I come from a family of meditators – which isn’t necessarily something you would expect from a Jewish girl from Montreal. In the 70s my parents started doing Transcendental Meditation (TM) – a type of mantra based meditation. For my 18th and my sister’s 15th birthdays, my parents gave us the TM course – two weeks of evenings and weekends learning and practicing how to meditate. TM is a commitment – it’s 22 minutes of meditation twice a day. My dad stuck to it for a while but hasn’t meditated regularly in a long time. My sister neither. There have been times in my life that I’ve been quite diligent about my meditation practice. This isn’t one of them. My mother, on the other hand, is very committed to her meditation. She aims for two sessions every day and has credited her practice with helping her get through various periods of depression without medication. There is no doubt that is makes her both calmer and energized. Her grandkids all know that you have to be quiet in the house when Bubby is meditating. When they were babies, she loved nothing more than meditating with them next to her. I aspire to a committed practice like she has.
For anyone who has come to see me in the past year, you know that meditation has become a very regular player in my prescription protocols. For those experiencing anxiety, high stress, insomnia, carbohydrate cravings and low mood, meditation is an important part of treatment. Meditation is one of the most powerful interventions that we have to engage the parasympathic nervous system (the rest and digest side of the nervous system, vs. the sympathetic which is the fight or flight side) and restore adrenal function. Your adrenals produce all of the stress hormones and for so many people today, they are unwell; either overproducing or under producing their important hormones. People who meditate regularly have faster decreases in cortisol after stressful experiences. People’s immune systems react more robustly in antibody production after meditation training. Meditation has been shown to physically alter the structure of the brain – specifically the region related to attention and sensory processing. Parents who meditate report increased satisfaction with their parenting, and the children of parents that meditate show decreased aggression. When children are taught to meditate they have a decrease in symptoms of anxiety, aggressive behaviours and ADHD. There is a ton of research on mediation. Studied benefits include (in addition to the above): reduction in cardiovascular disease, decrease of chronic pain, improved management of anxiety and substance abuse, fewer dermatological (skin) symptoms and reduction of psychological distress and symptoms of distress for cancer patients. In a randomized study of high school student, those that meditated showed improvement on creativity, anxiety, information processing time, and practical intelligence vs those that didn’t. The benefits, it seems, are endless.
I often hear “I just can’t meditate”, “I don’t have the attention span for meditation” or “I tried it once, but it wasn’t for me”. Like so many other skills, meditation is a learned one. No one would expect to speak fluent Spanish after only a few lessons – and the same goes for meditation. Calming the mind takes practice. Though interestingly, the benefits of meditation are similar whether you are a novice meditator or an experienced one. There is also the difference between Minfulness and Concentration meditation. If one doesn’t feel like a good fit, the other very well might. I like to compare meditation to physical exercise. We exercise regularly so that when a situation comes along that requires strength or stamina (i.e. walking home with too many bags of groceries) we are able to complete it. Meditation works the same way. Regular, daily meditation allows the nervous and adrenal systems to respond appropriately to life’s stressors. You can expect to feel calmer, happier and sleep better with regular meditation.
Though I haven’t been committing 44 minutes/day to meditation, I do try and get 15-20 minutes in regularly. I use a few different apps to help me, I’ll list them below. I have also been using a Muse meditation headband lately (www.choosemuse.com). It’s a cool biofeedback device that monitors if your brain is in a calm, neutral or active state and creates a soundscape to reflect that. I will start incorporating the headband into acupuncture sessions for patients, to provide additional relaxation. If you are interested in purchasing a Muse headband, you can use this link for a 15% discount – MuseTaraAnchelND.
The TM folks have a lovely theory that if 10% of the world’s population meditated, that the good energy produced would affect the other 90% and create more happiness and peace. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that when I am calmer and more “in the present” my interactions with those around me – my kids, my husband, my patients – are calmer and happier. And that, in turn, makes others calmer and happier.
Meditation Resources (by no means an exhaustive list):
- Stop, Breathe and Think – app for iOS and Android
- Calm.com – online or app
- Headspace – membership based app, good for beginners
- OMG I Can Meditate – app, I am only familiar with the Kids and Family meditations, great options for little people.
- The Meditation Podcast
- The Meditation Oasis
- Deep Breathing apps – RespiRelax (iOS), Prana Breath (Android)