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Cardiovascular System, Blood


heart colors (image: Waldorf school teacher)Healing the Total Body: Where Western Anatomy Meets Eastern Spiritual Science

Healing Series, part 10 

Table of Contents:

Blood: its plasma and cells

Oxygen and healthy blood

Emotional and subtle heart

Yoga's effect on bloodstream

Cardiovascular System, circulation, cholesterol

TCM parts and wholes

Ashtanga yoga transformation of the heart


(back to the Healing Series)


Blood: its plasma and cells

The main organ of the Cardiovascular System is the heart. Its beating keeps us alive. The heart's main purpose is to pump blood through our veins.. Blood is our life force. Our heart is physical but has emotional purposes too that drive us.

Blood plasma is 92% water

Blood is a connective tissue. It’s an aqueous solution made up of blood plasma and blood cells. The plasma is 92% water, and the rest consists of metabolic waste products from cells, hormones, nutrients, dissolved gases, clotting proteins and ions.

The proteins in plasma fall into 3 categories: a) albumins maintain blood osmotic pressure and contribute to the viscosity of the blood, responsible for maintaining consistent pH in the blood, transporting fatty acids and hormones; b) globulins are part of the immune response and body’s defense; c) fibrinogens are a product of the liver, involved in blood clotting.

Healthy blood protect body from disease

Healthy blood cells are 99% red blood cells, and 1% white blood cells and platelets. The blood cells are suspended in the liquid plasma. Blood cells and other components protect the body from disease by recognizing and destroying microorganisms and foreign molecules in the bloodstream, transporting metabolic waste from the cells to the kidneys, carrying nutrients from the Digestive System to the cells, and hormones throughout the body.

Everything that we take into our body ends up in our blood stream. We learned that that Urinary System forms urine from the blood plasma (via the kidneys), and that this contributes to blood pressure. The kidneys carry blood, filtrate it, and get rid of the waste to cleanse it.


Oxygen and healthy blood

Oxygen is a big part of blood (water is H2O) but the healthy levels of oxygen in blood come from the lungs. Blood transports oxygen from the lungs to the cells, and carbon dioxide waste from the cells to the lungs.

Lungs oxygenate blood

Oxygen saturation is the measure of the regulated balance of oxygen in the blood. Normal blood oxygen levels are 95-100% and as it dips below 90%, it's considered low resulting in hypoxemia; dipping below 80% compromises organs such as the brain and heart. Continued low blood oxygen levels may lead to respiratory or cardiac arrest. Oxygen therapy may be used to assist.

Breathing in yoga keeps blood healthy

Yoga helps to oxygenate the blood, which results in the high feeling of lightness but also health, as yoga's main purpose is to circulate the breath while we move our bodies.


Emotional and subtle heart 

Studying an anatomical system bridges me to it somatically, felt in the subtle body. Bridging from the Digestive System to the Cardiovascular System has been complex for me on many levels. The pull of my life force, my heart and who I truly want to be in the world was not able to move forward until I came to terms with traumas inside me.

Subtle body holds unresolved traumas

Scary breathing issues that highlight involuntary muscles alerted me to the power of the body, and how it's subtly in charge, more than the mind or herbal remedies and lifestyle. While studying, I asked my yoga practice to guide me, to lead me out.

The cardiovascular heart and blood moving through me are involuntary too. It's what I feel most activated with my Ashtanga yoga practice, bridging each breath to my emotional heart but subtle and physical blood system too.

My yoga practice handed me my next physical ailment to somatically get the most out of my studies: a muscle pull in my pectoralis minor or rib attachment right atop my heart. The muscle strain was off to the right a bit, while the heart is off to the left so I had a subtle vantage point from which to see and feel it (for, metaphorically, sometimes it's easier to see something from a distance, not smothering it up too close).

This minor muscle pain affected me in most of my yoga practice, forcing me to adjust the sensitive alignment of muscles so that I could protect the muscle, and heal it properly by keeping it warm, stretched, contracted and relaxed. This is an integral part of my daily Ashtanga Second Series in its entirety, modified by me in small ways. Most importantly, to protect myself, I went slower, deeper and as a result am more internal psychologically and spiritually.

The most valuable intention is a more focused, long inhale and exhale breathing up into my rib cage. To heal in yoga, we give the area more breath. I do this intuitively as it also physiologically soothes the discomfort. And so, it also opens my emotional heart, and my involuntary physical heart beats on circulating my blood.

The answer is to relax my heart on all levels.


Yoga's effect on bloodstream

Deep breathing in yoga anatomically compresses the veins in the abdomen and pushes blood towards the chest into the heart. And then it reverses, causing blood in both legs to be pulled toward the abdomen. The cycle continues, improving the venous return to the heart.

Yoga improves venous return to heart

So, it's not just the breath that protect us, but the circulation of our blood to and from the heart. Blood gives us life just as breath.

Blood is actually a healing entity as injured ligaments (fibrous connective tissue, connecting bones to joints) of the body heal slower than muscles, for example, because ligaments lack blood supply. As my blood pumps through, it's healing me cell by cell.

Blood is a healing entity

Inversions in yoga (i.e., inverting the body upside down) reverse the gravitation pull of blood downward away from the heart, which increases the venous return from the legs to the heart, improving circulation. (People with high blood pressure should know that inversions can increase blood pressure).

