Exercise: Mind-Body Exercises & Heart Health


Harnessing the power of the mind-body connection

The mind-body connection means that you can learn to use your thoughts to positively influence some of your body’s physical responses, thereby decreasing stress. If you recall a time when you were happy, grateful or calm, your body and mind tend to relax.

Research has shown that when you imagine an experience, you often have similar mental and physical responses to those you have when the event actually happens. For example, if you recall an upsetting or frightening experience, you may feel your heart beating faster, you may begin to sweat, and your hands may become cold and clammy.

Whether you have been diagnosed with an illness or need to prepare for a medical procedure such as surgery, it is very important to minimize the negative effects and maximize the healthy, healing aspects of your mind-body connection.

A variety of calming and empowering mind-body exercises have been proven to help people:

  • Decrease anxiety
  • Decrease pain
  • Enhance sleep
  • Decrease the use of medication for post-surgical pain
  • Decrease side effects of medical procedures
  • Reduce recovery time and shorten hospital stays
  • Strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal
  • Increase sense of control and well-being

While the exercises described are not alternatives to medical or surgical treatments, they provide a powerful way for you to actively participate in your own health care, minimize pain and insomnia and promote recovery.

Calming/Relaxation Exercises

The goal of calming and relaxation exercises is to help change the way you perceive a situation and react to it — to help you feel more in control, more confident or secure, and to activate healing processes within the body. Become aware of any tension, anxiety, change in breathing, or symptoms that you recognize as being caused or worsened by stress. When you take about 15 minutes daily to practice these exercises to help “quiet” your mind and help your body become more relaxed, you can then call upon this ability with a shorter relaxation exercise at a stressful time.

Relaxation Breathing Practice

  • Be aware of your current breathing pattern and learn how to change your breathing rate from fast, shallow chest breathing to slow, abdominal breathing.
  • Focus on your breath while you place one hand on your chest, the other over your navel. Imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen. As you take a slow, deep breath, focus on inflating the balloon in your abdomen. You will notice that your abdomen will rise much more than your chest. As you exhale, just let your abdomen fall naturally.
  • The goal is to learn how to breathe at six breaths a minute, about three or four seconds inhaling and six or seven seconds exhaling. Once you have the slow, deep breathing accomplished, don’t worry about counting and imagine breathing out any tension in the body or thoughts that get in the way of comfort and relaxation.
  • If it helps, you can imagine a spot located on your abdomen, just below your navel. Breathe into and through that spot, filling your abdomen with air, allowing it to expand. Imagine the air filling you inside from your abdomen, and then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.

Try this exercise that incorporates a few different relaxation techniques:

  • Begin by interrupting your normal daily thoughts. Think about what is going on around you. Then switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
  • Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped, such as your neck or shoulders. Loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can.
  • Slowly rotate your head to the left in a smooth, circular motion, leaning your left ear to your left shoulder. Rotate your head to the right in a smooth, circular motion, leaning your right ear to your right shoulder. (Stop any movements that cause pain.)
  • Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
  • Recall and focus on a pleasant memory.
  • Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel more relaxed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Progressive muscle relaxation involves sequentially tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in the body, one at a time, and progressing throughout the entire body.
  • The key to this exercise is to tighten a specific muscle group for at least 5 seconds until you feel the tension, and then release the muscles for 10 seconds, noticing the difference in how the muscles feel before and after the exercise.
  • You can start by relaxing the muscles in your legs and feet, working up through each muscle group to your neck, shoulders, and scalp.

Mind Relaxation

Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word “one,” or any other short word such as “peaceful,” or a phrase such as “I feel quiet” or “I’m safe.” Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.

Guided Imagery

Research shows that guided imagery and relaxation can decrease anxiety and pain and possibly shorten your hospital stay. Guided imagery is often presented on an audio program in which you are guided in using your imagination to induce peace, calm, strength and control. The calming music accompanying guided imagery can be helpful in quieting the mind.

The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center offers a free guided imagery programs for patients undergoing surgery and other procedures. Learn more

Heart Center patients may also bring their own relaxation or guided imagery tapes. Please ask your doctor or nurse for more information.

Healing Services Touch Therapies Program

The Touch Therapies Program includes light massage therapy, reiki and Healing Touch™ to assist your recovery from medical or surgical interventions. The Touch Therapies Program is offered through a partnership between the Healing Services Team and the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.

