by Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Adapted from Ornish Living Magazine, Available online at www.ornishliving.com
We all know that regular exercise and a healthy diet can lower our risk for chronic health conditions, but we often ignore the importance of emotional well-being and relaxation. When we’re faced with a tough situation, our body releases a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones are part of our “fight-or-flight” response – a complex mechanism designed to help prepare us for impending danger.
This response was never designed for our modern, chronic stressors – such as being stuck in traffic, or dealing with a tough day at work. Chronic stressors can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which in turn lead to a reduced memory capacity, lower immune function, increased weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and exposes us to chronic conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
We can’t prevent our bodies from reacting to stress – but we can change how we react to chronic stressors. Studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association have found that meditation can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 4.7 mm Hg, and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 3.2 mm Hg. Meditation has also been shown to have other long term benefits on cholesterol, blood sugar levels, depression, and mental acuity.
As we turn the corner into Spring, we invite you to try the following tree pose for a healthier heart:
As you stand comfortably, let your feet find the support of the earth. Allow yourself to become aware of the downward pull of gravity as it carries weight through the bones. Use your imagery practice to imagine the feet growing roots just like a tree as if you are planting your feet in fresh soil. These roots allow the tree to be supported, yet flexible so that when the wind blows the tree can move without breaking. Now let yourself sway a bit from side to side. When you feel balanced, pick up one foot and place that heel on the other anklebone while the ball of the foot and toes stay on the floor for support. If you need the help of a chair or wall let yourself hold on while you practice.
Once you feel steady, bring the palms together at the center of the chest. Let the breath flow as you feel the support of the standing leg.
If you want to, you can slide the food to the ankle or thigh to play with balance even more. Casting the gaze downward can help to steady the pose. Let yourself continue to breathe smoothly and evenly.
After finding a steady and balanced Tree, bring in your arms. Start to reach the palms up from the heart into the sky as if you’re growing branches, and then with a long slow exhale let them float down to the sides like they are floating through a warm pool of water. You can do this arm movement several times to invoke a greater sense of balance.
(Note: When your arms are moving, they are improving the flow of blood and energy to and from the heart. In the case of cardiovascular disease, or CVD, you should not hold the arms up overhead for any length of time, but rather keep them moving and flowing.)
‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (www.ikehawaii.com), is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.
For more information about ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, visit www.ekahiornish.com and follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.