Narrator: Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It helps you sleep better. It boosts serotonin, the happy mood chemical, increase your creativity. It helps you fix your brainwaves, calms them down, helps you learn, focus, pay attention, increases your productivity, enhances your memory, and so much more. I find it’s a superpower. If I’m having a little lull or something and my brain is going to shut down, I do a 20 minute meditation, I feel like I had a three hour nap.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman and that’s farmacy with an F, a place for conversation that matter. If you ever felt like you can’t focus or pay attention or stressed out, you want to pay attention to this podcast because we’re going to talk about how to reset your nervous system and how to use ancient practices like meditation to reset your biology and your life. It is no small feat to change the things we’re going to be talking about changing, but it is so well proven through the science and research on meditation. There’s a great book I did a podcast with the author Daniel Goleman called Altered Traits, a study of many, many, many highly experienced meditators. Guys have been meditating 40,000 hours, like Tibetans who’ve lived in a cave for nine years, that kind of guy.
Dr. Mark Hyman: They found some remarkable things that happened in the brain. The good news is that changes happen even with very little meditation. They don’t have to be in a cave for 40 years basically. We’ll talk about how that works. So today I’m doing this in the form of one of our health bites, which little bites of information to improve your health because taking small steps daily can lead to significant changes over time. Now, if there was something you could do every day to boost your focus, your productivity, to feel energized, to reduce stress, to sleep better, to maintain the positive outlook, to support your whole body health, wouldn’t you do it? Well, it’s for all of those reasons and more that I consider meditation a foundational pillar of good health.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I used to think I didn’t have time for meditation. Now I know I don’t have time not to do it because it’s become that important in helping me manage all of my other responsibilities and passions. So today we’re going to be talking about why we’re so easily distracted, my own journey with meditation and the incredible health benefits of a regular meditation practice. So why is it so hard to focus and pay attention? Well, Starbucks built a $13 billion business because we need help paying attention. Psychiatrists often diagnose adult attention deficit disorder. I think one in 10 kids is on some type of attention medicine like Ritalin, and they’re not prescribing Ritalin for grownups who can’t focus or pay attention.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I mean, I’m not sure coffee or prescription speed, which is essentially what Ritalin is, is the answer to our modern problems in distraction. We’re distracted by email, by iPhones, by the ping of a new text message, by bad news on television, by social media, by the stresses of work and relationships, family. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and to be stressed and to miss this incredible gift of being alive. The problem is our bodies break down over this chronic onslaught of stress. We get insomnia, anxiety, depression. By the way, all chronic diseases, heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, obesity, all are worsened by stress or maybe caused even by stress.
Dr. Mark Hyman: So what matters most in life is the quality of our life, the quality of our experience, our ability to be awake, to pay attention, to be present to it’s real and true in our lives for both the good times and the bad times, the happy times, the sad times, to be awake to everybody we touch, to our own experience, to the moment we’re in, because that’s all there is, to the simple, sweet and simple gifts of just a smile or a touch or a kind deed or breeze on our skin or a firefly flickering in the early summer night. All these things are the magic of being live and we kind of miss them when we go through life at 100 miles an hour and are constantly stressed.
Dr. Mark Hyman: But doing that, appreciating life, being grateful, which by the way is a very powerful medicine, and you should try gratitude practices, they’re very powerful, there’s actually a lot of science behind it, but doing that, it’s kind of harder than it sounds. Our monkey mind gets in the way. Our crazy thoughts and just distractions are always interfering with our ability to be present. So in order to pay attention, we need to be quiet. We need to be able to practice this. We need to know the habits of our mind. We need to be skilled at working with them, to not be controlled or dominated by our thoughts and our mind. We need to learn the practice of witnessing our thoughts and feelings without having them overwhelm us, dominate us, or control our lives or being driven by them.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I mean, think about it. If you want to go and do 100 pushups, you just can’t go and do 100 pushups. You got to work up to it. You need to exercise the muscles that allow you to do that. The same thing with the mind. We talk about exercise to train the body, but what do we do to train the mind? We don’t do anything. We kind of bops around in the world and has no guidance or practices that allows you to actually do what we call innercise, to exercise your mind, to become a master of your mind. When you master your mind, you master your life. It’s that simple. And not be controlled or at the effect of everything that’s going on all the time around you and being caught off balance.
