Breath and Being: Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Management

An important component of recovery and prevention for cardiac patients is stress management. One powerfully effective technique taught by Jessica Psujek Wakefield, a health counselor at Duke, is mindfulness meditation.“People can use the technique to better manage or cope with the stressors in their life,” Wakefield says. The practice facilitates relaxation and has been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower heart rate.Mindfulness meditation means tuning into the present moment and its accompanying sensations. One is aware of thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed by them. Psujek defines it as, “Careful, open-hearted, present-moment awareness. So often our thoughts are taking us to past events or worries of the future, our plans and to-do lists, and we lose that present-moment awareness.”Psujek presides over weekly mindfulness meditation sessions for people enrolled

in the Cardiac Rehabilitation program. In the dimly lit Stedman Auditorium on the Living Campus, participants lie down on mats or seat themselves comfortably on chairs or the floor. In soothing, measured tones, Wakefield guides them through one of three meditations. Awareness of breath. “Here, the breath is an object of attention,” says Wakefield. “Pay attention to the quality of the breath, whether it’s fast or slow, deep, or shallow. You’re giving your attention to the experience of breathing and cultivating relaxation through a series of thoughtful breaths.” Body scan. Roam deliberately through the body, focusing on one area at a time, noting sensations, points of tension or ease, discomfort or pain. Note any emotions that arise, such as, “I hate my belly.” Wakefield advises, “Be purposeful and without judgment.”Loving-kindness. Recite inwardly the following phrases: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe.” Then expand the loving-kindness to include others, redirecting the phrases to focus on a person you care about, a person with whom you are having difficulty, and a more “neutral” person, such as an acquaintance.Each session lasts about 45 minutes and is followed by a brief discussion of the experience.With consistent practice, the benefits of mindfulness meditation will extend into the participants’ daily lives. “Being centered in the moment may keep you from being carried away by strong emotions like anxiety or anger,” Wakefield explains. “You may start thinking, ‘What are some other choices I can make in responding to this?”. News from: Duke University Health System

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