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Heart health and mediation: how does Beeja meditation help keep your heart healthy?

meditation for a healthy heart

 

Although meditation has been understood to promote vivacity for millenia by some cultures, its link to robust heart health has only recently received scientific recognition in the West. In 2013, the American Heart Association issued a report showing that transcendental meditation (TM) – a mantra-based practice derived from Vedic traditions which we teach on our center in London – can lower blood pressure. They concluded that TM should be considered in a treatment plan for lowering high blood pressure and managing or preventing cardiac disease. 

An extensive and diversifying scientific evidence base has since been built, delineating the ways in which meditation is helpful in safeguarding a well-functioning heart. Understanding the various ways in which meditation can help keep your heart healthy and help manage heart disease is a powerful motivator for incorporating it into your life. 

This introductory guide covers some of the key bodily mechanisms which benefit from the stress-diffusing effects of meditation. For anyone invested in boosting their vitality, recovering from heart-related illness or promoting longevity, these heart health benefits are dynamic incentives to embark on a meditative journey. 

 

Stress and cardiovascular disease: what’s the link?

 

To understand the complex link between practicing meditation and preventing or redressing cardiovascular disease – also known as heart disease – it is necessary to first define cardiovascular disease, a blanket term describing an extensive range of conditions. These include problems with the blood vessels such as narrowing or developing blockages, and issues with the heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm (arrhythmias). These issues can lead to the development of heart-related chest pain (angina) and potentially life-threatening problems such as stroke and heart attack. 

Symptoms of heart disease may include shortness of breath, angina – which may involve tightness or the sensation of pressure in the chest – numbness or weakness in the legs and arms due to poor blood circulation, and/or pain in the groin, jaw area, neck or back.

Stress negatively affects all areas of health. It should therefore come as no surprise that living in a state of nervous tension translates into tension within the nervous system, affecting the heart. Not only does being in a constant state of high alert place unnecessary strain on the heart’s delicate mechanism itself, it also increases the risk of other factors that are known to put a strain on the heart developing or worsening. These include hypertension (high blood pressure), high levels of cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. 

 

Meditation and high blood pressure

 

Blood pressure rises when we are stressed. The body’s automatic stress response sets the heart pumping faster, to send more blood flowing to the muscles. This is primal programming designed to ready us to escape from predators by putting the body in “fight or flight” mode. Repeatedly raising the blood pressure can cause a person to develop hypertension, a condition which strains the heart, in which the blood pressure in the arteries is consistently elevated.

How can meditation lower blood pressure? Meditation lowers the blood pressure by reorganising activity within the nervous system. Although the exact mechanisms by which this effect is achieved are not yet fully understood, it is thought to calm the sympathetic nervous system, preventing the blood vessels narrowing in response to stress. Meditation has also been found to increase activity within the parasympathetic nervous system, which facilitates the dilation of the blood vessels, regulating the speed of the blood flow. 

 

Meditation and cholesterol levels

 

Experiencing stress aggregates the body’s levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in food and also synthesised by the body itself. While having a certain level of cholesterol in the body is inevitable, it is important to take measures to ensure that your cholesterol intake is mostly good (HDL, or high density lipoprotein) cholesterol, rather than bad cholesterol (LDL, or low density lipoprotein). 

Stress is a prime catalyst for the buildup of LDL cholesterol within the body. Being stressed heightens all the risk factors for high cholesterol levels, including increasing the likelihood of having unhealthy dietary habits and a higher body weight. A diet high in trans fats encourages the body to make more LDL cholesterol. Excess cholesterol circulating in the blood contributes to poor heart health in a number of ways, including increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and angina (pain in the chest). 

How can meditation reduce cholesterol levels? Cholesterol – in healthy amounts – helps repair damage to the cells, which is caused by stress. However, when we are stressed, the body over-produces cholesterol to compensate. By calming the nervous system and helping the mind learn to process stressful situations in a way which avoids triggering our ‘fight or flight’ response, meditation directly decreases the body’s cholesterol. 

 

Mediation and chronic inflammation

 

Numerous studies have been conducted investigating the link between psychological stress, inflammation and the development of various forms of heart disease. The body becomes inflamed when it is fighting off infection, but being stressed can send the body into a state of chronic inflammation. When this occurs, the immune system goes into overdrive, causing inflammation when there is no infection to fight, and the blood vessels and tissues become permanently engorged. The normal functioning of the heart is obstructed, contributing to poor circulation and increasing the likelihood of heart disease. 

