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By Paul V. Palange
“Love is all you need,” the wonderful song by the Beatles’ goes. The tune came to mind when I was thinking about Valentine’s Day and the fact that February is Heart Health Month. Why are they connected? Because, according to medical professionals, people in loving relationships often experience less stress and anxiety, which leads to a healthier heart.
While it’s great to love another, it’s also important to love oneself. If you do, you are apt to take care of yourself and maintain a heart healthy lifestyle.
In addition to having a companion and staying connected to family and friends, you might want to incorporate tai chi and meditation into your daily routine. Both are user friendly and have lots of health benefits, according to the staff of the Mayo Clinic.
Originally developed for self-defense, tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s used for stress reduction and coping with a variety of other health conditions, according to the Mayo staff. Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements and deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion.
Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. In fact, because tai chi is a low-impact exercise, it is especially suitable for older adults. It’s inexpensive, requires no special equipment; and it can be done indoors, outside, alone or in a group.
The benefits of tai chi may include decreased stress, anxiety and depression; improved mood and aerobic capacity; increased energy and stamina; improved flexibility, balance and agility; and improved muscle strength and definition.
Research indicates tai chi may also enhance quality of sleep and the immune system; help lower blood pressure; lessen joint pain; alleviate symptoms of congestive heart failure; improve overall well-being; and reduce risk of falls in older adults.
It’s advisable to practice tai chi in the same place and at the same time every day to develop a routine, but if your schedule is erratic, the Mayo Clinic staff recommends doing tai chi whenever you have a few minutes. According to Mayo, people can even practice the soothing mind-body concepts of tai chi without performing the actual movements when they are in a stressful situation such as a traffic jam or a tense work meeting.
If you would like to try tai chi, classes are held at the Smithfield Senior Center at 1 William J. Hawkins Jr. Trail. For more information, call (401) 949-4590 or go online to www.smithfieldri.com/senior-center.
Another low-impact method for reducing stress and relaxing is meditation, and classes on that heart healthy practice are also held at the center.
Meditation can be practiced wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.
According to the Mayo Clinic staff, the emotional benefits of meditation can include gaining a new perspective on stressful situations; building skills to manage stress; increasing self-awareness; focusing on the present; reducing negative emotions; increasing imagination and creativity; and increasing patience and tolerance.
Meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress, according to the Mayo experts. Some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders and tension headaches.
I practiced meditation and self-hypnosis in my younger days. I enjoyed both relaxation techniques immensely and found that they alleviated stress and increased my creativity and productivity on and off the job. I am going to resume meditating, and I plan on filing an update or two on my progress. I will use the mantra meditation method, which involves silently repeating a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components, and they all share the same goal of achieving inner peace, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Taking a class is the best way to find out which type of meditation is best for you. You have to be open minded about the subject and prepared to practice whatever technique you select. It takes time to become skilled at meditation, but it is worth the effort.
I’m told it’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.
Mayo officials stress there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate. What matters is that meditation helps you reduce your stress and feel better overall.
Here’s to your health. I hope you have a happy and stress free Valentine’s Day.