Integrative Nutrition Blog
Mindfulness and Heart Health
Have you ever been so engaged in something that you love to do that you completely lose track of time? You were so present and attentive to a creative activity that everything else seemed to just fade away. In those moments of authentic joy, you experienced mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being completely aware of the present moment, focusing solely on being where you are and attending only to what is right in front of you. So many of us live in psychological time, meaning we are either dwelling on our past or considering our future, while completely neglecting what is real – our now!
There are many ways to deliberately cultivate mindfulness. Meditation is an excellent tool for achieving and maintaining optimal physical, mental, and emotional health. Meditation has been shown to lower stress levels, increase energy, inspire greater creativity, and enhance mental clarity. It has even been scientifically proven to lower the risk of addiction, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety!
Research has also found that people who consistently cultivate mindfulness through meditation improve their heart health and are substantially less likely to have cardiovascular issues, including heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Whether or not you are experiencing stress, cultivating mindfulness in your life through meditation is important for optimal health!
As with everything, bio-individuality plays a role as there are countless practices available. Experiment with a variety of meditations and find what works best for you. Remember that what works for you at one time may not work at a different time, so it’s important to be open and flexible to change.
Here are a few practices to improve mindfulness, heart health, and overall well-being. Feel free to experiment with one or more to see what resonates with you!
1. Mindfulness Meditation – The Body Scan
One way to practice mindfulness is doing a body scan. Simply sit or lie on your back with your eyes closed. Start by noticing your breath and bringing your full attention to its natural flow. Then gently bring your awareness to the sensations in your body – the temperature, tingling or buzzing in your hands, constriction in certain muscles, or the feeling of your weight being held by the floor or chair. Then, very gradually, focus your attention on each part of your body, scanning from your toes, legs, and pelvic region up to your stomach, chest, back, arms, hands, neck, and head. Without having any agenda or expectation, focus your full attention on each body part, becoming more and more mindful and relaxed.
For a guided body scan meditation, try this video led by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
2. Well-Being Meditation – Meditation for the Heart
Another way to cultivate mindfulness is through a heart meditation. For this one, sit or lie comfortably and bring your awareness to your heart. See what arises. Gently notice your breath as it moves in and out of your heart center. As you focus on your breath and become more relaxed, ask your heart what it would like to share with you. Then simply listen without expectation or judgment. If you don’t hear any response from your heart, that’s okay, too! Just continue to focus on your heart center and follow your breath as it flows in and out of this area.
For a guided heart meditation, try this video led by Christie Marie Sheldon.
3. Breathing Meditation – 4-7-8 Breath
Using breathing exercises to focus on the breath can help cultivate mindfulness and support heart health. One great breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold the breath in for seven counts, and then release it for eight counts. Repeat this cycle of breath three to five times. Notice how it helps slow down your breath, which slows down the heart rate and supports deeper relaxation. (This form of breath work isn’t recommended if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure).
For more on the 4-7-8 breath, check out this video from Andrew Weil, MD.
If you find yourself dwelling on the past, stuck in regret and guilt, or anticipating the future, lost in worry and anxiety, then cultivating mindfulness could be beneficial! Enjoy these exercises or experiment with your own mindfulness practices to guide you back to the present moment. Cultivating mindfulness is a practice and takes consistency, patience, and compassion – so be easy with yourself! Remember, not only will you be creating relaxation for your heart, but you will enhance the quality of your life by being fully attentive to the richness of your NOW!