Breathe In, Breathe Out

Feb 19, 2020 | Healthy Living

Using Meditation to Improve Your Health and Well-being

Do you ever feel stressed out and overwhelmed when something doesn’t go as planned?  Does it feel as if your heart is racing or that your jaw is locked up like Fort Knox?  Do the muscles in your neck and shoulders ache after an unpleasant encounter?  How about a queasy stomach when you are anxious?  If so, let’s talk about stress and examine the role of meditation in your overall health care plan.

Life is busy!  Many of us have overbooked schedules, family responsibilities, and a wide variety of tasks we must deal with each day.  When problems arise, we all feel the effects of stress. Some of the familiar side effects include anxiety, muscle tension, lightheadedness, and gastrointestinal issues.  While research has proven that stress affects our health, we don’t need any doctors or scientists to tell us that!  Anyone who has ever walked away from a heated exchange with a boss or a friend knows what stress can do.

When we experience stress, our bodies move to a “fight or flight” stance.  Our nervous system releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.  These increase heart rate, cardiac output, and blood pressure.  They also constrict blood vessels, which, over time, can lead to narrowing of the arteries and heart disease.  When we are relaxed, our heart rate decreases, we use oxygen more efficiently, and we don’t suffer from any of the other stress related problems.  Clearly, relaxation is the better way to go!

One of the best ways to relax and calm your mind and body is through meditation.  Mediation lowers your metabolism and blood pressure, and it increases your immune system.  It improves your heart rate and eases gastrointestinal difficulties.  It also reduces stress, centers your awareness, and leads to a feeling of calmness.  Meditation leads to mindfulness, which is purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, noticing how you feel, accepting it without judgment, and letting it go.  It also increases levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone that improves your health and mood.

There are at least seven types of meditation, and we will look more closely at some of them over the next week. For now, let’s look at one basic type:

  • To begin, find a quiet place and get into a comfortable position. If you are new to meditation, start slowly.  While an ideal period of meditation is 15-20 minutes, many people find it challenging to go that long at first.  Listen to your body and if you are having trouble staying focused, start with just a few minutes at a time.
  • Many people close their eyes when they meditate. This helps avoid distractions in the environment and increases focus on the body.  Try whatever feels comfortable.
  • When you are ready, breathe deeply from within your belly so that your lungs expand. As you hold the breath begin scanning your body, starting with your head.  Notice what you are feeling, then let the thought go as you slowly release the breath.  On the next intake of breath, focus on your neck, followed by your shoulders, chest, and so on, all the way down to your feet.
  • If any parts of your body feel tense, imagine the tension leaving with each breath you exhale. Try picturing each muscle loosening and the stress leaving your body upon release of air.
  • Some people find it helpful to imagine a safe, peaceful place or to focus on a specific word or phrase during the meditation process. If you feel this would be helpful, give it a try.
  • If you find your thoughts wandering during meditation, simply acknowledge the thought and let it pass. Picture it being blown out as you exhale.
  • Try to find some time to meditate each day. The more you practice, the easier it will become, and the more benefits you will experience.

Meditation takes practice, but once you have gotten comfortable with it, it can be used anywhere, at any time.  When you find yourself in a stressful situation, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing.  Being able to focus your breath and attention will help you feel more centered and allow you to deal with your stress in a healthier way.  Meditation is a simple, but powerful tool that will improve your mind and body.  Remember to start slowly and give yourself the time you need.  If there’s anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Next time we will talk about yoga and how it can improve your heart and overall health.