How can meditation reduce inflammation? Practicing meditation regularly has a modulatory effect on the way our genes are expressed within our body; in particular, regulating the expression of pro-inflammatory genes. Studies have found that meditators have lower levels of biomarkers related to inflammation in their blood, reflective of their decreased propensity to develop inflammation. 

 

Stress and plaque in the arteries

 

Stress causes changes that promote the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries by compromising several systems at once. It reduces the efficiency with which the body processes toxins, and also commands the body to produce more of certain cells and substances than needed – for example, cholesterol – which function as harmful agents, forming plaque when there is a surplus. 

Stress also causes dangerous changes to the composition of plaque. If it is formed when the body is under stress, it is increasingly likely to contain additional immune cells that cause inflammation, produced by the body under stress. This heightens the risk that plaque deposits will cause an extreme blockage resulting in a stroke or heart attack.

How can meditation prevent clogged arteries? The formation of plaque in the arteries requires several different systems within the body to be compromised by stress, notably our cholesterol production, our ability to process waste and our immune system. By soothing the whole body with meditation, we can ensure that each of the systems that could contribute to the buildup of plaque functions optimally. Meditation thereby offers significant protection against clogged arteries, and with it, peace of mind. 

 

A holistic approach to heart disease: meditation and longevity

 

Consider the emphasis we place on the heart in terms of defining our emotional make-up. The heart is a nexus that connects our physical and psychological health. From being broken-hearted to wearing your heart on your sleeve, and from being open-hearted to hard-hearted, there are so many ways of feeling which involve the circumstances we find ourselves in tugging on our heartstrings. Life events and the way we process them steer us either to compassion and loving-kindness, or to anger and its steadfastly deadly sidekick, stress – capable of ringing the changes on the physical workings of the heart.  

A heart needs to be free from disease to be healthy. The ever-diversifying body of research into meditation and heart disease elucidates the plethora of ways in which our psychological profile directly physically impacts the workings of the body, and in particular our heart health. Learning to manage stress and negative mind states can reduce its effects and help promote a healthy heart – treating the underlying problem that underpins all forms of cardiovascular disease, before it develops.

If you are currently undergoing treatment for a heart condition, discuss integrating Beeja meditation into your treatment approach with your doctor, and find out more about our classes and courses in London.

This entry was posted in blog.

How Mantra-Based Meditation Can Liberate You From Toxic Positivity

 

Positivity is what we’re all aiming for, isn’t it? Everyone strives to be decked out in the stylish Mackintosh of a mindset that protects you when you get caught in the emotional equivalent of rain – and drenched by the splash of a passing car – always to emerge smiling, albeit three shades damper and a whole lot less dapper than you were before. If you’re doing life correctly, you may be telling yourself, then your inner reserves of positivity should, by rights, be such an indomitable force that they carry you through the big stuff as well as the small. Divorce? “Keep smiling!” Job loss? “Everything happens for a reason!” Low self esteem, anxiety, depression? “Can’t help you there, sweetheart, this shared headspace is ‘positive vibes only’!”

 

If something about this onslaught of injunctions to “look on the bright side” feels a little bit off to you, you are not alone. Something is indeed rotten in the mindstate of on-trend default delightedness. The reality is that not all positivity is positive: there is such a thing as positivity-gone-bad, or as US psychologist Dr. Whitney Hawkins Goodman terms it, “toxic positivity.” Toxic positivity is the willful ignoring and invalidating negative emotions, in the hope that, by denying them a platform, they – and the problems they pertain to – will vanish. 

 

Mantra-based meditation can help you develop the wherewithal to recognise toxic positivity in yourself and others, and give you the tools to tackle it head on. With a clearer head, you can learn to lean into the negative emotions that it tries to mask, rather than fearing them. On our courses and classes in London, you will also discern the tools to expand the compassion that you direct towards yourself and others. This can protect against the initial development of negative feelings, and is also instrumental to learning to deconstruct them when they do arise.

 

What makes ‘toxic positivity’ so toxic?

The ready availability of items billed as opportunities to make ourselves happy has given rise to the pervasive idea that we can, on some level, “choose happiness,” by the paths we take and the purchases we make. This messaging is so powerful that, if you are already diligently submerged in products billed as the ultimate innovations in “self-care,” and you still feel unhappy, you are highly likely to blame yourself, and to be reluctant to admit it. 

 

Phrases like “stop being so negative!”, “just be happy!” and, worst of all, “good vibes only!” may appear to be helpfully banishing the blues, but in fact they all too often have the opposite effect. Whether we find ourselves applying toxic positivity to our own thoughts or dismissing those of others, its root cause is the same. Schooled to believe that negativity, no matter what it stems from, is somehow shameful, we are keen – both outwardly and inwardly – to curate the impression that we approach life with a smile every minute of the day. 

