Simply observing the breath can damp down stress and open a door to a more healthy and mindful lifestyle.
Psychological stress has a devastating effect on health. Research shows that people with heart disease do worse over time if they don’t control stress, and stress seems to be associated with a higher risk for cancer. Stress is strongly associated with poorer memory and more aches and pains. However, reducing stress helps you sleep more restfully and control high blood pressure.
One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to simply focus your attention on your breath. It’s a form of “entry level” meditation that anyone can do. You’ll notice an immediate sense of relaxation that could help protect your health over time.
If you enjoy it, breath meditation can be a gateway to a broader practice of “mindfulness,” in which you learn to accept and appreciate what comes in life and stop fighting your own thoughts and feelings. “Many people take up mindfulness practices thinking they’d like to relax more, but where it leads is a very different approach to life and its inevitable challenges,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.