Meditation -- the practice of focusing your attention in order to find calm and clarity -- can lower high blood pressure. It can also help you manage stress, which drives some people to eat.
"People often put on weight from trying to comfort themselves with food," says Adam Perlman, MD, executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine.
Although there's not a lot of research showing that meditation directly helps you lose weight, meditation does help you become more aware of your thoughts and actions, including those that relate to food.
For example, a research review showed that meditation can help with both binge eating and emotional eating.
"Any way to become more mindful will guide that process," Perlman says.
"Focus on being a witness to your thoughts and not so much how long you need to practice." -- Geneen Roth
How to Meditate
There are many ways to meditate. The CDC says that most types of meditation have these four things in common:
- A quiet location. You can choose where to meditate -- your favorite chair? On a walk? It's up to you.
- A specific comfortable posture, such as sitting, lying down, standing, or walking.
- A focus of attention. You can focus on a word or phrase, your breath, or something else.
- An open attitude. It's normal to have other thoughts while you meditate. Try not to get too interested in those thoughts. Keep bringing your attention back to your breath, phrase, or whatever else it is you're focusing on.
Pick the place, time, and method that you want to try. You can also take a class to learn the basics.
Becoming a 'Witness,' Not a Judge
Meditating requires a commitment to stop and look within and around you, even if you have only a few moments, says Geneen Roth, author of the New York Times best-seller Women Food and God.
"The way I teach meditation and integrate it for myself is to focus on being a witness to your thoughts and not so much how long you need to practice," Roth says. "You want to learn how to quiet your mind and sometimes avoid the stories you tell yourself, like you need to go eat cookies or that bag of chips."
Try not to bring major expectations to meditation. Let it unfold without judgment.
Most people have an inner critic that's running their lives, Roth says. To reframe your thinking, she recommends asking yourself, "What's working?" when you wake up and again at the end of the day. "We get so caught up and don’t take the time to look around and notice what’s good," she says.
One of the daily practices Roth recommends is taking 30 seconds to look around and see what's in front of you. It's a way to be present.
"Not only do you need to be present in the moment, but you need to be informed to make the right decisions -- what to eat, what to avoid, what [are] the best exercises and lifestyle choices for someone with high blood pressure," Perlman says. He calls it "informed mindfulness."
The bottom line: Meditation doesn't replace diet, exercise, and following your doctor's guidelines for weight loss and better blood pressure. But it can support those positive changes, if you do it with patience and commitment.