Meditation and Heart Health
February 28, 2014
Meditation and Heart Health
Written by Mary Ann Weinstein, RYT 200, Yoga & Meditation instructor at the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center
Slow down. Take a few deep breaths. Now observe your thoughts as they enter your mind. Just observe… without internal commentary, without judgment, without needing to take action or create a to-do list, without doing anything. Just observe.
For those few moments, you have briefly meditated. Meditation is basically the process of being mindful, of paying attention to the present moment. In the rush of our lives, we rarely stop to pay attention to what our minds are thinking, feeling or experiencing.
We experience our thoughts as ourselves and we feel the need to immediately respond to whatever crosses our minds, following our thoughts regardless of where they lead us. This causes stress as we fret or worry about what might happen, or regret what has happened, or hope that something will happen.
Stress results in the “fight or flight” response in which adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones are released into our bloodstream. Our blood pressure and heart rate increase and our immune systems are activated. In an acutely dangerous situation this response is essential, but as a chronic state it can contribute to the development of hypertension and heart disease as well as other health problems.
Many studies have shown that meditation can help lower blood pressure, improve the heart rate, and calm the immune system. For example, a recent (2012) study of meditation in African-Americans with heart disease showed that regular practice of meditation cut the risk of heart attack, stroke or death almost in half over a five year period.
There are many forms of meditation but the basic process requires stepping back from the drama of our thoughts, emotions and perceptions and observing what is passing through our minds at the present moment. In order to stay in the present moment, some meditators focus on their breathing, some focus on a phrase that has meaning to them, some focus on an image or an object.
Many people say that they cannot meditate because they cannot stop their thinking. But that is exactly the point! We use the breathing, the phrase, or the object of meditation as our focal point to return to when we notice that our mind has wandered off… once again. Again and again we bring our focus back.
As we develop our meditation practice, we become more accepting of our own thoughts and more compassionate towards ourselves. Gradually, compassion and acceptance expand to include other people, other creatures, and ultimately, the entire network of life. Our hearts become more generous and more open and we become more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
If you are interested in trying a free meditation class, please join us at the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center on February 20 for our Go Red Day celebration of heart health. Meditation sessions will be held at noon and 6:30 pm. Begin the meditation process and start on the path to improved physical health and emotional well-being.