Clare Josa is an Author, NLP Trainer, Meditation Teacher and mum to 3 young boys, so she knows all about handling stress. She practises what she preaches on a daily basis and loves sharing her voyage of discovery with like-minded souls.
Today she’s telling us about the incredibly powerful benefits of meditation and how you can get started today!
Are you looking for ways to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of 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.
1. Meditation cuts your stress levels.
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.
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!
Meditation helps you feel less stressed, more calm and more relaxed.
2. 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.
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.
3. 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.
And you don’t have to sit for hours. Even just 10 minutes a day, each day, can start to have an impact. Then, if you’re really enjoying the benefits of regular meditation, you can consider increasing the time.
There’s more to meditation than turning your legs into a pretzel and chanting Om – though you can do that, if you like!
A survey I conducted in December 2011 showed that the number 1 meditation myth was that you had to sit still for hours with an empty mind.
Few of us can even imagine achieving that. And the great news is that you don’t have to.
Ten minutes a day of silent sitting, using the correct techniques, can start to produce a difference. And if sitting still isn’t your thing, mindfulness meditation is something you can do any time, any place.
Top Tips For Successful Meditation
· Learn the techniques.
Ask people what meditation is and most of them will have a vague idea, but few of us really know where to start – or what meditation really feels like.
Find yourself a teacher (a local class, a recommended book, a CD series, an online course) and you’re much more likely to learn the techniques in a way that will actually produce results.
· Don’t go it alone.
Find a class you can join, with an experienced teacher, or rope in some friends (real or virtual!). Moral support is the best way to create a new habit.
· Don’t get hung up on which type of meditation to do.
Feel free to experiment. There’s no ‘right or wrong’. If you find a class isn’t working for you, look for another one. Meditation should be a pleasure, not a chore.
· Be consistent.
Once you have made the decision to learn to meditate, do it! Don’t be lazy about it. If you want to experience the benefits of meditation, little and often is much better than blitz ‘n’ burn.
Want To Try A 60 Second Mindfulness Meditation, Right Now?
* Stop whatever you are doing and take a deep breath in to your belly. Breathe out with an ‘ahhhh’ sound, as you relax your body and mind. Do this 3 times.
* Now allow your breathing to settle into a natural rhythm.
* Bring all of your focus to your breathing. Allow your mind to rest, watching, listening to and feeling the physical sensations of your breath.
* As you breathe in, you might like to mentally say something like, “I breathe in.”
* As you breathe out, you might like to mentally say something like, “I breathe out.”
* If you are feeling particularly stressed, you might choose phrases such as “I breathe in relaxation; I breathe out stress and worry.”
* If your mind wanders, that’s ok. Gently bring it back to following your breath.
* Repeat this for at least 10 breaths. Do it in a relaxed way, with a gentle smile on your face.
This technique is a wonderful, fast de-stressing tool, as well as being useful mindfulness practice.
Even if you’re not feeling stressed, you can still benefit hugely from regular practise of mindful breathing throughout your day. It can help you move into the present moment much more easily. And the more you practise, the easier it gets. It has a subtle, yet profound, impact on all aspects of your experience of life.
If you would like to discover how just 10 minutes a day of meditation could change your life, then you might like to join us on the 28 Day Meditation Challenge.
It guides you, step by step, through the essential skills needed to meditate. It also brings you proven strategies to help you keep yourself motivated and to learn how to handle the most common meditation challenges, finding simple ways of making meditation practice – and its enormous benefits – an integral part of your life.