Meditation involves focusing your mind to achieve a state of relaxation and heightened awareness. This focus on a particular object or visualisation helps to screen out distractions so you enter a meditative state.
One of the most effective forms for lowering a high blood pressure is Transcendental Meditation (TM) which was developed to fit into a busy, modern lifestyle. It is practised for just 20 minutes, twice a day, while you sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
In its original form, TM uses a variety of Sanskrit mantras – a short word or phrase – that is repeated in the mind to help still your thoughts and guide you towards a deeper level of consciousness in which you achieve deep relaxation while maintaining a restful alertness. This leaves you feeling refreshed, calm and able to think more clearly.
A study published in Hypertension – the Journal of the American Heart Association –showed that practising TM for 3 months was associated with a fall in blood pressure of, on average, 10/6 mmHg in women and 13/8 mm Hg in men.
Later trials published in the American Journal of Cardiology compared TM with usual antihypertensive treatments in over 200 people, aged 55 years or more, who were followed for an average of 8 years. The results were astonishing. People with hypertension who practised TM were 23% less likely to die, from any medical cause, during the follow-up period than those who did not meditate. This included a 30% lower risk of experiencing a fatal heart attack or stroke, and a 49% lower risk of dying from cancer. The researchers conclude that this was due to the specific stress-reducing effects of TM in people with hypertension.
Relaxation Response Meditation is a westernised form which uses the principles of TM without the Eastern spiritual context. Relaxation exercises are combined with western phrases such as ‘Calm’, or ‘Peace’ – instead of Sanskrit mantras you choose words that are rooted in your own belief system.
You don’t need to pay for a course to learn this form of meditation – there are plenty of free guides on line such as the following, simple introduction to the technique.
For those who don’t like a structured approach, or don’t feel they have time to sit with their eyes closed, quieting that little voice in their head, mindfulness meditation is a good alternative. Mindfulness encourages you to focus on the present moment. You pay close attention to everyday activities such as preparing food, or walking, concentrating on the sensations, textures, colours, smells and sounds involved. This prevents your mind spinning off and dwelling on potentially negative and stressful thoughts.
Mindfulness can help you relax and lower your blood pressure while you eat, perform houseful chores, gardening, or any repetitive task.
For example, mindful eating involves savouring and really experiencing the look, smell, texture and taste of each bite of food. Don’t do anything else at the same time. Don’t eat and read the newspaper, or eat and watch TV – focus solely on eating the food. To experience mindful eating, find a crisp, sweet, juicy apple and try the following exercise:
Sit comfortably, breathing slowly and deeply in a relaxed manner. Pick up the apple and note its colour, shape and texture. Inhale deeply so its complex scent fills your mind. Place the apple against your lips and explore the waxy texture with your tongue. Now take a bite and note the initial resistance as your teeth cut through the crisp flesh. Feel the juice squirt into your mouth or dribble down your chin. As you chew, focus on the sounds that fill your head. Notice the sweet, fruity, sharp taste, and the texture of the flesh as it falls apart. Extract as much flavour as you can before swallowing each bite.
One study did not find that mindful meditation had a significant effect on people with untreated, stage 1 hypertension, but other studies have found that it produced significant reductions in people experiencing stress of around 5/11 mmHg.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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