Massage Therapy is used to support your medical condition and aid recovery from procedures. Massage can help reduce muscle tension, relieve stress and soothe pain. A light, 10-minute massage (with your physician’s approval) can assist your experience of well-being as you are healing. Fee-based massage therapy is offered to family members and visitors to help decrease stress so they can effectively support you.

Healing Touch™ and reiki are relaxing, nurturing energy therapies where gentle touch assists in balancing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being to promote a deep sense of relaxation. These therapies work with your energy to support your natural ability to heal.

To receive any of these complimentary touch therapies, please call Healing Services at
ext. 59543 on your hospital phone or 216.445.9543. For more information about our program, please see the section in your binder, “Healing Services Touch Therapies Program.”

Healing Services Team

The Healing Services Team provides a comprehensive approach to help you during your hospital recovery. Services include holistic nursing, spiritual care and complimentary touch therapies as described previously. If you would like someone from the Healing Services Team to visit you, please call ext. 59543 on your hospital phone or 216.445.9543. You can also ask your nurse to place an order.

Mind-Body Coach

A Mind-Body Coach is a trained professional who can teach you multiple ways to use your mind to reach a higher level of peace, calm and comfort before surgery. You’ll also learn the “tools” to help you during recovery, including guided imagery. To schedule a one-on-one session with the Mind-Body Coach before or after surgery, please call Healing Services at ext. 59543 on your hospital phone or 216.445.9543. Please note this is a fee-based service. You can also ask your nurse to place an order.

Self Help Relaxation Techniques

These techniques will help you release muscle tension and relieve pain. Practice these techniques as often as necessary.

  • Fold and Hold: If a muscle in the shoulders or neck is tight, you can release it without rubbing it. Just bend toward the tight side and hold it for 90 seconds. The muscle should be soft after doing this. this causes any strain on the incision site, stop immediately. Please do not use this method on the legs.
  • Chucking/Jostling: If a muscle is tight, brush lightly over the muscle with your hand and it should release in 30 seconds. Do not rub over any muscles that are near or under an incision, tube or if a medical device is implanted in the area.

Spiritual Practices

Centering prayer and meditation are some of the oldest methods of relaxation involving a specific mental focus. These techniques induce a deep state of relaxation and well-being. Many people find spiritual practices helpful in achieving total mind-body relaxation.

At Cleveland Clinic, a chapel is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to people of all faiths. The chapel is located on the first floor of the Glickman Tower, next to the Q elevators. The Red Coat staff can provide directions. A Muslim prayer room is also available.

To schedule a clergy visit from Spiritual Care, please call ext. 42518 on your hospital telephone or 216.444.2518. Or call our 24-hour Prayer Line at ext. 57200 or 216.445.7200.

Music and Art Therapy

Under the supervision of a board-certified music therapist, music therapy combines music and therapeutic techniques and aids in the physiological, psychological and emotional well-being of the individual during treatment of an illness.

Art therapy utilizes art media and the creative process to help patients in their healing and recovery. Art therapy can help patients decrease anxiety, manage stress, and deal with emotional issues.

For more information about music or art therapy, contact the Cleveland Clinic Arts & Medicine Institute at ext. 55083 on your hospital telephone or 216.445.5083.

Relaxation and Massage Suites

The Relaxation and Massage Suites, located on the 5th and 8th floors of the Miller Family Pavilion, are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients and family members are welcome to go to these rooms to take a quiet break from the daily hospital routine. If you are staying in a unit that’s not on the 5th or 8th floors, please let your health care team know if you’d like to visit the suite. Please note that massages are available in these suites by appointment, during regularly scheduled times. To schedule a massage appointment, please call 216.986.HEAL (4325) and a scheduling specialist will assist you.


Additional Resources

  • The Relaxation Channel: on the Cleveland Clinic hospital television network. Programming is offered 24 hours a day.
  • Cardiovascular Behavioral Health Clinic: 216.444.9353 or 800.223.2273, ext. 49353
  • Cleveland Clinic General & Health Psychology: 216.444.5812 or 800.223.2273, ext. 45812
  • www.clevelandclinic.org/psychiatry
  • Cleveland Clinic Gift Shop: 216.444.1700 or 800.223.2273, Ext. 41700
  • Cleveland Clinic Wellness store: Miller Family Pavilion. Store hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Sundays, noon-4 p.m. or visit www.ClevelandClinicWellness.com

For more information

  • Contact us
  • Chat online with a nurse
  • Or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/14/2018.

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