“Before you go to medical school, start meditating. It is imperative you start now,” my aunt said. She was an eminent physician and educator in India. She was strong, intelligent and always happy. I never understood why.
“Why?” I asked defiantly.
“Most people die because of stress. If you learn now how to handle it, you’ll be a better person and doctor,” she said in a matter of fact way.
STOP. Hold on. This conversation happened in 2001. We didn’t have statistics that we have today showing lifestyle related chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer cause 50% of deaths. Or that 75% of adults report experience moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress increased in the past year (American Psychological Association). The total cost of lifestyle related chronic diseases are estimated to be 75% of US healthcare spending (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).
In fact, stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens in high school. Psychologists are saying that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications for this young population (American Psychological Association). 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need help too (American Institute of Stress). But let’s go back to my aunt’s statement.
I was shocked to hear her say that most people die from stress. I was going to enter a training program so rigorous that studies now show that physician trainees experience depression and suicide at rates much higher than the general public. I read so many stories where young medical students were committing suicide in schools not so far away from me. Now that I was sufficiently scared, I cleared off a space in my dorm room and closed my eyes.
In about 22 seconds, my eyes were open and I was either bored and/or I couldn’t stop thinking about those kids committing suicide. I was scared. I was nervous. Was I doing the right thing? How the hell can you just sit and….do nothing? What is the thing called meditation? There was no way I was going to clear my mind today so I got back up and went back to my homework.
Little did I know that life was going to get more complicated and hurried. We hadn’t invented the smartphone and we hadn’t discovered 24/7 connectedness. Life can get super stressful and it is important to have the ways and means to cope with what will be thrown at you. And surely, life, medical school, relationships, everything that I was about to embark on was going to do exactly that—stress me out.
My early mission in learning to meditate was to help myself not become a statistic and thankfully my meditation practice has evolved over time. I have learned to sit in stillness without reacting, my ultimate goal of meditation. I have learned how to be completely present, attentive and mindful, on the cushion and off. I know how to quiet my worries, handle my anxiety, and deal with stressful people and situations. I’ve learned the art of letting go and gained confidence, focus and strength. And I’ve finally figured out how to meditate every day, all day long as I have now made my life a living meditation.
What happens when you meditate? Here are just a few benefits:
- Reduction in the risk factors for heart disease such as lowering bad cholesterol (LDL), raising good cholesterol (HDL), lowing blood pressure and stabilizing blood sugars
Relief from stress and anxiety
- Reduce cravings for processed carbohydrates
- Slow the aging process by increasing the secretion of human growth hormone (the anti-aging hormone)
- Improve mental focus and concentration by increasing blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain
- And so much more!!
Starting on January 9th, I will teach you five different ways to meditate. There are a million different ways to do this and I will show you a few basic ones. This is an experiment! A time for you to begin to discover and understand yourself more completely. What works for you? What doesn’t? Each meditation will be a test to see what helps you in feeling better and reducing your stress. Above all, meditating will teach you easy ways of being kind to yourself. Over the last fifteen years, I have realized all of the practices I will teach you have helped me at one time or another.
Before you join, ask yourself, why do you want to meditate? When I first started, I just wanted to be more calm and less anxious. A landmark study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as 8 weeks of daily meditation helped participants feel calmer, improved memory, increased empathy, sense of self and stress regulation. In fact, you don’t need to wait that long to reap the benefits. Here’s what happens to people who meditate for the first time.
As you embark on setting New Year’s Resolutions, remember the most important factor in accomplishing your goals: just do it. You need small, aligned actions every day to learn a new habit or to transform your life. Learning to meditate is no different. You need to decide to do something and have the desire to do it. Come join me and I will show you exactly what small steps to take.