 

This impossible task inevitably involves lying to ourselves and others, as we strive to shut down any feelings that would add shadows to our perma-smiling persona, becoming an exhausted participant in a perpetual game of emotional whack-a-mole. Dealing with emotions in this way is problematic because, when less-than-sunny feelings are invalidated – rather than acknowledged and given the space to unfold – they brew within us. Toxic positivity can become a many-headed monster in terms of its effects on the psyche. Refusing to let it rain once in a while is a surefire route to harbouring an emotional thunderstorm that – no matter how firmly you hang on to your party hat – will manifest somehow later on. 

 

In the meantime, the tension between our inner emotions, and the emotions we wish we were feeling and are attempting to project, creates a powerful internal conflict. This often goes hand in hand with “coping strategies” that take us even further away from an honest engagement with how we truly feel – for instance, staying at the pub when every “cheers!” feels more hollow than the last, until the bell tolls for final orders. 

 

Diffuse your internal conflict

The more frenziedly you tell yourself that you’ve “never been happier” and “everything is wonderful,” the more keenly the negativity bottled up inside you will search for an escape route. At the heart of this dynamic lies a determination to self-edit, pushing particular thoughts and feelings away. This tactic is based on the hope that this will result in their eventual, if not immediate, disappearance. Unfortunately, it amounts to displacing, rather than processing, the difficult emotions, which can result in the development or worsening of anxiety

 

Mantra-based meditation is a powerful antidote to internal conflict, in part because it makes you less prone to “black and white thinking.” Each feeling or thought that comes to you is then less likely to be instantaneously categorised as “good” or “bad,” which means you are more likely to let it develop in full and give it due consideration, rather than pushing it away. The more open you are to feeling your feelings, the better you will become at working with them rather than against them, meaning that the potential for toxicity to accrue diminishes. 

 

Rediscover authenticity 

When you’re trying not to seem – let alone be – too negative, you’re operating from a place of inauthenticity on a deep level.  This can add yet another unwelcome nuance to the inner conflict that toxic positivity causes, as you inwardly critique everything that comes out of your mouth, doing your best to ensure that a slip of the tongue doesn’t accidentally connote the negative mindset that you certainly aren’t experiencing. 

 

Mantra meditation can give you a space in which to feel – and tame – your feelings, breaking this cycle. When you’re freed from censorship of your inner state, you will also become liberated from the task of policing your verbal output. Without simultaneously feeling an additional sense of shame about your negative emotions when they crop up, your low self-esteem will improve and you will become comfortable vocalising your woes or worries, rather than caught up in a soul-destroying struggle to mask them. 

 

One result of verbalising your true thoughts to yourself and others is that you can begin a practical approach to any problems you may be experiencing. Acknowledging a problem is a necessary prelude to solving it. If “toxic positivity” was an Instagram filter, it would be a blurry, rose-tinted one that renders reality unrecognisable. Mantra-meditation can give you the clarity to notice the presence of this filter and switch it off. 

 

Repair your relationships with others 

Relating to others in a healthy way requires a general attitude of acceptance. One of the most insidious aspects of toxic positivity is that it can seep into the psyche of a collective. Without anyone directly verbalising it, a smiles-all-round stance can develop. Everyone tacitly understands that this must be upheld at all costs, no matter how painful the internal perambulations are for each individual keeping the Good Ship Positivity afloat. 

 

Mantra-based meditation is often a life-long journey, rather than a rapid route to inner peace. Even on an early stage of this process, however, you will find that your ability to engage fully with your own emotional landscape increases. This will leave you better able to navigate shared headspaces and group mindsets in a way which brings real positivity to the situation, rather than perpetuating a toxic positivity culture. 

 

Crucially, your capacity for empathy will develop with meditation. The celebrated researcher of shame, vulnerability and empathy Dr. Brené Brown describes how empathy lends us increased flexibility in terms of putting ourselves in others’ shoes, validating one another’s emotions in a way which facilitates real connection. “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one,” explains Brown. Unless we make that choice to empathise – which involves acknowledging negative emotions in others and finding a point of reference within ourselves – it is all too easy to slip into the stock phrases of toxic positivity like “cheer up!” or “you’ll get over it!” which minimise suffering and alienate, rather than comfort. 

