Stop and Breathe: Meditation for Health and Longevity

Natasha Ingram - Movement Matters: MOVE THERAPEUTICS

Meditation is the practice of focusing one’s mind and attention so that you can achieve a more calm and neutral state. It has been shown to be just as necessary in supporting your immediate health and longevity as other common health practices (regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, etc.). Daily meditation practice has been studied heavily and has been proven beneficial towards managing stress, improving thinking and focus, enhancing anti-inflammatory processes in the body, strengthening the immune system, and optimising sleep quality.

So, how exactly does meditation practice positively impact the body from a scientific standpoint? First, we as humans all have a part of our nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for regulating blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and digestion without requiring conscious awareness – it happens automatically! The ANS includes two divisions of neural networks: the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems. The SNS is responsible for the fight or flight response which increases heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate in order to tackle potential or real threats or stressors. The PNS is responsible for the “rest and digest’’ response which lowers heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate to relax the body after periods of stress or danger. The vagus nerve is the primary director of PNS and increased stimulation of this nerve reduces heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate. This invokes a state of relaxation in both the mind and body.

Meditation and attentive breathing techniques help stimulate the vagus nerve. Specifically, slow deep breaths with a focus on a long exhalation. Ideally, one should breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth, while aiming to perform 6 breaths per minute. This takes some practice, but can be a useful and simple tactic to relax your body and mind in any setting or situation. Many meditation practices will also include vocal exercises. Vocal sounds such as humming and chanting “OMMM” also act to stimulate vagus nerve activity.

Meditation and breathwork techniques help to immediately calm the body during acute episodes of stress. It has also been shown that daily practice of meditation and breathing techniques can help to improve one’s overall resilience to stress, and has positive long term effects on brain function and cardiovascular health.

There are a variety of apps available to help you get started with a daily meditation practice. Our favourites include: Headspace, Calm and The Healthy Minds Program. If you are looking for an in-person guided meditation, you can join us @ the MOVE Studio on Saturday mornings (3304 Second Street East, Cornwall). If you would like more information about this class, please contact for all the details!

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