figure out what’s causing you to feel hopeless or driving you to constant activity, and see what changes you can make in your life to improve your situation.  You never know, it just might be the key to finding your own personal wellness.

References:

B. Bower, Hopelessness tied to heart, cancer deaths, Science News, 1996, vol 149.

P. Pearsall, PhD, The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of our Heart Energy. 1998, Broadway Books, New York.

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