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The stress management prescription for the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program is to practice a minimum of one hour a day of five recommended yogic techniques. They include postures, breathing, relaxation, meditation and imagery. Combined with the other lifestyle changes in the Ornish program, they have been proven to stop and undo heart disease.

It’s the power of lifestyle medicine alone that is placing the health of our hearts in our own hands

There is no doubt that practicing stress management is a powerful way to take control of your health and well being. When practiced regularly, it can change one’s quality of life on many levels. There is no pill and no surgery that can make this claim. It’s the power of lifestyle medicine alone that is placing the health of our hearts in our own hands. We alone have the power to heal ourselves.

How do these practices actually support the healing process? What are the benefits of these techniques?

Postures

They improve strength, flexibility, and blood flow to and from the heart. They serve to embody awareness so that you can listen to the information your body is offering you about yourself. This is important since many heart patients tell me that before their event, they knew something wasn’t right, but they just weren’t listening and they kept pushing themselves. Practicing postures helps you to slow down and listen.

Relaxation

One of the most common problems that can seriously affect heart health is a lack of sleep. The relaxation technique is a practice of deep and conscious letting go. It allows the body and mind to rest deeply so that tensions dissipate and sleep is deeper and more restorative. Practicing daily also lowers blood pressure and allows the body and mind to stay relaxed during daily activities.

Breathing

The way we breathe affects the way we think and feel, and the way we think and feel affects the way we breathe. When we change our breathing rhythm, it can have a powerful affect on our mood and energy levels. Interrupting a pattern of retention in the breath and letting the breath get long and smooth can lower blood pressure and calm the mind. Practicing some of the breathing techniques allows breathing to become more adaptable. Slowing the breath can increase the parasympathetic response, which is the “relaxation response,” and decrease the sympathetic response, which is the “fight or flight” response. Even atrial fibrillation has been shown to respond to breathing exercises when combine with relaxation and postures.

When we change our breathing rhythm, it can have a powerful affect on our mood and energy levels

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Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on one object and then passively observing whatever is arising in the mind without judging or analyzing. The attention is gently brought to rest on that object (breath, a word, an image or even a mantra), and when the mind wanders, we observe the path the mind takes and then gently return to our point of focus. Rather than thinking, we are witnessing thought without any agenda. In time and with practice, the mind is set free from its usual patterns. The mind becomes more spacious so we are free to choose new ways of responding and new pathways of thought. Since the body and mind slow down in meditation, heart rate and blood pressure lower. The mind becomes clearer and more relaxed. New research is now showing that meditation can affect our telomeres, which correlate directly with our longevity.

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Imagery

We all use imagery without knowing it. If you have ever worried about anything, you have practiced imagery. Worry is a form of visualization we call awfulization. If you worry, you are affecting the body in ways that may not be helping you. When I worry I have found my palms sweating, my heart beating faster,my mind racing. All of these have a negative toll on our health.

If we can cause a negative reaction in the body and mind with worry, why couldn’t we use imagery to support a positive and healing response? The answer is, we can. We can use positive images to create a healing response. We can even imagine positive outcomes rather than worrying about negative ones. Some of our participants in the Ornish program report on the images they are using such as healing light or healing energy in the heart. One of my favorite images is one that was used by a computer programmer. He imagined going into the arteries and seeing the plaque and then hitting the delete button and undoing it. With these powerful images we are in essence getting to “UNDO It” and start again.

Each and every one of these stress management techniques have tremendous value and can induce change in our health. Practiced all together and everyday, they form a powerful healing path. Our research even shows that the more stress management our participants are doing in combination with the other four equally-weighted pillars of the program, the more reversal they are getting.

What stress management technique has most helped you and what results have you noticed?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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