Are you looking for ways to improve your health and reduce your risk of stress-related illnesses such as heart disease – or perhaps to recover from existing problems? Then here are 3 compelling reasons why meditation should be top of your list of strategies. These are the secrets your heart really wants you to hear about how meditation can help you. And it only needs to take ten minutes a day.
Millions of people, over the millennia, have discovered the power of meditation and mindfulness to change their lives and improve their health and well-being. And finally modern science and medicine is able to help us understand the ‘why'.
Here are 3 secrets your heart wants you to know about meditation.
Meditation cuts your stress levels.
According to cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, any condition caused or worsened by stress, which includes heart disease, can be alleviated through meditation. He's been researching it for 30 years, so he ought to know.
We have all seen the archetypal stressed executive, keeling over with a heart attack, in the movies. It's a proven fact that high levels of stress hurt your heart.
The body's sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight' part) kicks out extra stress hormones, including adrenalin and cortisol, whenever we're stressed. These are designed to increase our heart rate, in an emergency situation. It's intended to be a temporary measure. But many of us are running on adrenalin, most of the time.
You don't have to be a city Exec to be an adrenalin junky. If you're constantly running from one place to the next, scarcely pausing to catch your breath, surviving on stimulants like caffeine and sugar, then your adrenals will be working overtime and your heart health will be suffering.
Fortunately there's plenty of research out there that shows daily meditation helps regulate the sympathetic nervous system's stress response. It also helps us retrain our minds to think more calmly, so we don't need that adrenalin rush to get things done any more.
Regular meditation – even as little as ten minutes a day – helps you feel less stressed, more calm and more relaxed.
Meditation can lower your blood pressure.
Back in 2004, Barnes, Davis, Murzynowski & Treiber discovered that regular meditation has a beneficial impact on your blood pressure and heart rate. Their initial research was with youths, but subsequent studies have found this applies to all of us.
Meditation can lower your blood pressure.
Evidence indicates that psychological stresses, such as anger, anxiety and worry, contribute to the development of heart disease.
The body's relaxation response, activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, during meditation, helps lower blood pressure and is good for your heart rate. The corresponding reduction in adrenalin and cortisol help you maintain this relaxed, more focussed state, beyond the end of your meditation.
Doctors are so convinced of the benefits of meditation for reducing psychological stress that mindfulness meditation is now being recommended to help patients suffering from anxiety and clinical depression. Recent trials showed it to be as effective as medication, for some people. And all of this reduces the stress on your heart.
Numerous studies (and millions of meditators, over the millennia) have proven that regular meditation helps you feel happier and more at peace.
Meditation can strengthen your heart.
Researchers at Margaret & H.A. Rey Laboratory in Boston, USA, discovered that there's more to meditation than just a relaxation response. Their work showed that regular meditation can actually strengthen the heart, improving heart health, over time.
In addition, researchers have found that regular meditation practice can improve your breathing habits, by moving from stress-based upper chest breathing to diaphragm-based belly breathing.
The body is designed to ‘belly breathe' – just watch a young baby for proof. But, over the years, we learn bad habits that cause most of us to breathe poorly, reducing the oxygen levels in our blood, meaning our heart and lungs have to work harder. Meditation practice encourages the deeper diaphragmatic breathing, which ultimately improves your heart's health.
A research study by the University of Wisconsin found that regular meditators had a 47% reduction in death rates, heart attacks and strokes, compared with those who didn't meditate.
Surely that, alone, is a good enough reason to start learning to meditate?
How To Make Meditation Work For You
Of course, meditating once won't sort things out – just like going for a single run or eating a single, healthy meal. Gaining the benefit of meditation requires consistent practice, to develop your skill levels. But it doesn't have to take long.
Researchers investigating the impact of mindfulness meditation on people suffering from clinical depression found measurable improvement in less than 6 weeks of daily practice.
As a meditation teacher, I have found, through my workshops and online courses, that this it can take as little as one week to notice a difference, for many people.