Why (not) Meditate?

By Dr. Leigh Lewis

This is a question I have been personally struggling with for years, nay, decades. I have long been aware of the research supporting the practice as pertains to health benefits, both mental & physical, and yet there was this wall blocking me from doing it. As a former endurance athlete, I’d spend hours each week running, biking, swimming and lifting, sometimes in the pouring rain and freezing temperatures, but never had the time to meditate for 15 minutes.

Then, when I relocated from Oregon to Arizona, by design, I found myself with more time. Coincidentally, I also found myself struggling with some health issues that required me to slow down. A quick web search and chat with my colleague, Dana Price, who is a strong advocate of meditation, I was able to connect with a local resource, the Phoenix branch of the international Tergar organization, which has a number of on-line and in-person meditation training opportunities and resources, offering both secular and Buddhist-based tracks.

It has been one year since I have embarked on my quest for a daily meditation practice. I haven’t been perfect, but have meditated formally more days than not and have been able to integrate mindfulness into my daily activities. What I have found is not earth-shattering, but, like many others will attest, this practice has helped me feel more calm, increase my tolerance to inevitable stressors, approach my dealings with others in a more compassionate way. Again, I am not perfect, I may still curse others in traffic and get irritated when placed on hold for more than 10 minutes, but I am more likely to see how these reactions are not beneficial and may, in some cases, be harmful. Many sources will describe how our thoughts can re-wire our brain and affect the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters produced thereby having specific physical actions. Physically, I have slept better, experienced less migraines, and have less distress from hormonal fluctuations.

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In my clinical practice, I am frequently working with patients who are reporting physical symptoms that are at least partially due to or exacerbated by stress. Many have been told they need to decrease stress to see improvement in these symptoms. However, there is no anti-stress pill or quick fix to achieve this and stress is, unfortunately, a very prevalent fact of our modern lives. Unlike many other medical treatments, meditation is not only effective, but is free, has no side effects, is easily accessible, and can be done by anyone. Research supports the application of meditation for a wide variety of health issues such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure,  perinatal mood issues, chronic pain, insomnia, infertility, disordered eating, and decreased immune function.

So knowing that stress is a fact of life and has negative impacts on our health and well-being, where does one start? First, it is important to realize there is no “right way” to meditate. Like with exercise, it is important to find a technique that resonates with you for long-term success. Listed below are a variety of apps, books, websites and local resources that can help you find a path that will work best for you. I suggest starting with one of the books that do a great job providing the foundation of why meditation can be so helpful and how to go about starting a practice. If you are more technologically-minded, the apps may provide a great resource for guided meditations and ways to track your time. As always, contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further

Books:

Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness; Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Why Meditate: Working With Thoughts and Emotions; Matthieu Ricard

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life; Tich Nacht Hahn

Apps

Headspace www.headspace.com

Insight Timer www.insighttimer.com (free)

Online Resources:

https://learning.tergar.org Joy of Living and Path of Liberation training resources.

https://palousemindfulness.com/MBSR/gettingstarted.html 8- week free MBSR training

Local Resources:

http://www.iluminahealing.com/meditation/ Led by Dana Price

https://tergar.org/communities-and-practice-groups/find-a-center-or-group/phoenix/

http://www.solutionmindfulness.com/about MBSR group training & resources