Full disclosure….. I’m a reformed hippie…I used to go to Dead shows and sell backless tank tops and hemp necklaces at Phish shows (aging myself here LOL)… As I grew up and wore clothes that fit and discovered makeup and fragrances other than pajoulie, I retained some of this, spending time in India in medical school studying Ayurvedic medicine, taking courses in medical acupuncture in my senior year of residency, and studying buddhism personally for years.
So I always felt like there was some mysticism about quiet and silence and space, but that I was failing somehow because I would sit in these courses or temples and in solitude and TRY AND TRY but my squirrel brain was frantic while trying to meditate and being stubborn. I was always striving to QUIET IT and couldn’t. And so, while I still really appreciate my practice of that type of FORMAL meditation, my practice and understanding of meditation has shifted for me…. It’s become less about something I had to achieve and DO, and more about something I could LIVE… something that is a more an INFORMAL living meditation called mindfulness meditation. And it’s been freeing to realize that I don’t have to sit like a monk with a silent mind, because who was I kidding I can’t do that, and most of us cannot, it is about taking the time to self-reflect, to recognize my own worth, and to just be aware of what is around me. So that is what my meditation is for me now, not just those 15 min I grace myself with per day, but a new way of interacting with my world, the transfer of the feeling of that awareness into EVERY moment… Throughout your day, checking in with yourself constantly, making sure you are being present and aware of what those around you are saying and feeling, being present and aware of the feeling and thoughts YOU are having and how you are affecting those around you, being aware of the self-talk you are unconsciously giving yourself. Now THAT is the power in mindfulness meditation, the active meditation of being present in your life, that is what will change your life.
Being aware and mindful in your everyday life, allows for you to become aware of the connection of your mind and body, and helps create awareness of the space between STIMULUS and response to the stimulus…. And freedom and distance from that stimulus. THIS IS THE KEY TO HOW IT IS USEFUL IN HEALTH BEHAVIOR CHANGE…. You never make a good decision in the moment, right? When it comes to food or exercise or giving in to alcohol or tobacco or getting frustrated and lashing out at a colleague or a child or a spouse or your mom. But if you can PRACTICE being aware of your body and your thoughts, PRACTICE being aware of how it feels to react or NOT react, PRACTICE delaying your action…. You often end up making a better decision …. And with PRACTICE it becomes habit and our HABITS are what make us and make our results. Whether it is anxiety or anger or alcohol or food or weight or whatever it is.
Let’s get geeky with some neuroscience here for a bit. We make 700 new neurons per day and the brain learns and adapts and restructures itself based on its history of thoughts, attitudes and emotional experience. We can retrain and reshape our brain and its emotional traits with conscious thought…. Mindfulness can help us link experiences across time in order to do just this, to allow our brain to activate those experiences both simultaneously and individually, meaning that your experience in THIS MOMENT doesn’t need to mimic one on the past if you don’t want it to, and that your experience this moment can be just that, one moment, and that your experience NEXT TIME could, but doesn’t have to, mimic this one.
While you can do all of this YOURSELF, by initially creating forced awareness and presence (no judgment, this is hard, you’ve got to fake it for a WHILE) and doing it long enough until you have created a habit that is second nature and is YOU… there are also formal programs you can take for help and practice and accountability (find 8 week Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programs MBSR here https://accessmbct.com/)
And this is lifestyle medicine, right, we love our evidence! So let’s talk about it! Eight weeks of mindfulness training can INCREASE activation of the left prefrontal cortex (planning, personality and happiness), and INCREASE gray matter in the hippocampus (learning and memory) and other structures associated with self-awareness and compassion and introspection, and REDUCE amygdala density (emotional reaction to stress)… also connect prefrontal problem-solving skills and amygdala emotional modulation.
WELLBEING: Mindfulness Meditation allows you to savor pleasures, be fully engaged in your current environment, have better capacity to have that stress RESPONSE not the stress REACTION when it comes to adverse events, aka when shit hits the fan. You will be less likely to be preoccupied with worries and regrets or preoccupations and to make deeper connections with people.
PHYSICAL HEALTH: Mindfulness Meditation can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, improve GI symptoms, and when combined in an Intensive Therapeutic Lifestyle Intervention program, like Dr Dean Ornish’s, can be a successful part of a treatment plan for heart disease and cancer.
MENTAL HEALTH: In combination with or in parallel to cognitive behavioral therapies and other modalities, mindfulness meditation can improve depression, substance abuse , eating disorders, marital conflicts, anxiety and OCD.
PARENTING: It’s a lot like work, right? We all know that. Everyone needs our opinion, our respect, our bum wiping, our help, our advice, our lecture…. I have whole podcasts on this I’ve done and I won’t get into it here, but RIGHT? Hugely applicable. For us to do with our families and to teach our children to do.
So here we are…. That was my summary on how I think we could all improve not just our own physical and emotional health, but IMAGINE IF WE WERE ALL DOING THIS? What our communities and schools and workplaces and households would be like?
Oh I’m a dreamer….