The practice of meditation bestows a myriad of health benefits including increased concentration and a general feeling of well-being. But undoubtedly one of the most important benefits is reduced stress and improved heart health.
Heart disorders are common in today’s always-on-call, wired world. People suffer an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada, and the number of people living with some form of heart disease is steadily increasing.
Rigorous scientific studies have proven that regular meditation practice has powerful health benefits that can lower high cholesterol levels and normalize blood pressure.
An article published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke (2000), demonstrated the effects of teaching meditation to people suffering from atherosclerosis
(hardening of the arteries).
Utilizing ultrasound technology, researchers found that people who practised meditation for 20 minutes twice a day for seven months reduced the amount of plaque (fatty deposits) in their arteries. They reduced their overall heart attack risk by up to 11 percent and their stroke risk by up to 15 percent. Meditation may trigger the body’s self-repair mechanisms.
Previous studies have shown that meditation can also lower blood pressure, another major risk factor for heart disease. Researchers reported that people who practised meditation had lower blood levels of stress-related biochemicals, including serotonin and adrenaline. Meditation also increased the formation of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up. This, in turn, lowered blood pressure.
In 2004 the American Journal of Hypertension reported the results of a study which showed a significant lowering of blood pressure in a group of adolescent African-American meditators compared to a control group that didn’t meditate.
These results reveal that meditation is not only a method of relaxation and stress management, but it can also have a profound influence on the heart and its activity. Scientific studies indicate that meditating for just 20 minutes a day can result in a healthier and stronger heart.
In meditation we have to start where we are. In the beginning the most important thing is to develop the habit of meditating every day and not to be too concerned about how much time to allocate for it. Start with five or 10 minutes daily until you are comfortable with longer periods of time. You can even take a two-minute breathing break several times during the day.
Meditation is a skill that requires practice and more practice. Your heart will benefit from the deep relaxation and stress reduction that meditation brings.
Need to quickly relax or find some immediate inner calm? A simple 3-step breathing meditation can be effective when you have almost no time at all.
Just take a long, slow, deep breath in and feel the air fill your lungs.
1. When your lungs are full, hold the breath for a second or two; keep your mind clear or simply tell yourself to relax.
2. Now slowly exhale all the air in your lungs. Repeat
3. Take five to 10 of these deep breaths to quickly feel calm and more relaxed.
Try meditating when you are:
waiting in line at the grocery store
doing the dishes
sitting in traffic
Alive Magazine, June 2009