Reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by practicing mindfulness meditation

By Betty Murray

The thought that mindfulness meditation can help lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, isn’t entirely new, but new research published in the journal Health Psychology shows a direct connection between meditation and less stress. “This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Davis Center for Mind and Brain.

During the study, 57 people spent a period of three months in a meditation retreat where they were taught mindfulness meditation, breathing and how to cultivate positive mental states. At the beginning of the study, cortisol levels were measured, and mindfulness levels were rated. Both were measured again at the end of the study. Researchers found a direct correlation between increased mindfulness and decreased cortisol.

Impacts of stress on health

Stress is the new fat. It’s a nationwide epidemic rivaling that of obesity. Stress doesn’t just add frustration to life, it can lead to emotional disorders, hypertension and heart problems, headaches and even obesity.

While stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing (as it helps us meet deadlines, perform athletically, etc.), prolonged stress is bad for your health. Adam Perlman, M.D. executive director of integrative medicine and wellness at Duke University says, “Experience elevated stress levels on a chronic basis wears down our body and our brain. It’s much like flooring the gas pedal with your car in park. If you do it for a prolonged period, something in your engine will break.”

Other benefits of meditation

Mindfulness meditation exercises have also been shown in other studies to decrease stress and fatigue in individuals with chronic pain; decrease feelings of loneliness for elderly, thus reducing risk of heart problems among other health problems; improve balance and flexibility for stroke survivors; decrease symptoms of depression for caregivers; and minimize stress for teachers.

How to practice mindfulness meditation

Practice yoga. Yoga is a common meditative exercise that can be used to reduce stress. If you are unfamiliar with yoga, sign up for a class at an area yoga studio. Participating in group yoga classes will help you learn to do the exercises correctly, and teach you the art of meditation.

Practice HeartMath. The HeartMath breathing technique is a highly successful — and healthy — technique used to reduce stress. The HeartMath heart-focused breathing technique is a method of refocusing attention and energy on the heart, releasing stress and anxiety through the heart. Focus breathing on the area of the heart, let go of the stress or anxiety and imagine that your breath is flowing into your body through the area of your heart and out through your heart. Then shift your focus to positive feelings by taking energy away from undesirable emotions and placing your energy on positive, desirable emotions. The heart-focused breathing technique literally changes the rhythm of the heart, calming your autonomous nervous system. By focusing on the heart, you are releasing negative feelings and emotions, and replacing them with positive feelings, says Dr. Rozman. The HeartMath technique can help relieve everyday stress, anger and anxiety.

Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

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