I recommend meditation to all my patients. For my doctoral work, I looked at EEG brainwaves and I could tell immediately if the patient was a meditator because their brain activity was much more coherent. Meditation is to focus your mind and to retrain your attention. Meditation benefits you. It relaxes you and improves your health. You become more connected to yourself. Kind of like mini vacation for ten minutes by putting the burden of everyday life down and feeling peace and calm.
The history of meditation has a wide breadth. It has been documented for thousands of years, since around 1500 BCE. All of the major religions, Buddhism, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Taoism all have practiced it. This shows how we have a natural desire to connect with ourselves.
The research behind the health benefits of meditation are solid. It helps stress, brain and heart function, pain, insomnia, childbirth, addiction, asthma, mental illness, cancer, and much more. Research has also shown you can edit your genes with meditation.
I believe we are entering an age of meditation being like brushing your teeth, a regular daily activity of healthy people.
In addition to incredible health benefits, they are many mental benefits of meditation.
An act of self love - Over the years working with patients, I’ve realized certain behaviors stem from self love. Drinking enough water, prioritizing sleep, exercising, and eating healthy come very easy to people who love and honor themselves. If you don’t treat yourself right, or you treat others better than you treat yourself, meditation is a great way to start cultivating a loving relationship with yourself. The ability to develop mental kindness, if it doesn’t come natural to you, does wonders for improving your quality of life.
Empowering yourself - People who give their power away is very common. If you aren’t in control of yourself and your life, somebody else will control it. Meditation shows you how to harness your own strength and energy.
Connecting to healing abilities - We all are innate healers. If I cut my arm, my body knows to heal it without being told. At this very second, your body is doing thousands of physiological actions to maintain homeostasis. Without your conscious effort, you are breathing, pumping blood, making new blood cells (two million per second), producing proteins and enzymes, coordinating your movements, balancing pH, hormones, blood glucose, and electrolytes, repairing tissues, fighting infection, digesting and absorbing, removing toxins, making you thirsty, and your brain is filtering out other stimulates so you can remain focused to read and understand. And so much more. Meditation gives you time to understand the glory that is you just by being alive. The more you understand who you are and what you do, the more your ability to heal increases.
Refining intuition - Everybody is intuitive to some degree, regardless of if they are aware of it. Having quiet time with yourself allows you to enrich your intuition. The more you spend quiet time with yourself getting to know yourself, the more you can separate out what is your imagination and what is your intuition. Then you will trust intuition when you get it.
I hear many non-meditators say “I could never sit quiet, do nothing, and make my mind go blank.” These are common misconceptions. You don’t have to sit. Your mind will wander. Meditation is the art of observing where your thoughts strayed to and gently bringing them back to the present moment. If you suffer from a racing mind or you can’t shut your brain off, you are not in control of your mind. Your mind is bullying you. With a bit of practice, you can dramatically shift your internal dialogue. Meditation trains you to notice your body and emotions and not react to them. Observing and releasing our thoughts is all part of the practice.
How To Meditate
Choose an activity you enjoy and focus on your body while doing it. Let’s say you love to garden. Be attentive to your hands, feel the dirt, water, plants. Listen to what sounds you hear. Feel the sunlight or rain on your skin. Watch how your body moves. Notice what your mind and your emotions are doing. When your mind wanders off, once you catch it, gently come back to the present moment in time. Again, focus your attention on your body and your surroundings. Then your mind slides away and you refocus, again and again. After awhile, you can maintain focus for three seconds, then ten, then a few minutes.
Brave your wandering mind. Letting your mind wander is so important. By being attentive of where it went, you can start to put together patterns of how your mind works. Then you decide if you want to edit your patterns and your life.
Throughout the day, be mindful of your body, be curious. As often as you remember, check in to see what your body is experiencing. While driving, feel your hands on the steering wheel. If texting, be mindful of your fingers. Try to see everyday little things you’ve never paid attention to before - clouds in the sky, leaves of trees and flowers, or designs in the texture of walls.
Embrace interruptions. I love interruptions. If your mind is drifting, an interruption is a great reminder to come back to the present moment. Learning how to turn things that could upset you into something that helps you is a great skill to cultivate.
You don’t need anything to meditate, just yourself - not a special meditation room or garden. You don’t need music, mantras, or counting beads. You can do that if it helps you in the beginning. In general, lean towards only relying on yourself to calm down and be quiet, not on external influences, so you can meditate any time, anywhere.
If you already are a strong meditator, here are some tips to go further:
Sitting meditation - I don’t recommend it for beginners. It’s easier to meditate while doing your favorite activity. It requires more discipline to sit still and not have an action to focus on.
Standing meditation - This helps you focus on muscle coordination and will prevent you from falling asleep during meditation.
Look into your eyes in the mirror - See how long you can maintain direct eye contact with yourself. Blinking is allowed. You might be fascinated by what you see and feel.
Delete internal dialogue that is oppressive - Once you are aware of patterns in your life that are holding you back, work on editing or deleting them.
Notice and be aware - After getting in the habit of observing your body and your surroundings on a regular basis, add in the dimension of being aware of yourself. For example “I’m reading an article and I’m noticing my eyes moving back and forth, and the position of my body. I’m aware I’m noticing my eyes and body.”
Every meditation can be different - Many times meditation is euphoric. Don’t chase the bliss. Seek your neutral self. Many people think neutral will be dull or boring. It’s not. It’s lovely. If you are only focused on the extreme highs of meditation, you’ll be disappointed when every meditation doesn’t take you there. Meditation can release a lot of dopamine making you feel good but this is a nice secondary perk, not the main show. It’s great when it happens but we aren’t meditating to become junkies, we meditate to awaken ourselves. We can glean understanding and clarity from cultivating ourselves and many times that is easy and heavenly. But there are plenty of times when meditation is uncomfortable or uneventful. Learning distress tolerance by being uncomfortable during quiet time with yourself takes grit. Your ability to delay instant gratification for long term gains requires mental strength. Meditation is a great way to get strong and it’s always beneficial to be strong.
Teach meditation to your kids, spouse, family, friends - Teaching your kids how to be still and cultivate their internal world with meditation is an amazing gift to give them and humanity.
To view my guided beginner's meditation video, click here.
I hope this helps answer any questions you might have about meditation. I look forward to seeing each of you soon at your next appointment.
Dr. Heather Bird