Kathy Freston on the Power of Meditation (And How You Can Get Started)
New York Times bestselling author, Kathy Freston, is an advocate for conscious eating and healthy living. She has written the following books: The Lean, Quantum Wellness, The Quantum Wellness Cleanse, and The One.
She has also been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Dr. Oz Show, Ellen, The View, Charlie Rose, Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart Show, Extra, and on OWN.
RP: How did you first start meditating, and how long have you been doing it?
KF: I first started to meditate, because I was an anxious mess and terribly unhappy with my life. I needed to move away from the circular thoughts in my head that kept me in a negative holding pattern (like “I wonder why he/she doesn’t like me,” “I’m so stupid,” “I’ll never get anywhere,” or “I’m so fat”). Meditation helped me to shake all of that off, and to find my center which is light and pure and lovely. (By the way, everyone at their center is light and pure and lovely.)
I like guided meditations (and I wrote eight which are offered on iTunes), repeating a mantra for a given period of time, visualization, and Tonglen, which is a Tibetan Buddhist method of “taking and sending” whereby you take in the suffering of someone or something that is struggling, and send back peace. I change around the different methods according to what I’m working on internally at any given period of my life.
I’ve been doing this for about 19 years. Sometimes, I’m way into it and will do it for up to an hour a day, while at other times I’ll only do a quickie five minute meditation. It’s all okay, and I like to be loose about it. I don’t like to get all sanctimonious about it, but rather let it be a floating practice that is ever changing and evolving.
Do you think it would help if kids started to do meditation?
Of course! My friend Dr. Susan Smalley, a professor at UCLA, has worked with kids who have ADD and concluded that mindfulness meditation is more powerful and calming for the kids than medications.
Do you have any advice for busy mothers, over-worked fathers, and busy professionals on how to incorporate a meditation practice into their life?
Start off with a mini meditation – just do one minute in bed before you get up or go to sleep, in the bathroom after your shower, or on the subway going to work… everyone has a minute! Close your eyes, slow down your breath, and repeat a phrase like, “I am here now.” Once you start feeling the solid connectedness you get from meditation, you will want to do more. Expand to two minutes, and then five, and onward.
Do you have advice on how a meditation practice could help people lose weight?
Meditation is an excellent tool for weight loss. When you make peace with your thoughts and emotions (which is what tends to happen when you meditate), you are less likely to use food as an emotional crutch. Many people overeat or eat unhealthy foods to fill voids within their lives; with meditation, you will be filling the void and calming the chaos with your attention and breath. The crazy, emotional food cravings go away. A daily meditation will help you to break the emotional-food cycle by making you more aware of your mental, emotional and physical processes. You will find that instead of automatically reaching for food, you will have the ability to make more conscious choices. Meditation helps interrupt the mental dialogue that often leads to unhealthy eating, and you can ask yourself, "Is this really going to make me feel better?"
Even more importantly, meditation significantly improves stress regulation, and thus aids in the weight loss process. Stress makes you overeat, and it also raises your cortisol level, which creates belly fat.
Along with some very precise shifts in food choices in The Lean: A Revolutionary (and Simple!) 30 Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss, meditation is one of the steps you take. Losing weight is a multi-dimensional process; it’s physical, emotional and spiritual.
Can you explain how you think tiny shifts in our awareness can greatly impact our lives?
I think that when you take a small step in the direction you want to go in, it starts a momentum, and a whole sequence of unfolding steps and events will ensue. Have you ever heard of the “butterfly effect?” It’s fascinating:
The butterfly effect was a meteorological discovery from Edward Norton Lorenz when, in 1961, he entered a figure for wind velocity into a computer in an attempt to predict weather conditions. Taking a shortcut, he entered 0.506 instead of 0.506127. What he found was astounding. That tiny difference of 0.000127 radically altered the ensuing weather scenario. The concept Lorenz developed around his findings became known as the butterfly effect, because a wind velocity difference of 0.000127 seems so totally insignificant -- much like the difference in velocity that might be caused by the flapping wings of a butterfly. Lorenz concluded that the slightest and seemingly most insignificant initial condition could drastically modify the weather going forward. A tiny shift matters that much.
The more we adjust or shift -- even in tiny ways -- the more we can look forward to sweeping changes showing up in our lives. We can cut one thing out of our diet, add a minute or two of meditation, or turn our attention, just for a moment, toward kindness. Before we know it, we are different people creating a different world. This far-reaching shift is dependent entirely upon our willingness to consistently move along the wellness continuum, in whatever incremental ways we can.
The message is that every action, no matter how small, can cause a huge reaction somewhere else or at some future time. Isn't that exciting?
Can you talk about setting an intention in your meditation practice?
I am not a zen meditator, or someone who can just sit and listen to my breath or observe my thoughts. I am a results oriented person, and I like to put myself on a trajectory for growth, and I like to feel like I’m working with energy in a positive way. So, I set intentions with my meditation -- whether it be to have clarity on something, or to shake off old energy, or to be a force for healing. I adjust my meditation to suit whatever goal I have at the moment, and then I settle in to be (internally) productive. And, I don’t expect too much from myself; I set the time for what is do-able and comfortable, and then I lean into it. Meditation, just like healthy eating or learning any new skill, is a process. I simply aim for forward movement!