On a routine visit to my doctor, he took my blood pressure. It was 154 over 90. That’s high. It’s usually about 140 over 80. He got worried, which got me worried. I went online to look up all the lifestyle changes and food that help lower blood pressure. Then I found oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone released by the brain that makes you feel good and has many health (physical and psychological) benefits, such as reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It facilitates childbirth, breastfeeding, and social, romantic and emotional attachment. For this reason, it’s called “The Love Hormone.”

So I researched all the ways to increase oxytocin in my body, and a few weeks later, I went to check my blood pressure and it was, thank G‑d, 125 over 80. Although I had implemented other lifestyle and dietary changes, and was also aware that the spike in my blood pressure was probably stress-related, I’m willing to bet that it was the oxytocin boost that got my blood pressure lower than it had been in years.

Following are 11 ways that boost your oxytocin. They just happen to be mitzvahs as well.

1. Listening to music and singing. “If words are the pen of the heart,” taught Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “then song is the pen of the soul.” Much of the Jewish liturgy and prayers are set to music. In many Shabbat morning services, you’ll get a good dose of music. Prayer is also called shira (“song”) and has the meditative effects that also encourage the flow of oxytocin.

See: Music, Spirituality and Transformation

2. Eating food, especially special foods, increases oxytocin. Jews are not supposed to eat on the run, as they need to bless their food and eat in a dignified manner. On Shabbat and Jewish holidays, we have festive meals with friends, family and guests. Jews serve G‑d through food and social interaction, and that helps us live healthy, happy and more relaxed lives.

More on Shabbat—An Island in Time

3. Acts of kindness. Doing an act of kindness increases oxytocin. In doesn’t matter what the act of kindness is or for whom. The Torah has a plethora of acts of kindness it instructs us to perform for people, animals, even inanimate objects. Empathy and caring produce oxytocin that makes us more empathic and caring.

Read: The Kindness of Strangers

4. Intimacy. Judaism is well-known for the restrictions the Torah imposes on intimacy. Less well-known is the encouragement of intimacy between a husband and wife during the times it is allowed. For example, a man is not supposed to have a profession that takes him too far away from his home for long periods of time for this reason. Physical affection is very much part of the marital relationship; it releases oxytocin.

Learn More: Jewish Sexuality—The Intimate Component in Love and Marriage

5. Childbirth triggers oxytocin which aids in childbirth. The first mitzvah given in the Torah was to “be fruitful and multiply.”1 Children are considered a blessing, as Maimonides teaches, “anyone who adds a soul to the Jewish people is considered as if he built an entire world.”2 The Torah encourages us to have large families, if we are able, and to pass on our Torah values to them.

Read: Yes, It’s My Eighth Child

6. Not getting angry. Nothing fills our bodies with cortisol (which is a death knell to oxytocin) faster than anger. The Torah warns us against acting or speaking in anger. Rabbi Eliezer says: “ ... Do not be easy to anger.”3 Anger is one of the traits most condemned in Jewish literature. “Someone who gets angry,” we are told, “is like one who worships idols.”4

Watch: How to Avoid Anger

7. Meditation and prayer. Chassidic rabbis have always taken time to meditate during their prayer. A key element of our relationship with our Creator is to “serve Him with all your heart.”5 Prayer is a labor of awakening the hidden love within the heart until a state of intimate union with the divine is achieved. Meditative prayer increases oxytocin.

More: What Is Tefillah?

8. Wine. Becoming intoxicated, of course, is not good, but an occasional glass of wine can help raise oxytocin levels. Shabbat Kiddush, Havdalah and wine drunk at celebratory events like a brit milah or a wedding are all designed to make the occasion happier. A little wine goes a long way in doing that.

Watch: What’s Up With Making Kiddush

Art by Yitzchok Moully
Art by Yitzchok Moully

9. Studying Torah. We are called the “People of the Book.” Studying Torah is a constant mitzvah. “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up.6 The focused activity of reading and learning produce alpha waves and oxytocin.

Household Mitzvot: A House Full of Books

10. Focusing on the positive and being happy and grateful. These are the keys to good health and happiness in any event. Faith is the belief that the Creator is intimately involved in my life, on a moment-to-moment basis, and is with me every moment of every day. As we accustom ourselves to see everything we have is thanks to G‑d, we grow in our gratitude and positive mindset.

Watch: How to Reframe to a Positive Mindset

11. The Torah tells us to guard our health. “And you shall guard your life exceedingly,”7 and, “Take care of yourself and guard your life exceedingly.”8 These verses are a broad injunction commanding us to guard our health. Exercise is an important way to do this, and exercise releases oxytocin. So does restful sleep which is part of guarding our health.

Read More: The Importance of Maintaining Good Health

There are so many stress triggers in our often overwhelming lives. Living an authentic Jewish life helps reduce our stress while heightening our spirituality.

Oxytocin, anyone?