Years and years ago when we, our friends and the world were much younger, we lost a dear pal when his heart gave way. He’d been suffering from cancer and, probably, his heart couldn’t keep up in a weakened system. For days, we were in denial. The only consolation is that in our mind and the minds of many others who loved him, Raja will always remain young with jet black hair and a moustache that smiled along with his lips and eyes.
Raja was a good person. And so were singer Krishnakumar Kunnath, news reporter Kamal Khan, entrepreneur Pankhuri Shrivastava, and actors Siddharth Shukla and Amit Mishra. According to cardiologist Dr Manjinder Sandhu, in India around 12 lakh youngsters die from cardiac arrest every year. Those in their golden years do too, but about 30 per cent are under 45 years of age. The American Heart Association recommends all 20-year-olds to start taking steps to reduce the chance of getting a heart attack or having a cardiac arrest.
Nobody can predict when it can happen. There are small red flags — pain in the chest or arms, breathlessness, profuse sweating, acute uneasiness and fatigue. It’s best to dial your doctor. Keep your fingers crossed that it is just a bout of indigestion, gas, tight clothes, but consult your doctor alongside. Timely medical aid can make a difference. Actor Sunil Grover did and is back at work today.
Apparently, the two heart conditions are not the same. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart gets blocked. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart goes through an electrical disturbance due to an imbalance between channels of sodium, potassium and calcium and just stops beating due to the malfunctioning. Tip: If you are a regular exerciser and get a twitch on your arm that doesn’t stop, check with your doctor. You may need calcium tablets. Don’t neglect it.
As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind.
As a society, we need to take care of our health and our emotional well-being too. If a person suffers a cardiac arrest and timely, proper action is taken, such as administering an electric shock, the patient’s life can be saved. And when the person survives the heart episode, it is important that when he or she is non-productive or less productive for a certain time span, society should never make him or her feel worthless. Loneliness, helplessness, isolation and feeling useless are not friends of the heart.
Overall, we need to make lifestyle choices as well as emotional choices that are heart-friendly and life-enhancing. Being physically active is the key to a happy heart. When the body is fit, the heart needs to work slower. Dr Deepak Chopra’s resting heart rate at age 74 is 65 beats per minute — a rate that a fit 30-year-old would be proud of. He does yoga daily. Even if you don’t have time to go through a structured exercise regime, just find ways to be active. Walk more, drive less. Use the stairs. Don’t lower your activities to the level of your stamina. Rather, gradually, gently raise your stamina to the level of increased activity. Tip: Stand up and pace the room while talking on your cellphone.
Eat, don’t be eaten
Eat your food, don’t let your food eat you. Fresh vegetables, fruits and greens are great. Choose pulses for proteins — sprouted moong eaten raw or cooked makes amino acids more available to the body. Chickpeas are super too — they can even be just soaked and pressure-cooked with a bit of salt to make a delicious snack. If inclined, add chopped tomatoes, onions and the sweet-and-sour bhel chutney. Garnish with coriander leaves but avoid fried sev. In fact, avoid fried anything. Nuts and seeds are good too. If you powder them and make a mix, you can add 1–2 teaspoons to your katori of curd. Caution: Nuts and seeds can be heavy, so watch your overall intake. At meal times, stop when you’re satisfied. Also, if you are allergic to any food, avoid it even if it makes it to the top of the superfoods chart. Eat rice, daliya, paratha or bread according to your preferences.
Meditation opens a pathway to a greater awareness of yourself, a charted route to a sense of quiet well-being. It relaxes body and mind, reduces the blood pressure level and even calms your emotional reactivity, thus, shrinking your stress response to a tolerable degree. I recommend doing the guided Yoga Nidra meditation session, several of which are available on Youtube. To meditate is to be your natural, greater self.
It is the greater self that helps us decide when not to expect, assume or demand and save us a lot of unnecessary heartache. It is not that we become fearful, but more discerning. Expecting, assuming, demanding lead to a bristling anger and arrogance that impose huge maintenance costs on our temperament and heart. Today’s emphasis on getting answers fast reduces the windows to patience, moderation, acceptance which can be self-maintained without any cost. As writer Isabelle Holland reminds us, ‘As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind.’
Our very posture of sitting at our desks is of a semi-slouch. It constricts our chest and heart as well as our lungs
Listen to these warnings too: ‘Emotional distress can cause a stress response in the body leading to increases in blood pressure and inflammation. Certain tendencies such as anger and hostility have been related to elevated risks of heart disease,’ says Dr Deepak Chopra. Resolve not to get all mentally het up and inflamed. Cars do not start, payments do not arrive on time, harsh words are targeted at us, the weather pours cold water on our plans… the thing is not to add the slam of our anger, hostility and intolerance to an already grievous situation. Douglas Abrams who has a long association with greats such as Archbishop Tutu, the Dalai Lama and others, talks about ‘…eudemonic happiness which is characterised by self-understanding, meaning, growth and acceptance, including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness and grief.’
The open-hearted asana
All that we’ve discussed above points to strengthening and opening our heart. One yoga teacher points out that our very posture of sitting at our desks is of a semi-slouch. It constricts our chest, heart and our lungs. She advocates a wonderful practice to be done five times a day. Stand up, spread your arms out wide and laugh. Let the air and oxygen and the joy of being alive rush into your lungs. If you don’t want to disturb anybody, stand in that open-hearted posture under the fan and breathe like one who has reached the mountain peak and is gazing in deep delight at the view. It’s very refreshing. It drives out all the kinks, the tensions we don’t even know we have accumulated.
Finally, while technology is a great aid and source of entertainment, do de-tech to detox. Let your eyes feast on the vast true life scenery of epic proportions outside your window or at a scenic retreat in the hills. Walk barefoot on the beach so that the earth’s negative ions enter your body and dispel the free radicals that build up there due to daily stress; allow these negative ions to act positively and decrease the stress-caused inflammation.
Give your heart a good life, starting now.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.