Dr. Mark Hyman: So actually how I got into this, into medicine by the way, maybe you may or may not know is I was at Cornell and I studied Buddhism. That was my major. I was very interested in the mind and the nature of our consciousness and the ways that our thoughts and perceptions control our lives, how to work with them in a juicy way that’s brings more love and kindness and compassion and insight into every moment rather than just darkness and suffering and struggle and pain, which most of us go through life with. So it’s a very amazing practice for understanding how to master our minds. That is a key to good and healthy life. If you are in control of your mind, you’re in control of your life.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Now, pain is inevitable. Loss is inevitable. Death, illness, war disaster always have been going on for thousands of years and they’ll always be part of the human condition. But within it, I wondered, as a young man, I thought, is there a way to understand suffering in a different way, in a different light to break the cycle of suffering? That’s when I really got into studying Buddhism, which is basically a method. It’s not really a religion. It’s a method of practice and thinking that allows you to actually break the cycle of constant suffering. I realized back then that there was a way to be more awake, to see things as they truly are, unfiltered by my conditioning, my beliefs, to notice it and to savor it and to love it and to wake up with gratitude and lightness and celebration and the magic of life.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It’s always there. We just miss it. We just miss it. So we don’t notice it, and that’s why often our lives feel so hard. But in order to notice it, you have to be present, and to be present, you need to have a little bit of a quiet mind. It’s not so easy to do that for most of us. Being awake takes a lot of practice. Each of us has to find our own pathic awakening. But many of these ancient traditions provide a pathway. You don’t have to believe in a particular religion or philosophy or anything. Being present isn’t necessarily a religious practice. Meditation is not a religious practice. We’ve done that throughout the millennia as human beings.
Dr. Mark Hyman: We’ve danced, we’ve prayed, we’ve sung, we’ve chanted, we’ve meditated, we’ve done all sorts of practices to help us to focus our mind. So it’s really important to just have a simple desire to be able to show up and be present in your life and pay attention to what’s going on without any judgment, without any criticism, without any self hate, and just to notice the ebb and flow of our breath and our thoughts. That’s what meditation is. You’re sitting there, maybe you’re laying down, sitting up, and you just watch your thoughts, almost like clouds going across the sky. They’re not good or bad. They’re not things that you can control or hold onto. Or ripples in the ocean, you just kind of let them come, like a thought is a ripple and then it comes and you watch it and you let it go. You don’t grab onto it.
Dr. Mark Hyman: That really is a powerful practice. That’s like doing pushups for your brain, right? So how do you do bicep curls for your brain, right? You need to do some kind of practice and meditation is one of those powerful practices. It doesn’t mean you have no thoughts. It’s like people say, “I can’t meditate. I can’t shut my brain off.” Well, you’re not going to be able to, I don’t think, even maybe in enlightened master, maybe they can do that for a few minutes here and there, but it’s really tough. So the key is really to sit with your mind and to not grasp onto the thoughts and not actually have them control you or guide you.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Viktor Frankl, who was a psychiatrist who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience. He realized he had a choice when he was there. He was in the most awful conditions a human being had ever experience. He was constantly at the effect of his Nazi guards’ behavior and at their mercy. They could do anything to him and they did. He had the idea, the notion that it’s really up to us how we respond to our situation. He’ll say, “Oh, I have this horrible situation. I can’t do this or that.” But he said, “Between your thought and your action, there’s a pause, and in that pause lies a choice and that choice lies your freedom.”
Dr. Mark Hyman: It’s a very Buddhist idea, right? You basically don’t have to believe the thoughts you have and you also don’t have to hang onto the beliefs that are common in your society or that you’re conditioned with as a child. You can actually learn to slow down the process of some input, right? Somebody says something, somebody tries to hurt you, whatever, you’re stressed by an event, whatever that is, and then there’s your reaction to it. In that space, there’s this pause. For most of us, it’s collapsed into one second or millisecond. But the key to meditation is it helps you practice the muscle of just paying attention.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It’s kind of hard. It’s not easy, but we have to learn how to be patient with ourselves, to love ourselves and just kind of not pay attention and get stuck on those thoughts that may not be so great. So basically helps us create calm the chaos. Ronda talked about loving, non-judgmental self-awareness. most of us have no clue how to do this, but it’s actually really possible. When I was 20 years old, I decided to do a 10 day meditation retreat, a silent meditation retreat. Basically was just meditating 12 hours a day, eating in silence and sleeping and that was it. It was really wild. I mean, it was the most extraordinary experience to do as a young man. It took me a little bit to settle in. But as I began to settle in each day, I felt more and more awake, more alive, happier than it ever been.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It wasn’t connected to something outside of me. It was an inner happiness, something I’d really never had before. It wasn’t because somebody did something or I got something good in my life. It was just this pure joy of being alive and being able to notice what was around me, the magic of the forests and the birds and nature, how sparkly and beautiful people were. Everything. It was just like everything looked like I was sort of looking through brand new glasses where I could see everything clearly. That was a profound experience for me and I’d done those retreats over the course of my life. I find they’re profound.
