As obesity continues to affect Americans, various health trends have entered the spotlight as possible solutions. Paleo, vegetarian and cholesterol-free diets are just a few. Exercise programs and activities such as yoga and running are increasingly popular, as are mixed martial arts, soccer and other types of physical fitness.
While any of these health trends could potentially fade into obscurity after enough research is done to potentially disprove them, one trend in America I believe is here to stay is the practice of meditation. According to a 2013 Huffington Post article, more than 20 million Americans currently practice yoga.
Meditation has a broad definition, meaning you can practice it almost anywhere and almost at any time. Merriam-Webster defines meditation as “spending time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation.”
For many that is done through yoga, a form of physical exercise which often involves doing movements coordinated with inhales and exhales. Usually these measured breaths are taken through the nose only, causing them to be slower and harder to maintain in cases of strenuous physical activity. The practice of inhaling and exhaling through the nose is scientifically proven to help lower heart rate, and help control blood pressure, according to a 2006 Harvard Health article.
But for some, meditation doesn’t have to be done only on a yoga mat, in a studio. “Quiet time” doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a quiet environment. It can be done almost as easily on a run as it can be in dancer pose. For some, meditating while running or working out alone can be even more calming because the body is in motion and away from sources of stimulation and stress.
For the last nine months I’ve been doing yoga and focusing on the meditation aspect. I started in January and took a fitness assessment at the Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex because I enrolled to train with one of their personal trainers. Nearly six months later, I took the same assessment again. My resting heart rate had gone down 13 beats per minute and my blood pressure had also decreased. Overall, my blood pressure went from the “needs work” category on the assessment to the “fair” category.
While this may not necessarily be conclusive, scientific evidence, to me it stood out as major sign that meditation, mainly done through weekly yoga classes, had some kind of positive impact. That was all I needed.
As with almost anything, scientific research can be found to confirm similar results and at least the possibility that meditation is actually a healthy thing. According to a Journal of Chronic Diseases article, “it is possible that the decreased blood pressures are unrelated to the proposed mechanism of decreased sympathetic nervous system activity and represent, instead, a placebo effect. Regardless of mechanism, the described relaxation, meditational technique is an effective method of lowering borderline hypertensive blood pressures.”
For those who haven’t tried meditating and are perhaps afraid to go to a yoga class, try this: sit in a room alone, cross-legged if you can, close your eyes and breath in and out through the nose a couple of times. Try to clear your mind of random thoughts or clutter during this time. Though meditation has no set required time to experience benefits, WebMD suggests meditating at least 15 to 20 minutes. Of course, this can vary from person to person, depending on their needs and daily body fluctuations.
So if you haven’t tried it sometime, give it a shot. You never know how it might make you feel.