As we kick off American Heart Month this week, I want to introduce a topic that not only addresses physical heart health, but also celebrates the healthy feeling that comes from having heart. And, this particular subject is a personal challenge of mine.
What am I talking about? The act (and art!) of meditation. According to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior.”
So, I begin this post with a personal challenge. For the month of February, I plan to focus on my heart health by practicing meditation for five minutes, every day. While I have practiced meditation in the past, it is not something that I have developed into a consistent habit. So, I’ll be learning a lot along the way. And, I hope you will join me!
Tweet this: Me too! I will focus on my heart this month by meditating for 5 minutes every day
What is meditation?
There are many types of meditation. The two forms that seem to be studied frequently are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation.
Transcendental meditation, according to the American Heart Association, is “a technique that allows your mind to focus inward, maintaining alertness to other thoughts or sensations without allowing them to interfere. It’s done seated with your eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day.”
Mindfulness, according to UC Berkeley, is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” The act of mindfulness has increased in popularity in part due to the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness. Founded by researcher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Center’s primary focus is research on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Some practices like yoga, qigong (pronounced CHEE GUNG) and tai chi, incorporate movement and meditation. For example, yoga (which I have been practicing for over 10 years) at times incorporates movement with meditation through visualization, a focus on the breath, and mindfulness.
Why should you meditate?
Meditation has great benefits not only for healthy living, but also for purposeful growth AND creative productivity. Let’s explore the details:
Reason #1: It’s good for healthy living!
Numerous studies have shown the physical and mental benefits of meditation. According to a review by the National Institutes of Health, the following conditions may be impacted by meditation:
• blood pressure
• irritable bowel syndrome
• anxiety and depression
• some illnesses (like the flu)
Consistently practicing meditation comes with heart-felt benefits. The American Heart Association, in a recent scientific statement, 1 identified meditation (specifically transcendental meditation) to have a moderately positive effect on blood pressure. And, other literature reviews have supported this finding. 2 However, the AHA did not go far enough to recommend all meditation as a treatment for high blood pressure—instead called for more scientific studies.
While meditation presents many healthy benefits, speak with your health care provider before using meditation as treatment for a health condition. 5
Reason #2: It’s fantastic for your purposeful growth and creative productivity!
Meditation can contribute to your overall productivity, personal growth, and creativity. In fact, this post was originally inspired by Arianna Huffington’s fantastic book Thrive. In her book, Arianna convinces us that meditation plays a key role in achieving fulfilling and lifelong success. In her words, “Every element of well-being is enhanced by the practice of meditation and, indeed, studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation have a measurable positive impact on the other three pillars of the Third Metric [of success] –wisdom, wonder, and giving.” 6.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron argues that meditation has the potential to open up our creative minds. She suggests that this can happen though mindful movement (like a quiet walk around the block), through contemplative writing (if you are non-judgmental about your content!), as well as through internal reflective practice.
How do you meditate?
Based on my experience, most forms of meditation include these five basic components:
1. Practice in a place where and time when you won’t be interrupted.
2. Find a comfortable position for yourself (like sitting or laying down, but this could mean running or doing yoga)
3. Quiet your mind. You can close your eyes, or simply soften your gaze.
4. Focus your attention on the tranquility of the moment. Some people like to focus on their breath, a particular phrase or word, or an object. Anything that allows you to feel still.
5. Keep your mind open and clear. If you have thoughts, do not judge them or follow them. Just observe them, and allow them to float away like a passing cloud in the sky.
So, are you convinced to give it a try? If so, here are some resources to help you get started:
An overview of meditation from the Mayo Clinic
An overview of yoga from the Mayo Clinic
An overview of tai chi from the Mayo Clinic
The following sites have free sound files available to help guide you through a meditative practice:
MIT Stress Reduction Program You will have a scroll down a bit to “Downloadable mindfulness meditation MP3 files.”
Harvard University Health Services Center for Wellness You will have a scroll down a bit here too. Look for the heading “Guided Meditations.”
These three books provide a great discussion the benefits of meditation:
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.
Embracing Uncertainty: Breakthrough Methods for Achieving Peace of Mind When Facing the Unknown, by Susan Jeffers. Check out page 217 for a great visualization guide for meditative practice!
My Plan For the Month of February…
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I plan to meditate for five minutes, every day this month.
How will I go about fitting this into my day? First of all, I will be relying on my “anchor habit” of waking up early each morning. Waking up early will allow me to meditate before my day begins. After my morning workout, I will incorporate an extra 5-10 minutes to meditate.
I found a free app called Insight Timer, which includes a number of guided meditations, and also resources to help me meditate on my own. I’ll use this app to start my practice.
And, this month I’ll note my challenges, successes, and the resources I find along the way. Check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Every Tuesday, I will post all day about meditation, using #TranquilTuesday.
Because this is a personal challenge for me, I kindly request your support! Please send along resources, words of encouragement, and your own stories of meditation.
What has your experience been with meditation?
Let us know by commenting below.
© 2017 Caitlin W Howe, LLC
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- Brook, RD et al. “Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: AHA Scientific Statement.” Hypertension. 2013; 61: 1360-1383 accessed online at http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/61/6/1360.long#cited-by ↩
- Carly M. Goldstein, Richard Josephson, Susan Xie, and Joel W. Hughes, “Current Perspectives on the Use of Meditation to Reduce Blood Pressure,” International Journal of Hypertension, vol. 2012, Article ID 578397, 11 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/578397. Accessed online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303565/pdf/IJHT2012-578397.pdf ↩
- Hölzel, Britta K. et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging , Volume 191 , Issue 1 , 36 – 43 ↩
- Kilpatrick LA, Suyenobu BY, Smith SR, et al. Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training on Intrinsic Brain Connectivity. NeuroImage 2011;56(1):290-298. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.034. ↩
- The National Insititues of Health reminds us that “there have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric problems like anxiety and depression. People with existing mental health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.” ↩
- Huffington, Arrianna. Thrive. New York: Harmony Books, 2014, p.38 ↩