Stress and Your Heart

Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi
Photo: Participants at an Ekahi Event

Wellness Tips Adapted from Ornish Living Magazine

In uncertain times, it’s hard to feel grounded. For many of us living in Hawaii, the recent missile attack scare re-ignited fear and uncertainty about our safety and the state of our country. And while there is little we can do to affect what is happening around us, we can try to change the way we react to emotionally trying situations.

By changing the way we react to stressful situations, we might also reduce our risk for heart disease.

Humans have developed a “flight or fight” response to stress. When we’re faced with a stressful situation, our body releases a flood of chemicals such as cortisol and epinephrine, which prepare your body for action. This response is beneficial, because it helps us make tough decisions during challenging situations. But in today’s world, we might engage this response during a situation that doesn’t call for it. Picture yourself stuck in traffic, late to an important meeting. Your heart starts to race, and your anxiety starts to build. But in traffic, this “flight or fight” response provides little benefit! And studies have shown that chronic everyday stressors such as dealing with rush-hour traffic, on-the-job aggravation, and relationship difficulties may be linked to heart disease.

One of the ways we can mitigate the effect of these responses is by practicing regular stress management. Today, we’ll go over some useful relaxation and meditation exercises. These exercises slow our heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and help us focus on the now.

Walking Meditation Practice

  • Stand in a comfortable position. Unlock the knees and grab one wrist behind the back. Let the gaze drift downward without lowering the chin. Relax just as you are.
  • With each slow conscious step, connect with the feeling of the earth beneath your feet, with the breath passing through the nostrils, with the feeling of the air on the skin.
  • Let your mind and heart rest right here in this very moment, without pushing away what is uncomfortable or trying to hold on to what is. Try to sit in the uncertainty of this moment without the drama.
  • Walk for 5 to 10 minutes and then rest.

Seated Forward Bend Practice

  • Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Let your legs and sit bones descend into the earth as if you are growing roots. Feel the support and steadiness of the earth and relax into that support.
  • Once you feel connected, reach the arms out and up and then surrender forward from the hips, sliding the hands down the legs to find that edge of comfort/discomfort.
  • As you find your comfortable edge, deeply let go every time you exhale.
  • Practice surrendering to what is without wishing or wanting things to be different. Let go of anything you are willing to let go of, anything you don’t need physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Allow the breath to be smooth and even. After several breaths, slowly slide back up the legs and relax. Notice a sense of grounding and calm.

February is National Heart Month! This month, be sure to take some time out of your busy lifestyle to take care of your heart.

‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (, 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 and follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.