Heart Health and Meditation
In order to achieve and maintain optimal heart health, it behooves us to eat properly, exercise, avoid man-made synthetic fats and avoid smoking.
Not too surprising, is it?
But did you know that there are proven heart health benefits to adopting a regular meditation practice, too?
While findings show the four top reasons people begin a meditation practice were to feel calmer, relaxation, reduce anxiety, and regulate emotions more effectively (1), there are many other health benefits to begin tuning in, including those pertaining to heart health.
Blood pressure decreases not only during meditation but also over time in individuals who meditate regularly. This can reduce strain on the heart and arteries, helping prevent heart disease (2).
If you’re someone who’s prone to anxiety, this one’s for you: meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the “fight-or-flight” response that increases alertness in stressful situations (3).
Those with a personal or family history of cardiovascular issue or disease can benefit as well; there is limited but promising data to suggest that meditation based interventions can have beneficial effects on patients with established cardiovascular disease.
There’s now, fortunately, a lot more talk within athletic communities about HRV, heart rate variability. Research has found that meditation can positively affect a measure of heart health known as HRV, which reflects how quickly your heart makes small changes in the time interval between each heartbeat. A high HRV is a sign of healthier heart. Low HRV is associated with a 32% to 45% increased risk of heart attack or stroke among people without cardiovascular disease (4).
The heart has an incredible amount of intelligence, tied into every system and every cell of your body with its own independent nervous system, comprised of more than 40,000 neurons. Core heart feelings (love, appreciation, compassion) down-regulate the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
Further, our heart rhythms are mirrored in emotional states; negative emotions such as fear, anger, and hostility create disordered and irregular heart rate variability (the healthy variation in the time interval between heartbeats) while positive emotions create improved order in the heart’s rhythms.
Positive emotional states have a balancing effect on the nervous system by strengthening immunity, enhancing hormonal function, and improving brain function (5).
Improving our own heart health doesn’t only affect us, it also affects the collective consciousness. The Heart Math Institute is based on the premise that when we align and connect our hearts and minds and connect with others, we awaken the higher mental, emotional and spiritual capacities that frequently lie dormant. HMI aspires to always conduct our operations with passion, compassion and a heartfelt desire to transform lives. This is in keeping with our desire to help usher in an era of ever-expanding heart intelligence (6).
So then, the next question… how does one begin?
What if your mind is so busy you can’t stop the thoughts from coming?
One easy way to start incorporating a glimpse of some of the many health benefits, including cardiovascular, to be gained from meditation, is to start with breathing exercises.
Even something as simple as being aware of your breath, then breathing in for a count of four and out for six and be a good first step.
Do this six times and you’re at one minute; repeat that five cycles through and you’re five minutes in!
Conscious breathing is a form of meditation, a practice that researchers say dates back several thousand years (7).
One extra benefit of this technique as step one is that you can do it anywhere: while stuck in traffic, while your children are arguing or right after you’ve read that unsettling email.
Once you begin to notice even a few moments of calm within the storm of whatever may be going on in your mind, that can be the very thing that encourages you to keep it up… and then perhaps leads you to a slightly longer practice, one step at a time.
Like yoga, there’s no such thing as being bad at meditating, nor is there a down side. Only many things to gain, both for yourself and those around you.