Why Meditation is Now a Treasured Part of My Daily Routine


My favorite hour of the day now comes in the darkness of early morning, around three or four o'clock. That's when I do my own combination of light exercises and mindfulness meditation.

I make up the exercises as I go. The same holds true for meditation: I do it -- like Frank Sinatra -- my way.

Once -- after my middle-of-the-night bathroom visits -- I'd sit in a straight-backed chair and do a standard version of meditation. It worked for a while. Now, I sit in the chair once a day and lie on the floor the next, combining my ever-changing program of exercise and meditation.

This free-form program has made my very-early-morning sessions a time of bliss. Creative ideas for blog posts come to me, and so do solutions to problems that have been troubling me.

By-the-book meditation

I also meditate after my afternoon nap, this time by strictly observing the "breathe-in, breathe out" instructions on a meditation tape.

In December I blogged about a Christmas present I gave myself: "RESPeRATE," a device designed to help lower blood pressure. It's a portable, electronic device that promotes slow, deep breathing.

According to the Mayo Clinic: RESPeRATE is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It's available without a prescription. RESPeRATE uses chest sensors to measure your breathing, and then a computerized unit creates a melody for you to use to synchronize your breathing. The melody is supposed to help you slow your breathing with long exhalations. Although studies on RESPeRATE are ongoing, it appears RESPeRATE can help lower your blood pressure in the short term. Researchers are still investigating whether using RESPeRATE over the long term can create lasting effects on lowering your blood pressure. RESPeRATE is intended to be used at least 15 minutes a day, three to four days a week. Within a few weeks, the deep-breathing exercises can help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure — the top and bottom numbers in a blood pressure reading. You need to keep doing the breathing exercises to maintain the blood pressure lowering benefits.

I have a history of trying one blood pressure med after another; either they didn't really work or they caused unwelcome side effects. I learned that my 5-HTP (hydroxytryptophan) "magic pill" can produce blood pressure spikes that are often a result of interaction with the hypertension pills. As a result, I use a home blood pressure monitor several times a day.

Almost as soon as I started using RESPeRATE, I noticed my blood pressure stabilized below 150/90; now recognized as the acceptable upper limit for those over 60.

When I saw those steady numbers, I cut my daily 300mg Avapro pill in half. After a few more weeks of consistent readings, I stopped taking it altogether. Naturally, I first got the OK from my internist, who advised me that people who go off blood pressure meds (because they are getting normal readings) often see a big jump in their numbers in six to ten weeks.

After eight pill-free weeks, my blood pressure is holding steady.

Though less faithfully, I've also been using another other device recommended by Mayo: Zona Plus, a hand-held gizmo that calibrates grip strength. I sense that it helps. Using RESPeRATE takes about 15 minutes a day; Zona Plus takes about ten.

Recent studies on meditation

The benefits of meditation -- touted for centuries -- are now confirmed by scientific studies. Here are just a few of the most recent:

  • Last May, the journal Psychological Science published results of a randomized trial. Undergraduates who spent just en minutes a day for two weeks practicing mindfulness improved—about 16 extra points—on the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Exam. They also significantly increased their working memory capacity, which is the ability to maintain and manipulate multiple items of attention.
  • Confirming my own "joy of quiet" experiences, one study found that letting your mind wander (as I do) can generate surges of creativity. The study found that physicists and writers came up with their most insightful ideas while spacing out.
  • Yet another study found that mindfulness meditation actually "changed" the brain, and in areas that could ease the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Now I'm off to bed.

During my upcoming joy of quiet time, perhaps I'll develop creative excuses to NOT shovel the snow we're expecting to fall through the night.

Washington, DC, resident John Schappi blogs about aging, exercise, diet, pills, supplements, and his life with Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. Once upon a time, he was addicted to nicotine, alcohol and sex. These days, his passions include gardening, playing bridge, meditating, going to the theater and traveling.

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Thank you John... I just read this and thought I'd share (meditation in the morning... before 'jumping' out of bed:
Loving-kindness Meditation - We open our hearts and expand our love out into the world. The loving-kindness meditation is a classic Buddhist meditation centered around opening the heart and stretching the heart muscle and our ability to give and receive love without conditions. Get into a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and place your hands on the knees, facing upward. Place an intention into your heart, bringing your awareness into your heart. Take a few deep breaths in and out of the heart center and simply relax.
Now repeat these words silently to yourself:
• May all beings be happy.
• May all beings be free.
• May all beings be well.
Feel yourself as you sit here. Feel your inner life and wish for yourself:
• May I be happy.
• May I be free – free from fears, insecurities and doubts.
• May I be well. May I be truly, truly well.
Now choose someone you love very much. Bring them into your mind's eye and send these loving thoughts to them.
• May you be happy.
• May you be free.
• May you be well.
Now bring into your mind's eye someone you might be having grievance with. Perhaps it's someone in your life who knows how to push your buttons. Wish for them:
• May you be happy.
• May you be free.
• May you be well.
Know that this person is just another person on their path, working with their own light and darkness. Feel into your bones that you want what's best for this person.
Now think of a person who is neutral – someone you have no attachments to. Perhaps it's your children's bus driver, a clerk at the grocery store, or someone you see walking in your neighborhood from time to time. Send to them these loving thoughts:
• May you be happy.
• May you be free.
• May you be well.
Feel your heart shining with loving-kindness. Feel the warmth and love radiating from your heart center. Breathe here for a few breaths. Now open your eyes. Stay in this softened state until your are ready to get up and make breakfast.

Heart, nice words. Can I have an Apps on this so that I can just use an earphone and do it every morning? I'm forgetful. Whether doing neck yoga exercises or stretching exercises, I always forget most of the steps. I have to write it down, and then look at it every single time I do it. You just reminded me that I was suppose to find an easy simple short mediation apps.

I agree that mediation and deep breathing are very important. Prolonged stress can lead us to dementia. Too much holding in our breaths when stressed or angry or frustrated - is stopping the oxygen to our brain. Inadvertently starving our brain...