The Heart of the Matter

Heart in handsFebruary is here in Northern California where I now live and work Spring is just around the corner.

I have started clearing my flower beds in preparation for the emerging growth and new plantings.

As an East Coast transplant I am in awe that I can do this now. Soon plantings and new growth will awaken just as I am awakening from winter.

Valentine’s Day a heart focused holiday reminds me how we can love ourselves through good self care. How do we care for the heart, this amazing, essential organ? What can we do to give it a good, long life, to give ourselves a good long life?

As a Naturopathic doctor I take a holistic approach. I look at each patient as a unique being capable of living a fulfilling life. I look at changes that can be made to improve a person’s health and sense of well-being.

Many of my patients feel guilty about what they are not doing for their health, what they know they “should” be doing. So often we live our life full of “shoulds”–“I should be eating better; I should be exercising.”

All too often, the person has placed such a rigorous demand on himself, in fact forcing change, that the program backfires.

In taking care of ourselves we can move from “should” to “I want to take care of myself. I want to enjoy.” Changes can be made gradually without imposing a huge burden on ourself.

We can take care of our heart tenderly– we can make sure we feed it foods high in vital nutrients– mostly a plant based diet of whole grains, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.

We avoid sugars, refined carbohydrates, and hydrogenated fats.

If we look at the diet of most traditional peoples throughout the world we find that the diets are plant based.  Foods are eaten which occur regionally-a bean and a complex carbohydrate which together form a complete protein.

For example in the Near East we can find the traditional dish of humus(from a bean) and pita bread(from wheat) while in Mexico we can find various bean dishes served with a tortilla(from corn).

While the beans and grain will vary from region to region, the basic pattern remains. There are also vegetables, some fruit and a B12 source which might come from a small amount of dairy, meat or a fermented vegetable.

american college of cardiologyA study reported by The American College of Cardiology that adults who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared to similar adults who did not closely follow the diet, according to a new study.

Also important do you eat foods you enjoy? Can you take the time to savor your food? Perhaps you prefer to eat in quiet surroundings–can you take your lunch time in a park? Or are you someone who would savor a dinner party?

Exercise keeps the heart strong and our blood vessels open. An exercise that works against gravity such as walking is good not only for our heart, but for depositing Calcium into our bones which prevents osteoporosis. What exercise do you enjoy doing?

Also important is having a social network, supportive friends.

Taking care of our heart produces a sense of aliveness, resiliency in ourselves. Feeling more alive we are more prone to take better care of ourselves and a wonderful circularity of aliveness and healthy self care continues.

As part of our self care I work with my patients to pinpoint stressors and to work on ways to better handle these stressors in order to cultivate a life of more balance.

With our sense of aliveness we open our heart to ourselves, to our deepest callings and we also open to others.

I think of my 97 year old patient Sally an artist, loved by her extended family who has a circle of friends of all ages. She continues to explore life and her own heart.

Sally walks slowly with a cane, but her age is not a limitation to her being. Her glowing eyes,her radiant vitality and her open heart are an inspiration to all who have the pleasure of being in her presence.

It all starts with the heart!