Begin with your heart, your pulse. Take a moment to breathe and feel it. Just be aware of its presence. If you relax for a minute, you may actually get a perception that is noticeable – in your chest, in your hands and feet. Feel the heart on the in-breath. Feel the pulse on the out-breath.
While you are doing this, consider that diseases of the heart and blood vessels are the leading causes of death worldwide. This isn’t simply because we are living longer, or because we’ve conquered other causes of death like infections. We may have more years to ask of our hearts these days, but even this is debatable. And in pockets where life expectancy is lower in developed countries, it usually is because there is a higher rate of cardiovascular disease! In developing countries, where infections remain very prevalent and dangerous, heart disease is still the number one killer.
What do you perceive when you shift focus to your heart? First of all, if you’re like me, you may notice this is difficult to do. We tend to perceive our worlds from the perspective of our eyes and heads. Shifting consciousness into the chest is difficult. Sometimes events will force our consciousness there: grief, deep appreciation, love. We perceive these emotional states and concomitantly feel a power rise in our chests.
But what do you perceive now? Do you feel more relaxed? What about anxious? Are worries or thoughts, task lists and regrets coming up? Any increased sensitivity to internal states, like the belly, the head, your breathing? What about external states, like the temperature of the room, sounds inside and outside? Any desires come up (food, drink, movement, or others)?
The point here is that when we’re talking about the heart, we are talking about integration. Sure, the nervous system is an incredible integration system in our physiology, juggling perception and memory…
But the heart straddles all the realms of our existence; it plugs into sensory input but also the vital fluids of our physiology.
It connects the nervous system, with all its input, processing, and output, most profoundly to these fluids and this soma. Even just simply shifting awareness into the heart has quick and powerful impacts on these physiologic processes: thought and awareness shift, pulse shifts, fluid balance begins to shift (though this last one is harder to feel).
And it’s not just integration with our internal states, but with our external environment too.
It is perhaps not surprising that, in the modern world, the heart suffers. We live in our heads much more than in our bodies. There is less movement and less time spent outdoors. These may have immediately noticeable repercussions on other areas of our bodies: we are more anxious, have a hard time turning off our minds. We expend fewer calories through movement, so we gain weight. We interact less with the environment, so inevitably the environment becomes less important. Sure, these consequences exist.
Think about the heart in all this: an organ with such a profound function. It can interact with electromagnetic fields all around us, connecting us to animals, plants, and place. It can provide us with valuable intuitive information by modulating the signals of brain and body, if only we take the time to listen.
But like any skill or any power, it needs nurturing and practice to grow, and atrophies if unused or ignored.
Slowly, little by little, the heart gets less responsive, less supple, less able to integrate because we essentially deny it the opportunity. Imbalances begin to set in, driven by a lack of flexibility. Disease finally manifests as an end product: vascular inflammation, high blood pressure, rhythm disturbances, blood stagnation and clotting.
This isn’t our fault – it’s more our fate, it’s tied to our culture. But we can use magic to influence our fates.
The good news is that we can perceive, measure, and assess imbalances in the cardiovascular system. This can give us good information on the state of integration of ourselves and the people with whom we’re working. Start with the heart and the blood – the central components of the system, and a general impression and assessment of movement and flow. Then explore the deep connection between the heart and nervous system, and learn that the flow of blood can be used as a gauge of how well the cardiovascular system is contributing to psyche and soma – heaven and earth – as well as how responsive the heart itself is to internal neuronal integration. Finally look at the state of our distributed internal ocean: the interstitial fluid and how it connects with the flow of blood and the health of the heart.
Study with Guido online in his upcoming class, Natural Cardio Care: An Herbalist’s Perspective, which features a unique offering of personal assessments and an in depth look at natural options for better cardiovascular vitality.