I’ve done a lot of meditation over the years. In fact, I used to be really passionate about meditation, and then the stress of trying to do it all interfered with my time for self-care. “I don’t have enough time to meditate,” I would say to my coach, and myself. The truth is that meditation is one of the most important tools I have to help me manage stress. I didn’t realize how stressed or anxious I’d become until I started meditating again.
With so much going on, meditation helped me have this place to go where I can disconnect from all the busyness and find a state where I can be present. It’s why I meditate every day.
We’ve all heard about the benefits of meditation and how sitting down for just five minutes will change your outlook on life, while also changing your brain. But is that true? According to my longtime friend, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), it’s not that instantaneous, and it’s not that dramatic. It takes time to see the changes and to experience the payoff.
So, why should we meditate? And what actually works?
In his new book Altered Traits, Dan and his co-author, neuroscientist and psychologist Richard Davidson (University of Wisconsin, Madison), explore just that: how we benefit from meditation, what the science says, and what it will do for you.
Dan and Richie have been studying the science of meditation and how it affects the brain since they were young students at Harvard (a path that exposed them to ridicule and put their careers in jeopardy!). For Altered Traits, they combed through the more than 6,000 peer-reviewed articles on meditation to identify the several dozen very strongest studies. From those, they put together the first truly evidence-based look at what happens when we meditate, from the first few minutes through tens of thousands of hours of practice.
Most of us have a monkey mind. We’re reactive in life instead of proactive and have a hard time managing our impulse experience. We get anxious and stressed and are easily caught up in our thoughts and emotions. Meditation is like turning down the volume on our excitability factor so we can meet things directly and listen better, both to other people and to ourselves. And the longer we practice, the more lasting these changes become – a trait, rather than a state. Dan and Richie share stories of meditators who show slower reactions to stress, an increase in empathy and compassion, and, in Olympic-level career meditators like yogis and monks, minimal reactions to physical pain.
In addition to the impact on our experience as human beings, there are also biological factors involved in meditation. I say food is medicine, but it’s clear to me that meditation is medicine as well. Most of us know to exercise our bodies, but we don’t realize that exercising the brain is just as important, and meditation is the doorway for that. Studies have shown that learning to regulate your mind can, among other things, increase stem cell production, change your hormones, and reduce inflammation – in fact, one day of practice by those who are somewhat experienced in meditation can downregulate hundreds of inflammatory genes.
I’ve done a lot of meditation over the years, but I went off-track during the craziness of medical school. I didn’t realize how stressed or anxious I’d become until I started meditating again. With so much going on, it’s helped me have a place to go where I can disconnect from all the busyness and puts me in a state where I can be present. It’s why I meditate every day.
If you’d like to learn more about the book, head to danielgoleman.info or to your favorite bookstore. You can also get the book in audio and listen to a guided meditation by Dan on morethansound.com
Why do you meditate? Share how meditation has benefited your life on social media with the hashtag #whyimeditate.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD