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Heart attack

Complementary therapies and approaches after a heart attack

Complementary therapies and approaches to heart disease have not been subject to the same kind of rigorous testing as conventional medicine so their effects are not measured or proven in the same way. 

People didn't expect to cure their heart condition by using complementary techniques or even to prevent further heart attacks but they did feel that they benefited from the one to one counselling they received from practitioners of complementary medicine.

Some people use complementary approaches, such as Reiki, meditation or T'ai Chi to help with relaxation, to reduce stress and to promote their psychological wellbeing after a heart attack.

Learning how to relax can be difficult. A few people said Reiki had been helpful. Some mentioned that as well as being able to deeply relax, they had found it useful chatting to the Reiki practitioner about their feelings.

 

The benefits of Reiki were deep relaxation and time out to reflect on his experiences.

The benefits of Reiki were deep relaxation and time out to reflect on his experiences.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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I didn't think it did an awful lot. The person I went to see was actually a Reiki master as well, a Reiki healer and she did one Reiki exercise on me, mainly where I laid down and put the hands over the face and you can feel the warmth. Whether that's this magical transference from A to B or the fact that you've got a small amount of air between A and B and of course it heats up between the two. Body heat, is what I think it is.  

You still feel that but for me, it doesn't matter where you think necessarily the energy comes from, whether it's a mystical being or whether it's from somewhere you can see, you can understand. It's about feeling relaxed and can you think deep and get in a relaxed state and I can. 

I've always been able to do that before, so I was okay with that, but it didn't, wasn't as if oh this was now hocus pocus, it makes no difference, it was just another technique, somebody else being able to do it to you. Just like massages, those sort of things can deeply relax you. 

And some of the sessions were okay in that it, I think that what was good about it was, it was a set time to think, time out of here if you will, just to sit and perhaps just chat a little bit and then just reflect. So that was probably the biggest benefit. There wasn't anything that I came away thinking, 'Oh, I'm glad I did that because now I feel better about this.' I don't think there was anything so startling about that came out of it.

Reiki had a powerful effect in helping some people cope with their emotions after their heart attack. One woman said it helped her to cope with depression. Another found it useful for her anxiety attacks.

 

Reiki sessions helped her to cope with depression.

Reiki sessions helped her to cope with depression.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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I was very, very low and I mean very, very low. Tearful, depressed, depressed is the only word I can describe, really, really depressed. And I didn't want to go out the door. I didn't want to go out the door, I didn't want to do anything. Even after having that done, I still was so depressed and down and I didn't want to do anything. 

It was only [the cardiac nurse's] support that got me through it and [the cardiac nurse's] help by her like relaxation classes and the Reiki healing and that's what I found for my release from all that depression, that's the only thing that helped me.

And what was it about it, tell me about that?

Well, I think with [Reiki] it was her, it was the one-to-one basis, it's not, it's not being done in a class and then you can get to speak to somebody and she can find out more about you and find out why you've had a heart attack and why you're still feeling down. And so she spent the time with me to get to know why I'd had my heart attack, why I felt so down, so she had something to work on then. 

And so she just helped me learn to relax because after you've had a heart attack the last thing you want to do is relax. You know, you're scared to go to sleep in case you don't wake up again. So she just reassured, she gave me a lot of reassurance and a lot of help, a hell of a lot of help.
 

Reiki helped with her anxiety and she used the techniques to go to sleep at night.

Reiki helped with her anxiety and she used the techniques to go to sleep at night.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Yes it involves you lying on a couch with your eyes shut with some lovely music playing, calming music and you just relax while the Reiki healer puts her hands, not on you necessarily but at various parts of your body, various chakras and centres of your body and there's supposed to be a flow of energy from her to you and it affects different people in different ways. 

I saw lots of colours. It was quite spooky some times because afterwards I'd tell her what I'd seen and she'd say, 'Oh yes that was what I was thinking, that was what I was trying to do.' So I found that really, it was quite spooky but it was good, I enjoyed it. 

It was, it was lovely because we talked as well, this is for my anxiety, so I did talk about my past and things that had affected me throughout my life, which was also useful, and it did help. And I still do it now to get to sleep, I play the calming music and if my mind's racing, I just try and visualise different colours that are healing colours and it works; I just fall asleep.

One man said that Reiki helped him to accept what had happened to him and to cope with the frustration and anger he had felt after his heart attack. A 63-year-old man said that he had learned how to relax for the first time in his life and to control his breathing.

 

Reiki helped him to cope with his anger and frustration.

Reiki helped him to cope with his anger and frustration.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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But I used to constantly have these grey episodes and I finished the rehabilitation programme and then the woman who runs it is also a Reiki Practitioner and I had probably 8-10 weeks of Reiki and the one major thing that Reiki did, and it doesn't sound a major thing, but at that moment in time I was so angry with everything, it was an enormous step for me. 

I really truly accepted what had happened to me. And it doesn't sound a lot that doesn't, but the dawn of realisation of, well this is what happened and this is where we are, was so important because at that time, I was so screwed up with anger and frustration, it was just untrue. And again it was unfair on the family because they've just been wonderful, and you find yourself getting very short-tempered with them and very abrasive and that. 

So the Reiki didn't cure anything, it didn't help the condition. The enormous thing it did do was, I accepted what had happened to me and the situation I was in. My anger against myself diminished considerably, which was a huge step at the time. I did figuratively, I used to beat myself up daily in a figurative sense; it stopped after that and that was a huge step forward.

 

Through Reiki techniques, he learnt to relax and control his breathing.

