By: Robin Berzin MD
When I trained as a physician at Columbia University in New York City, meditation wasn’t exactly embraced. When I was a resident in internal medicine and a patient asked about relaxation techniques going into surgery, the other doctors on staff actually rolled their eyes.
I still don’t understand how this is possible.
At Parsley Health meditation is prescribed by your doctor the same way an antibiotic or an order for a blood draw would be.
This makes us unique in the world of Western medicine — even radical. We’re OK with that.
The medical community can no longer deny meditation’s power to positively induce biochemical, physical effects on the body. Even better, it’s free from side effects, unlike the medications many doctors prescribe to reach the same goals.
Meditation has been scientifically documented to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, lower inflammation and improve sleep. Meditation lowers inflammation by signalling the brain to lower inflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6. Meditation rebuilds gray matter in the brain, which smartphones destroy. Meditation reduces stress, which reduces cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol imbalances blood sugar and hormones and leads to weight gain. It can also lead to Alzheimer’s Disease, which is now understood to be a metabolic disease, meaning it’s one we can modify with diet and lifestyle. Hence meditation was included in a treatment protocol recently studied by the Cleveland Clinic which showed reversal of memory loss in 9 out of 10 Alzheimer’s patients.
Meditation stimulates the Vagus nerve, which modulates proper digestion from the stomach to the intestines.
In my own life I have seen the way that meditation has allowed me to transform feelings of stress and anxiety into relaxation and clarity. Personally it has been the most powerful and reliable medication I have ever taken. And it’s been a tool I’ve used to manifest success both professionally and even in my love life!
Meanwhile the reality is most diseases today (over 95%) are diet and lifestyle driven, with burnout being one of the top complaints our patients in cities like NYC, LA and San Francisco come to us to treat.
Burnout is a result of an imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Too many of us are living in fight or flight mode (sympathetic dominance) and never balancing that with our innate “rest digest and heal” mode (known as parasympathetic dominance.)
As a result modern bodies are suffering from sleep disorders, digestive problems, hormone imbalances and all the downstream problems that come from eating too many carbs and sugar to keep going, like diabetes heart disease and dementia.
I see every day how a regular meditation practice can restore balance and heal the body.
Back to what we prescribe to our patients. We encourage a daily ten-minute meditation practice for every patient. As I explain to them in our sessions, you can eat all the right foods, take all the right supplements and medications, and get every test known to man, but if you don’t get your brain on board with your body, you won’t be successful.
The roadblocks are that people don’t understand meditation or feel intimidated by it. At Parsley Health we make it easy by teaching these three principles.
- Make it short. Even a few minutes every night before bed is powerfully transformative.
- Bring it with you. There are amazing apps (Headspace is one of our favorites) that can guide you through a beautiful, simple meditation practice. You don’t need a quiet room or a fancy set up. You can meditate anywhere.
- Try new things. If you don’t like mantra meditation, try a breathing practice or focusing on your breath. Or try visualizing yourself where you want to be in life, or even just keeping your intention focused on your actions while you make dinner. There is no one right meditation. The right one is the one you do regularly that works for you.
Originally published at www.parsleyhealth.com on October 23, 2016.