 

Expand your capacity for self-compassion

We are part of a culture which is obsessed with unlocking the secrets of happiness. This can leave you feeling like you’re doing something wrong if your day-to-day routine isn’t transporting you to Ibiza-style levels of euphoria. Toxic positivity sits directly at odds with our increased cultural recognition of the importance of looking after our mental health. 

 

Although depression, for example, is surprisingly common – with more than 300 million people affected worldwide according to the World Health Organization – many people feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health, let alone accessing initiatives to help improve it. A culture of toxic positivity directly contributes to mental health conditions functioning as invisible wounds. Unaddressed, they benefit from no healing agents and consequently fester, causing increasingly deep-rooted problems. 

 

Your mantra will function as the password to a widened horizon, where you can contextualise your thoughts and feelings within the expansive and undulating cosmos that makes up your psyche as a whole. Whether you feel blue on the odd occasion or more regularly, regular meditation practice will deepen your understanding of the mechanics of your mind. This is a vital first step to processing your thoughts rather than plastering over them, opening up a window of opportunity to treat yourself with the compassion you deserve.

If you would like to find out more about how Beeja meditation could help you access your most authentic self, you can visit us in London, or book a course.

This entry was posted in blog.

5 Magical Ways That Meditation Helps With The Little Things in Life

 

Due to its ability to alleviate all kinds of psychological and physical problems, mediation is very often described as “life-changing.” Indeed, if you Google the phrase “‘meditation changed my life,’” you’ll get over 23,000 results. These relate to people extolling its transformational effects – celebrating their freedom from a multitude of previously debilitating issues, from social anxiety to stomach-churning digestive conditions. 

 

The chances are, if you’re contemplation-curious, or have recently begun practicing, you have heard about the benefits of meditation, and are keen to ring some big changes in your own life. Maybe you’ve been feeling sluggish and want to maintain a razor-sharp focus throughout your working day, unaided by caffeine? Or, perhaps you like the sound of never feeling stressed again?

 

From the transformational to the tiny…and back again! 

Rave reviews of meditation have led you, tantalised, to a seated position, incense sticks aglow. The great news is that they’re telling the truth – you will benefit in innumerable ways from embarking on your meditation practice. The not-so-great (but actually, better than great!) news is that its benefits will be unique to you. 

 

This means that the benefits of meditation that you experience won’t necessarily bear any resemblance to the effects described in the case studies that reeled you in – or that you’re looking out for. 

 

Starting meditation often involves periods of feeling disheartened, particularly if you were on the lookout for results like feeling born-again, (complete with admiring comments from family, friends and even passersby, of course). The reality is that you may not notice any perceptible changes in the way you move through your day – especially not at first. 

 

When your meditation practice does begin to work its wonders, these are usually much less obvious than you would necessarily expect. Every day is, at its essence, a sequential series of moments. When you meditate regularly, you will start to find that – in more and more of these moments – the ways that you feel and act will begin to surprise you. These changes may be so incidental that they do not necessarily register with outsiders, but they will make a world of difference to you. 

 

They may be minute, but the following types of micro-milestones are signals that your practice is working, and that you are advancing victoriously on the path to an unknown, and exciting, new you. 

 

1. You will ditch your perfect plans – and embrace the unscripted 

Our inbuilt stress response – in which we go into a state called “fight or flight mode” – is perfect for life or death situations, such as escaping from the pursuit of a sabre-toothed tiger; the kind of tight spot in which our ancestors would once have used it. Missing an Uber, or getting home with not a nanosecond to spare – only to realise that you’ve forgotten one of the crucial ingredients you’ll need in order to cook the perfect risotto – are prime examples of miniature-scale calamities that can propel you into a state of primal turbulence.

 

With regular meditation, gone will be the days of panic-rushing to the supermarket to stockpile the forgotten stock cubes, only to begin date night in anguish, five minutes later than intended, through a hyperventilative haze of tears and stray grains of carnaroli

 

It could only take a few weeks of meditation practice to unlock a less flappable version of you. This could be a you who says goodbye to the original plan of having dinner on the table for 8 PM with all the swiftness of a single breath, before contentedly remodelling it into a slightly later, collaborative cooking session. And the private, personal mantra you are given when you take up Beeja meditation practice could well become the secret ingredient in every day’s recipe for less mind chatter and a calmer lifestyle. 

 

2. You will be here, now

Do you ever “come back to earth” only to find that many minutes have passed since your eyes and thoughts wandered away from the book in your hands? “Don’t be ridiculous,” I hear you cry, “I never have time to sit down with a book!” Whether you have the kind of schedule which already incorporates “treats” like reading time, or your day consists of rushing between back-to-back commitments with no time to take the book you’ve been excited to start for the last month out of your bag, chances are you are familiar with zoning out. 

