Mindful Meditation: Why and How

Mindful meditation, or mindful breathing, is a method for inducing the relaxation response. This relaxation response brings balance and healing to our body by putting the brakes on the sympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. In the “fight or flight” response, blood pressure and heart rate go up, muscles tense, breathing becomes rapid, and cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” is released from the adrenal gland. During mindful breathing, the parasympathetic system takes over, resulting in muscle relaxation, slower breathing, lower heart rate and blood pressure. This phenomenon has been documented by researchers using brain MRI technology at major medical centers such as Harvard and the University of Wisconsin. Researchers have also noted that levels of nitric oxide in our blood return to healthy levels during mindful breathing exercises. Healthy levels of nitric oxide are associated with  many important body functions, including maintaining healthy blood vessels.

One of the benefits of mindful breathing for women’s health is that it lowers cortisol levels. When levels of cortisol are too high, the system can block the uptake of estrogen. This can lead to hormonal imbalances.

There are many types of meditation, and they are all good. The type I practice and teach to my patients is summarized below.

1. Find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes, or leave them in a soft gaze.

2. Breathe in through the nose, then out through the nose. Use a pace and deepness that is comfortable for you.

3. Bring your attention and focus to the breath. Focus on the sound of the breath, and the feel of the breath in your nose. Imagine the air going into your lungs, and then out of your lungs.

4. When you find your mind wandering to other thoughts (as it will), just go back to thinking about the breath. Do this as many times as you need to.

5. Do not judge or criticize yourself if you find yourself off in a thought, just let the thought float out, and then bring it back to the breath.

6. At first, practice this for 10 minutes a day. Try to work up to 20 minutes a day on your own schedule.

Remember, it is called a “meditation practice” because it does indeed take practice to do it well — just like playing a sport or learning an instrument. If you would like to find more information on centers where you can learn more about mindfulness meditation, feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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