Why I Love When My Patients Meditate: An MD Explains
Ten years ago, I gave my husband an unusual birthday gift. I signed us up for a weekend meditation course. It was as much a gift for me as it was for him. I’d been an intermittent yogi for years and a seeker my whole damn life, but now that we had two toddlers and two careers, I wasn't just curious, I was desperate to cultivate calm.
Since then, I've accumulated so many stories about how meditation has positively impacted my family. I’ll never forget watching my then 5-year-old son in the middle of a chaotic birthday party: he sat down, crossed his legs, and closed his eyes, tuning out the nutty fun in a way many of us envied. It was a lesson in using the available (inner) resources and also in parenting. Yes indeed, they're really watching our every move ... (But that’s a different blog post.)
One of the biggest challenges I encountered when I began to meditate was what many refer to as monkey mind. It’s that nearly irresistible urge to compose your grocery list, wonder what to wear to work, and imagine how many episodes of Mad Men are still on your DVR, simultaneously. And it's also the number one reason I hear from patients as to why they can't meditate.
Oh, I could never relax enough to meditate!
Been there done that. Mediation is NOT about producing a relaxing experience. So, get over that fantasy!
Meditation is, in fact, about creating time and space for your body and mind to work in synchrony. Often that's achieved by focusing as much as possible on the breath or perhaps on a mantra, a repeated neutral phrase or an affirmation. It's called a practice for a reason. And the more we practice, the more space we create, the more healing can occur. That monkey mind is always lurking, I’ve merely learned to pay it less attention and maybe more importantly: to forgive myself when I cant.
A recent chance encounter on the street with a patient made a huge and surprising personal impact on me. She reminded me that at her last annual exam, I'd recommended that she look into a local mindfulness course to battler her chronic anxiety. She'd taken my advice and thanked me profusely for the tip. I sheepishly accepted her gratitude, not mentioning that my daily practice had withered long before.
So I decided to take up a nationally sponsored 21-Day Meditation Challenge and blogged about it daily. Making myself publicly accountable was the key to my success in kick-starting the practice. But since then, what's kept me going is my community of dialogue and support.
I am NOT the Zen Master Super Woman. I'm a working mom with a job whose baseline pressures are beyond ridiculous and I have a penchant for continually adding more to my dance card.
Can you relate?
Stress is now so ubiquitous in all of our lives that I’m not sure we even recognize it as the thorny, pervasive problem that it is. I mean, I can practically feel you drifting off, stifling a yawn. Who really wants to hear more about that?
The thing is (and I freely admit that I have no data to back up this statement), I'd estimate that 70% of the problems my patients complain about in our encounters actually have at least some basis in stress:
- Worries about vaginal discharge that somehow must represent their untimely demise and the end of their current relationship
- Aches and pains that are real but often originate in pelvic floor muscle spasms, due to inactivity or wrong activities, but ultimately from literally “holding things in”
- Fears during pregnancy about loss of control and how to balance work and family
I say this not to in any way demean the narratives that my patients deliver daily to my open ears and heart, but rather to reflect back to you what I hear.
The problem with stress is that the mere acknowledgment of it is NOT enough and attempting to manage or contain it can generate a whole lot of overwhelm. What to do?
The simplest and most direct route to de-stressing also happens to have some of the best documented empiric evidence to support its efficacy AND is based in our most ancient healing traditions. This gets the nerdy fan girl in me so excited! I love when science and holistic philosophies happily collide.
Decades of solid and widely reproduced data demonstrate how meditation lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen consumption, decreases stress hormones and positively effects a multitude of health challenges from depression to heart disease. Recent neuro-science shows how brain function is actually remodeled in response to meditation.
Meditation, and its offspring mindfulness, are totally non-toxic, highly effective, uncomplicated and easy to do. The hardest part is trying.
If you'd like to learn more, here are some organizations that can help you get started: Omega Institute, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (Jon Kabat Zinn's mindfulness classes are all over the place!), Vipassanna, Chopra Center, and Sivananda centers.