Through Reiki techniques, he learnt to relax and control his breathing.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Okay this nurse suggested that I try Reiki and I didn't want to because I just felt, absolute rubbish. I don't believe in because some Tibetan monk can hypnotise somebody that it works for everybody, and this that and the other. But I had confidence in that particular nurse, so I was happy to give it a go, and from the very first session I thought it was wonderful. 

Breathing, I'd had so much trouble with breathing, suddenly I could breathe, relax and breathe. Tension just flooded out of me the moment she took control of me; the moment she started the sessions. And I really got into it. And well, this works, this is, this is good. And I learned to relax, the relaxation was the important thing and breathing, control of my breathing.

Some people had used Reiki techniques at home to help them relax or to go to sleep at night.

T'ai Chi was helpful for light exercise, stress management and breathing and yoga was practised by some people. One woman was attending meditation classes to learn relaxation techniques.

 

Tai' Chi can help with breathing, relaxation and stress management.

Tai' Chi can help with breathing, relaxation and stress management.

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 62
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The only thing, the main thing is when you're on rehab, well I don't know every rehab, but our rehab, they give you some ideas on stress management and things like that and we've done Tai Chi, you learn to relax. So I think that's a good thing if you can get a place where there is some Tai Chi. 

It's not necessarily martial art Tai Chi, it's just breathing and exercise. I think it's done a lot of people in our group at our local town a lot of good, you know because there were a few elderly women and elderly men and they don't get much exercise anyway, but that Tai Chi was a nice slow, comfortable easy exercise so I think it helped them a lot. 

It's another form of physio like, it's a steady form of physio and it gets you breathing properly and that's half the problem with a lot of people when they've come out of hospital. They've been in bed for a week or two and their breathing starts getting affected with being laid down all the time and it helps them to breathe better then.

Anything else about it that it was good for you?

I've always been interested in exercise and that and I just went to see what it were like. I've done yoga and I've done martial arts and stuff like that. It was just a form of exercise, you know it's another way of exercising. I mean, I'm used to vigorous exercise with being a PT instructor every day but that were just a calm exercise that you can do it more or less stood still. 

You don't have to rush about and jump up and down, it's just standing still most of the time and balancing, it helps balance, helps your circulation.

Some found relaxation tapes helped them. One man explains that he found it easier to relax when using them and that through practice, he could now relax easily and quickly.

 

Describes the benefits of using relaxation tapes.

Describes the benefits of using relaxation tapes.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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And the relaxation came much easier with these audio cassette tapes. There's two tapes that came with this, from the [local] area health authority and the first tape just gives you questions and answers that typical people with heart attacks would ask and the answers, and then the other side was for the spouse. 

And then the second tape was a relaxation tape, which was amazing. I mean I've always poohooed relaxation, you know, think it's a bit oriental, a bit weird and unusual but relaxation in these tapes was completely neutral. There was no religious undertone or anything, which I've always thought of as relaxation; Maharishi and that sort of thing.  

So the relaxation they went through was just sitting in a chair in a quiet room with low lighting and just getting yourself very comfortable and just letting each limb go looser and looser. And then the second stage is breathing. Being able to breath very regularly, very shallowly, very, very, without much energy involved, no deep breath, just a steady breath. 

And then the third stage is to imagine yourself in a favourite place, like on a beach or under a tree, or by a stream or somewhere just that you know, that you like, that you can be completely relaxed in. And those three stages; by letting your limbs go and then your breathing and then imagining a place that you're relaxed in really works. That really works, I'm very impressed with that. 

 

Through using relaxation tapes, he can now relax within two to three minutes and he recommends...

Through using relaxation tapes, he can now relax within two to three minutes and he recommends...

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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Did you find you were able to do it? Was it hard?

I didn't believe I could do it to be honest. We, my wife and I, we did it together and she said it helped her as well but I've kept it up obviously because I was the one that had the heart attack. 

And you get better at it all the time. It really is worth persisting and now I can relax much quicker whereas it would have taken half an hour to actually get in a very relaxed state before when I started; now I can relax within two or three minutes. 

You know how to sit and how to breathe and it all comes very, very quickly. You know the bits that you find are tense; in me it helps me to drop my shoulders, your neck and your shoulders sometimes are tense when all the rest of your body is relaxed. You know I can do that very quickly and that helps a lot. 

Brilliant techniques, absolutely brilliant. So you know, the tape says there's lots of books about relaxation as well which are all equally valid you know it isn't just that system that comes from the health authority but get a book on it if you're struggling or you think you could do better. I would recommend that.

A few people said that counselling had helped them to recover from the emotional impact of their heart attack.

 

Seeing a counsellor helped with his emotional recovery from his heart attack.

Seeing a counsellor helped with his emotional recovery from his heart attack.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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I think the counselling, the major benefit was you do have, I don't want to say this in a collective way 'you do have' but I'm led to believe that you do have quite morbid thoughts at times. You know not, 'I'm going to go out and throw myself under the bus' but kind of 'is it all worth it, you know.' 'what's the point?' The low self-esteem kind of road you know. 'I'm of no value to. I'm of no worth to anyone, never mind myself.' 

And I think it helps with those and gets you through that stage. And I mean my GP has said, she can't believe anybody who has had a heart attack, at some stage hasn't thought, 'it might be better if it had killed me or something like that and I think the counsellor was just very good in helping me to look at my situation with regard to myself in a different way and see a value in myself, or values in myself from a different perspective than before the heart attack.

Last reviewed March 2013.

Last updated April 2012.


 

 
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