We all know the phrase, “Take a deep breath.” Some love it; some hate it. But whether you’re angry, stressed, scared or all of the above, pausing to take a calming breath really can take your blood pressure down a notch.
Experts say there’s even more to it than that. The practice of meditation can provide you with a sense of peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional and physical health.
Whatever you think about meditation – hippy, bougie, New Age, religious, faddish, pretentious – it’s probably a stereotype. Meditation is by no means a one-size-fits-all activity. It can be beneficial for anyone, done anywhere and look however you want it to.
The Relaxation Response
When faced with a stressful situation, we typically produce a “fight or flight” response. As your body releases hormones like adrenaline, your blood pressure and pulse speed up, you begin to breathe faster and your body pumps additional blood to your muscles.
But what if you could avoid such a physically taxing response?
In the 1970s, Harvard doctor Herbert Benson pioneered the meditation technique called the “relaxation response.” It’s designed to elicit just the opposite reaction from the body, instead conjuring up a state of relaxation where our breathing, pulse, blood pressure and metabolism are decreased.
Meditating—and achieving this heightened state of relaxation—can lead to enhanced mood, lower blood pressure, improved digestion and reduction of stress.
Emotional & Physical Benefits
A study at Emory University’s School of Medicine indicated that meditation improved both physical and emotional responses to stress. In fact, people who meditated regularly for six weeks showed less activation of their immune systems and less emotional distress when put in a stressful situation.
And any activity that reduces stress can make an impact on some of today’s most common medical maladies, like high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. The emotional benefits alone include increased patience and tolerance, increased self-awareness, and reduction of negative emotions.
How to Meditate: Key Elements
Ready to get started? Experts recommend setting aside 10 to 15 minutes a day to meditate and commit to making it a habit. Here are a few key components of a meditation session—these will set you up for meditation success, no matter how experienced you are.
· Deep, Even-Paced Breathing: Focus on your breath. Notice how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation—from the chest, shoulders, rib cage and stomach. Start by noticing your natural breathing rhythm, then focus on breathing deeply and evenly.
· Quiet Setting: You can be inside or outside, but find a quiet spot. While a little background noise is not a problem, the fewer distractions the better—especially for beginners.
· Comfortable Position: Sit comfortably in a chair or on a cushion. Sitting is preferred to lying down in order to avoid falling asleep. Try to pick one spot and stay there.
· Focused Attention: Your mind will naturally wander. But when it does, return the focus to your breath and fight the urge to get distracted. Try your best to ignore those pesky intruding worries and thoughts.
That all may sound good, but do you need a bit more guidance? Apps like Headspace and Calm provide more structured meditation courses, helping both beginners get started and experienced mediators maintain the habit.
Mindfulness and reduced stress await.