Dr. Mark Hyman: A friend of mine just did what we call a dark retreat, which is going in a cave pitch black for a week, which I think is a little scary. But he said he found in that week he got the most profound sense of safety and happiness and joy just being with himself. Most of us don’t quiet down enough to actually be with ourselves or know ourselves. But it’s pretty important. Now, sometimes I’ve gone far away from it, crazy raising kids and building a career, but whenever I go back there, it just feels home. There’s a thousand ways to meditate, right? You can do mindfulness meditation, breath meditation, mantra meditation. You can do dancing meditation, walking meditation, breathing meditation, prayer, yoga. All these things are powerful techniques that allow you to reap that state.
Dr. Mark Hyman: So what’s the point of it anyway? What’s the point of meditation? It’s not to get better at meditation, it’s to get better at life, right? So it’s not just an end in itself. It’s essentially a way to calm your mind, to see how things really are, to reduce the impact of suffering in your life and your beliefs and your thoughts, and increase your own sense of love and kindness, compassion, your fearlessness, your wisdom, sympathy, empathy. All these things start to come up when you start to calm this crazy inner, I call it the inner. It’s just constantly nattering, nattering in your head. When you’re still like that, your life becomes richer, your actions are more clear, your words are more powerful and direct, your ability to see things is improved, your capacity to be engaged in life is enhanced.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It’s not a retreat from life. It’s a way to go fully into life and to cultivate your own power and happiness. So what are the benefits though from a medical perspective? Because those are all life benefits, right? There’s a lot of scientific benefits. It reduces chronic pain, it lowers blood pressure, it reduces headaches, anxiety, depression, helps you lose weight, balances your cholesterol, improves your sports performance. Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan and Phil… what’s his name? Phil, whatever it was, Phil Jackson who was the coach. He was really getting all hippie from the ’60s and really into meditation. He taught the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan how to meditate and that meditation was a key to their success. Seattle football team also did meditation as part of their practices to improve their sports performance.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Meditation also improves your immune function. It helps you sleep better. It boosts serotonin, the happy mood chemical, increase your creativity, helps you fix your brainwaves, calms and down, helps you learn, focus, pay attention, increases your productivity, enhances your memory and so much more. I find it’s a superpower. If I’m like having a little lull or something and my brain is going to shut down, I do a 20 minute meditation, I feel like I had a three hour nap. It’s super powerful.
Dr. Mark Hyman: So I don’t meditate for both reasons. I mean, those are nice and they’re side effects. I was yoga teacher before I was a doctor and I practiced a form of yoga that we called meditation in motion, which was very mindful meditation based yoga, using the breath and awareness to actually guide your body through different postures. The reason I do it is to be more awake to life, to myself, to cultivate my own sense of peace and loving kindness and compassion for me and others. The good news is you don’t need that much time. You can do 10 minutes, five minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, a place to sit. You don’t even need something quiet. I meditate on planes, on trains, on buses, and you just kind of go in.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I go in and I’m like… I have my [inaudible] noise headphones I use sometimes, but you really don’t have to be anywhere particular. I mean, it’s obviously better if it’s super quiet and it’s helpful, but you don’t have to be. So just going through meditation, what is and how do you do it. It’s pretty easy. You could sit in a comfortable position. You could sit with a back support or not a back support. You should relax your shoulders. You should just put your neck and your head straight, your chin down a little bit, your face relaxed, and then just start breathing through your nose and just feeling your belly rise and fall, your ribs expand and your collarbones and shoulders move as you breathe, and just notice your breath.
Dr. Mark Hyman: One of the forms of meditation, simply noticing the breath, exiting the nose and entering the nose, exiting the nose, entering nose. When you lose track and you start thinking and drifting off or thinking about what you got to do tomorrow, just come back to the breath. It’s really simple. So just watch that simple breath and that’s a very powerful way. Also, when your mind constantly jitters off, you just keep coming back every time. Not you’re failing of meditation, there’s no judgment here. It’s really just practice.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Maybe when you first start doing it, it’ll be like three seconds before your mind takes off somewhere else. You can only do one pushup, but after practicing a while, you’ll be able to do 10 pushups or 100 pushups, which made me really stay focused for a long time. So just start with five minutes, start with 10 minutes until you can sit for 20 or 30 minutes. I actually recommend a form that people are not used to it that they can try. It’s called Ziva meditation. You can go to zivameditation.com. It’s an online course, easy to do, super simple, super portable. I do it everywhere I go. Planes, streets, automobiles, everywhere. I find it’s such a life hack. I don’t know how I’d live it without.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I used to think I’d have time to meditate. Now I don’t have time not to meditate. So I encourage you to check it out and learn more about how to bring this into your life as a key life skill for many, many aspects of your health and your life and your wellbeing. That’s it for today’s health bite. Share it with your friends and family. We’d love to have them know about it. Leave a comment, how you’ve used meditation or various mindfulness practices to help you improve your life. We’d love to hear how that went. We’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Narrator: Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.