Friday, October 6, 2017

Meditation is a useful adjunct to heart-healthy lifestyle and medical treatment

Dr KK Aggarwal

In a new scientific statement, the American Heart Association (AHA) has included meditation as an adjunct to recommended heart-healthy lifestyle and medical treatment.

The statement published September 28, 2017 in the Journal of the American Heart Association reviewed studies of sitting meditation, including a variety of common forms such as: Samatha; Vipassana (Insight Meditation); Mindful Meditation; Zen Meditation (Zazen); Raja Yoga; Loving-Kindness (Metta); Transcendental Meditation; and Relaxation Response. Combination mind-body practices, such as yoga and Tai Chi, as the physical activity in these practices has an established positive impact on the risk of heart disease.

Overall, the studies included in the review indicated a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk. It was found that meditation may be associated with decreased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and improved quality of sleep and overall well-being; may help lower blood pressure; may help individuals stop smoking and may lower risk of heart attack (AHA News Release, Sept 28, 2017).

Stress increases the risk for heart disease as it may encourage behaviors that increase their risk for heart disease such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, physical inactivity and overeating ‘comfort foods’. It’s very important therefore to manage stress.

Meditation has always been recommended as a technique to relax the mind and the body and thereby reduce stress.

Meditation shifts one from the sympathetic (disturbed) to parasympathetic (relaxed) mode.

In the sympathetic state, the heart rate and blood pressure increase, which prevent a person from taking correct and decisive decision. Sympathetic mode releases stress hormones and may trigger panic or nervousness, the “flight or fight” response. On the other hand, the parasympathetic mode is the relaxed state of the body. It is a healing state, evident by reduction in heart rate, blood pressure. It is a relaxed state of mind and enables rational and correct conscious–based decisions. 

Meditation is not synonymous to concentration. Concentration is holding the mind to something within or outside the body. While, meditation is an unbroken flow of thoughts towards the object of concentration. It can be called prolonged concentration. Samadhi or absorption is when the object of concentration and the mind of the perceiver becomes one. When Concentration, Meditation and Samadhi are brought to bear upon one subject it is called Samyam.

According to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, (3.1–3.6), meditation needs to be learnt and applied step by step. The practice starts by sitting straight with erect spine, preferably in Padmasana (one can also sit on the chair) and concentrate on breathing or a primordial sound given by the teacher.
·         When the mind can be made to flow uninterruptedly towards the same object for 12 seconds, one is said to have learnt the process of concentration.
·         When the mind can continue in that concentration for 12 times (12 seconds × 12 i.e. 2 minutes 24 seconds), one is said to be practicing meditation.
·         When the mind can continue in that meditation for 12 times (12 minutes 24 seconds × 12 i.e. 28 minutes 48 seconds), one is said to be in Samadhi.
·         If this lower Samadhi can be maintained for 12 times, i.e., for 5 hours 45 minutes and 36 seconds, one is said to be in Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

The mind becomes one-pointed when similar thought waves arise in succession without any gap between them. Remember that during meditation, the object of concentration may change in form, time and rhythm. The whole process of meditation, therefore, varies from person to person and day to day. During meditation some may only concentrate, some may actually meditate and some may go into Samadhi. Most of us wander from concentration to meditation.

A change in lifestyle is essential to control the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). A balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic modes is required for optimum health and well-being.

(Disclaimer: The views on meditation expressed in this write up are my own).

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