 

Catapulting you into the future or pulling you back into the past, zoning out means getting sucked out of the present moment. You might find yourself spiralling towards a vortex of forward planning, or worse, agonising over the finer details of a conversation you had a week ago. Either way, wouldn’t it be great if there was a technique you could use to pull yourself back into the present, and indeed make drifting off in the first place less likely?

 

You’re in luck; one of the most understated life-perks that your mantra-based meditation practice can help you unlock is the joy of focussing fully on the activity you’re currently engrossed in ‒ be that listening to a set of directions, drafting an email or wending your way, centimetre by centimetre, through a traffic jam. (Which, you are surprised to find, you are navigating while feeling inexplicably boyed up by a previously unimaginable undercurrent of compassion for your fellow drivers… and even ‒ if you’ve been meditating for long enough ‒ for the ones that caused it!) 

 

3. You will let it go

One of the littlest – and most “life-changing” – things that you are highly likely to catch yourself not doing when you get into mantra meditation is getting sucked into pointless arguments. 

 

You are highly likely to have one of your first “that’s the meditation working!” moments when you’re waiting for the rest of your family to finish a “debate” about where to go on holiday, only to realise that you haven’t chipped in once – in fact, you’ve been half-listening to the bickering, with a soft look of cosy contentment. By the time the holiday itself comes around, this moment will have become the first of many. 

 

Two important benefits of meditation are at play here. One is perspective; the ability to zoom out and see the “bigger picture.” The other is compassion; the ability to notice the conflict, and, rather than feeling anger, finding yourself brimming with affection at the various ways that your siblings still find to wind each other up, even as adults. 

 

Meditation holds the key to finding greater fulfilment within relationships of all types. You will discover the ability to tune into the nuances of each moment, without getting caught up in other people’s emotions or consumed by your own knee-jerk reactions. As your empathy deepens in step with your increasing sense of perspective, you will find it easier to relate – and deliver appropriate support – in all manner of situations.

 

4. You will age, elegantly

One of the most imperceptible changes that meditation can bring to your life is also one of its most miraculous. As well as becoming increasingly accepting of the fact that the number of candles on your birthday cake will go up every year – and welcoming the wisdom that this can bring – meditation is believed to be able to pause the physical process of aging for anything from five to 15 years. 

 

Mantra-based meditation works to slow down the aging process on a biological level, with studies indicating that it improves many different aspects of our health and cell regeneration. It can, for instance, help preserve neuromuscular coordination, make us see better, ward of gum disease, and keep mental-health conditions like depression at bay, which become increasingly likely as we get older. 

 

5. You will rest easy…and more effectively 

Many people discover mantra meditation in an ongoing quest for a sound night’s sleep, while battling chronic insomnia. If this sounds like you, you’re likely to perceive your newfound ability to drift off as a change which is dramatic, rather than diminutive. For people who don’t necessarily have problems falling asleep, meditation can nevertheless upgrade the calibre of the sleep you experience. However, the changes in the quality of your sleep will be less overt than the stark difference between sleep and no sleep, and it may take longer for you to notice them. 

 

Changes to your sleeping patterns may include falling asleep more easily, or realising that you now sleep through the night. You may have a perception of sleeping more deeply, which is likely to result in a sense of feeling well-rested. If you are prone to nightmares, and often find yourself rushing to the Dreamland Offices to give a presentation in your birthday suit, teeth falling out all over the pavement as you go, you are likely to find that these reduce in frequency or stop altogether as your overall stress levels diminish. 

 

The big secret that catalyses these little changes

All of the various little things in life that you might find are helped with meditation can be attributed, on a fundamental level, to a reduction in stress. Our contemporary urban existence is full of microcosmic mishaps that – although they couldn’t, technically, be further from a life or death situation – precipitate the same major stress response. Meditation diminishes the body’s general propensity towards the fight or flight response. 

 

The result is that it becomes possible to weather the many different kinds of everyday stressors without being catapulted into a state of disproportionate panic. Learning to notice the ways in which meditation helps with the little things in life will key you into newly discovered levels of subtlety on which it is possible for your consciousness operate. No matter how “normal” you seem on the outside, it’s time to marvel at what the inner you can do. 

 

If you are keen to find out more about how meditation could help you make the little changes that make a big difference, join us on our meditation courses and classes in London

Words by Rosalind Stone

This entry was posted in blog.