Inversions reverse the blood flow and some yoga sages say it reverses aging, but physiologically the inversion of the body changes the feeling in the body because gravity is a factor. Our body knows which way is up and down, and when it changes, it exerts a different set of rules on the homeostasis we are used to feeling.


Cardiovascular System, circulation, cholesterol

Blood pressure is defined as the pressure of blood in the circulation, often measured for diagnosis since it's closely related to the heartbeat and the diameter and elasticity of the arterial walls. If the blood cannot flow smoothly through the arteries—the aorta being the biggest one—this results in high blood pressure, causing heart conditions.

Blood circulation affects nervous system

Heart rate is measured in beats per minute. Slower rates at rest and during activity are indications of healthy hearts. Also, the quicker your heart rate returns to stable levels after extreme exercise, the healthier. When the Nervous System is out of balance toward the Sympathetic, the heart rate naturally goes up so the heart's health is more than just its exercising capabilities.

My son has a heart condition (coarctation of the aorta). It was not discovered until he was 10 years old. The small opening in his aorta was not flowing easily so his body—amazing as this is—adapted and created several more giant blood vessels around it so that the blood could make its way down to his lower extremities. Still, this adaptation, or rather evolution, resulted in low blood pressure in his lower half (which required surgery, and later a stent that needs to be ballooned open a few times in his lifetime).

The heart and the blood have a will to survive. The Cardiovascular System is a fascinating system. But optimal blood flow is the key to optimal cardiovascular health.

Keep blood flowing optimally

Blood thinners are anticoagulants, which increase blood flow when the blood is thickened and "clotted," contributing to proper circulation in a continuous flow throughout the body. Yoga techniques aid the blood naturally as it helps it flow and circulate more optimally.

Cholesterol can build up in arteries and cause circulation issues or even heart attacks, because the clog is too great. Cholesterol has two parts: good and bad. The bad, clogging type comes from ingesting animals (it's different from fat). Bypass heart surgeries reroute clogged arteries for the purpose of restoring vital circulation.

Red meat (contributing to cholesterol), however, also provides more iron in blood. When my own Nervous System is heightened or Lymphatic System engages after a massage, I personally crave red meat. I listen to my body's innate cues to replenish my blood.

Red wine adds a beneficial quality to the blood. It may increase testosterone—increase muscle mass, boost stamina and speed up recovery. Resveratrol (found in the skin of red grapes) in red wine is known to slow the body's aging process, while also lowering cholesterol. Resveratrol is even sold as a dietary supplement for its antioxidant & cardiovascular support, and healthy aging support. Organic red wine contains 10x more Resveratrol than non-organic because the naturally grown grapes have to create anti-fungal, anti-bacterial compounds to survive. This message from the plant helps the human who drinks the wine survive longer.


TCM parts and whole

Yin-Yang philosophy makes a lot of sense to me for yoga. It's a dialectic logic where the whole is a contingent structure in reciprocal interaction with its own parts and with the larger whole of which it is a part. As parts and wholes evolve as a consequence of their relationship, constants become variables, causes become effects, and systems develop that regenerate and destroy the conditions that give rise to them.

Causes become effects

The front of the body (yin) is protected by folding the arms and legs to enclose the chest and abdomen, whereas the back of the body (yang) is relatively exposed. Qi is yang which is activity; blood is yin which is substance. Blood is yin, and circulating it is yang. Blood is considered the medium of the mind as it carries information (chemical messages, hormones). (Source: Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, Beinfield & Korngold)


Ashtanga yoga transformation of the heart

My yoga moves through me and changes me one molecule at a time. Through the biggest challenges, sticking with it results in such profound change that I could feel what used to bother me now, still alive, become the guide to the next opening that I would later experience. Facing my emotional heart resulted in the biggest transformation.

Transforming within

Through yoga poses in the Ashtanga Primary Series, Second Series and beginning of Third Series every day, I cut through my ego and anger that existed on a somatic level; I evaporated the anger, and when its substance turned to mist, I followed it like a cloud, a beacon. It led me to my self-confidence and to the source of its hindrance in my always feeling (on some level) that I'm doing something wrong. Now I no longer automatically go there.

I used to require much will power to stop my story that went off on a train of thought that seemed unstoppable; my spiritual studies and activities were what lured me to a peaceful state, primarily in daily yoga, but also in a mindful lifestyle that tends to my wellbeing and continually reprograms me to remember that blessings come in many forms.

Somatic change

Changing my mentality on the somatic and molecular level (which yoga has done for me), I no longer need to use my will power to remind myself. I label energetic trauma toxins that needs to be discharged, and if I hold it without a story—just feel it in my body even if it's uncomfortable--it vanishes.

The blood that flows through me knows me best. When I do yoga, I feel my blood most. Ujjayi Pranayama breathing has been known to heal wounds and cures diseases. As the breathing enhances mental and physical fitness, it satisfies the need for our cells for oxygen.


what is a heart,
i ask, is it you?
do you hear me,
flowing blood, protecting love,
building walls, melting eyes
always beating?
you carry lifetimes of veins of cells and secrets.

© r.e.l. 7/9/12