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.