| Family Reflections |


We can feel less stress by doing heart-calming exercises


Cold-heartedness, warm-heartedness, hard-heartedness, kind-heartedness, a hearty laugh, a heartfelt hug, a heartbreaking story — the heart is the center of it all. The heart — at ease or chronically agitated — determines the quality of our existence: When it’s at peace, so are we.

“My son is struggling this year, and I’m really worried about him,” says one woman. “Unfortunately, my husband and I disagree about how to help him, and the whole thing is really stressing me out.”

We Feel It in the Heart

We feel the day-to-day incidents in our heart. The ordinary conversations we have with loved ones can trigger a raging heart, and the normal shenanigans of children can give us palpitations.

And then there are occasions in life that will naturally trigger the intense emotions: Bad news can bring fear that grips our hearts, sad news makes our hearts sink. The heart takes the hit in every case.

It’s only when the heart is calm and settled that we actually feel “right” and are at our best physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. To be healthy, we need to access this state of ease often. We won’t be able to wait for life to calm down, for the spouse to understand, for the children to behave, for the crises to resolve, and for everything to work out. We need to be able to induce this state of heartfelt well-being regardless of what is happening in our lives. And the good news is that we can.

The Habit of Heart Health

In order to heal the heart, we have to speak to it in its own language — the language of emotion. Feelings of love and gratitude produce the greatest heart health. That’s how Hashem arranged it. Spending just a few minutes a day accessing feelings of gratitude, joy, and love is powerful medicine for a stressed heart.

As we take that time, we’ll find that the ability to settle the heart becomes faster, stronger, and more powerful over time. What starts out as an “exercise” eventually becomes a deep reservoir of healing and restoration, a path to recovery, and even an opening to transcendence.

One strategy we’ll look at for accomplishing all this is heart-focused breathing. Just start with 60-second sessions. It will take a little practice and perseverance, but as your brain begins to experience the pleasant and uplifting results of this short respite, it begins to trust you to give it more and more, and then you can do it for longer periods of time.

To begin with, think of one straightforward pleasure in life for which you feel grateful and/or which, when you think of it, makes you smile, feel warm inside, or brings a physical wave of relaxation.

This thought could be as simple as remembering your morning coffee, recalling your baby’s smile, bringing to mind a particular photo, a pleasant interchange, or something that gave you a good laugh recently — anything that feels good in an uncomplicated way. Keep this notion “in your pocket,” ready to use in the fourth step in the instructions below.

Close your eyes and place one hand over your heart.

Feel the warmth of your hand as you gently slow your breathing.

Breathe directly into the heart and exhale from the heart.

Once you’ve established a comfortable rhythm, bring to mind the “straightforward pleasure” you selected earlier.

Continue breathing into the heart and out from the heart for about 60 seconds, while letting your mind rest on your straightforward pleasure. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to focusing on your straightforward pleasure.

If you find that your mind wanders too much for your liking, then go ahead and try Variation #2: Repeat steps 1–4, and then simply change step 5 as follows:

As you breathe into your heart and access your “straightforward pleasure” silently count for the length of the breath, “In, 2, 3, 4” and so on, for as long as the inhale lasts. As you breathe out from your heart, silently count, “Out, 2, 3, 4” and so on. Repeat breathing and counting in this way, still keeping your mind on your happy thought, for about 60 seconds.

Although these exercises are brief and simple, decades of research have verified that they have profound health-promoting and healing effects. Nurture your heart, and your heart will nurture you!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 788)

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