Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition


Strengthen Heart Health with Mindfulness

Heart Health Awareness month is a great time to start or deepen a practice of mindfulness, the research-backed practice of bringing kind and curious attention to what is happening right now. Mindfulness, which includes awareness of breath, body and sensory inputs, can be thought of as a form of mental exercise that trains attention to rest with openness in the present moment.

More than four decades of research into mindfulness meditation has shown that a regular practice can yield a number of benefits, including a reduction in stress and anxiety; decreases in symptoms of pain and depression; increases in quality of life and sleep; and growth in empathy and compassion. Plus, with its ability to moderately reduce blood pressure and increase heart rate variability, mindfulness may be an important part of a heart disease prevention routine. Even for heart attack survivors or those with pre-existing heart disease conditions, adding in a regular mindfulness practice can improve quality of life and support heart health long-term.

Mindfulness meditation’s heart-healthy benefits are thought to relate to the ability of mindfulness practice to reduce stress through activation of the parasympathetic, or “rest-and-digest” wing of the autonomic nervous system. Mindfulness has also been shown to strengthen executive areas of the brain that help regulate anxiety and challenging emotions which, without regulation, can negatively impact heart health. Mindfulness is also linked to stronger relationships that in turn support heart health and longevity. In addition to directly supporting heart health, the increases in self-awareness from beginning a mindfulness practice may also encourage other heart-healthy behaviors such as balanced nutrition intake, mindful eating and regular physical movement.

Just one mindful meditation can work in the moment to reduce stress and improve well-being, and even a few minutes of practice per day over time can make a difference. Starting small is the best way to instill a new habit, so here are three heart-healthy mindfulness practices to do in two minutes or less:

Practice A Physiological Sigh: Just one intentional deep breath can reduce stress levels by calming the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous system and stimulating the “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system. The most effective form of deep breathing is called the “nervous system sigh”, where we take a double inhale through the nose and exhale fully out the mouth.

Squeeze and Release: Decrease physical tension through intentionally squeezing and releasing muscles. First, tense all the muscles by scrunching up the face, bringing the shoulders up to the ears and tightening the arms, hands, feet, legs and core. Breathe in for five seconds as while squeezing. Hold the breath and the tension for five seconds, then, exhale for five seconds and slowly release all muscular tension. Try this a few times, emphasizing squeezing and releasing different areas each time.

Help and Be Helped: Boost awareness of and compassion for others by thinking of a friend or family member that is struggling with something. Write this person a text message asking them how they are feeling and offer support and kindness. Then, check back in with our own experience and notice whether our own perspective has changed at all.

We have the power to change our state of mind and grow our heart health and brain health by taking mindful moments.

Dorsey Standish, MS, is a mechanical engineer, neuroscientist and wellness expert who brings evidence-based mindfulness and emotional intelligence to clients worldwide through her company Mastermind. For more information, visit