Meditate Your Way to a Healthier Heart
Despite advances in medicine and technology, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, accounting for one in every four deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Could part of the “prescription” for a healthier heart be found in an ancient practicing dating back thousands of years?
According to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) first ever scientific statement on meditation released in September 2017, the answer may be yes.
While much research has been done to examine how lifestyle factors impact the health of our hearts, including what we put into our bodies through our dietary choices and how we move our bodies through physical activity and exercise, less has been understood about what role, if any, the mind may play in terms of reducing the risk of developing heart disease. As such, the AHA set out to evaluate the findings of studies which examined the effects of various practices of sitting meditation.
Although the current body of research is not as extensive or definitive as that of the studies examining the role of diet and exercise in the prevention and management of heart disease, a review of the studies of meditation to date do suggest a possible benefit of meditation on cardiovascular risk reduction. This, combined with the fact that the practice of meditation is low risk and involves little to no cost, makes a strong case for the regular practice of meditation as an accompaniment to other well-studied lifestyle modifications.
When it comes to meditation, the beauty of the practice is that there is not a right or wrong way to meditate. In fact, there are a plethora of meditation techniques that are commonly practiced through an assortment of different mediums (from group classes to guided practices via an app), providing you ample opportunities to explore and discover the type of meditation practice that resonates most with you.
To get started with cultivating a greater sense of awareness and connection between mind and body, try this short love-themed meditation practice at-home as part of your personal self-care routine.
For the Heart, From the Heart: A Sample Meditation
– Assume a comfortable seated position a top a folded blanket or cushion. Place the right and left hand directly over the center of the chest, keeping the shoulders soft, and arms relaxed. Maintaining an elongated spine, gently close the eyes.
– With the lips lightly touching one another, breathe naturally in and out through your nose, hearing the breath move in and out of the body while feeling the continuous beating of the heart beneath the hands. Without judgement, acknowledge the thoughts moving through the mind as well as the physical sensations arising in the body.
– Inhale fully through the nose and audibly exhale through the mouth, repeating this clearing breath a total of 2 to 3 times.
– Reuniting the lips lightly together, inhale through the nose and silently state the words “I am” in your mind. As you exhale through the nose, silently state the word “loved” “in your mind.
– Continue repeating this phrase (“mantra”) silently, using the inhalations and exhalations of the breath to establish a slow, rhythmic pace.
Dedicate one to two minutes to this practice to start (note: setting a watch or a kitchen timer before beginning will help to minimize the potential for distraction), eventually increasing the length of each meditation session as you feel comfortable and as time permits.