Meditation and Stress Reduction

Most people tune out at the mere mention of meditation. Yet, it’s simple, free, fun, and very effective.

Chronic stress causes cancer and other health issues, principally by chronically elevating cortisol, our stress hormone. See our most recent post, here. No expense should be spared in reducing this dangerous health risk. This would include confronting people causing chronic stress, counseling, pills, changes of environment, and last, but not least, meditation.

For some reason, PEOPLE WILL NOT MEDITATE. Dr. Mike and I cannot get our arms around this one. Why? It’s so simple and so effective. Still there seems to be no end to the reasons (excuses) given:

  • I don’t have time.
  • It doesn‘t work for me.
  • It’s boring.
  • It could not actually be worth the trouble.
  • I can’t stand incense.
  • I was expelled from meditation class.
  • People make fun of me.
  • I can’t sit in the lotus position.
  • The laundry lost my saffron-colored robes.

…and on and on.

So here’s our late-night style sales pitch.

  • It takes only 10 minutes a day.
  • It’s free.
  • You can do it in any position you want, so long as you are comfortable.
  • No special outfit is required.
  • It reduces cancer 50%.
  • It reduces heart disease 30%.
  • It reduces overall mortality 23%.

Sold? If not, we’ll throw in some steak knives, but you have to start meditating by midnight.

So here’s how…

The purpose of meditation is simply stated: For ten minutes, the non-stop mental computer that is constantly running in our brain is to be shut off. No thoughts are allowed to take hold and “run.” What do we think of then? Simple. Nothing. That’s it, and that’s all there is to it. But at first, it is harder than it sounds. In fact, it’s seemingly impossible. But, one progresses fairly quickly.

In lieu of thinking of nothing at all, one can freely substitute any repetitive sound or sight. The important thing is that the chattering, constant conscious thinking is kept out.

Meditation 101

Try this. Go to a quiet, safe place, stop thinking, and just count seconds in your head. One, two, three,… Or count your pulse rate. You will immediately become aware that there are a half-dozen thought-topics trying to get in. It is almost as if they compete for attention, like a bunch of children. After so many seconds, one of these thoughts will succeed at sneaking in and you will have to start over. (If you can brush that intrusive thought out of your mind in three seconds or less, you don’t have to start over.) For day one, set 30 seconds as a goal: do the meditation over and over till you go the full 30 seconds with no thoughts. This won’t just happen. You will have to forcibly keep the intrusive thoughts at bay. This is ok. You will be aware that they are trying to barge in, you just don’t let them. If you can’t achieve 30 seconds in 5 tries, quit and try again the next day.

If you achieve the 30 seconds, and you did it with your eyes open, you may notice that during the 30 seconds, you suddenly get panoramic vision. You suddenly see the whole scene before you rather than the usual single focal object.

Once you have “mastered” 30 seconds. Move on to 35, 40, etc. The ideal would be to go 10 minutes while keeping out all thought. No need to go more than 10 minutes unless you want to. I (Davis) have been doing this almost daily for some years, and I have never gone the whole 10 minutes. I might get to about 3 or 4 minutes, then something manages to break through. As soon as I catch it, I kick it out and resume.

Nothing or something repetitive.

Thinking of nothing may not work. It may easier and will be just as effective to do something repetitive. You could say Christian rosaries or Buddhist chants over and over. Or listen to something simple and repetitive. I often listen to a recording of Tibetan singing bowls, trying to focus on a single bowl’s plaintive ring so long as it lasts (which can be near a minute for the deeper ones). It doesn’t matter. You could listen to music, so long as you focus 100% on it. Some music is a little too busy to work well. Choose something repetitive and tranquil. You could do something visual. Stare at a picture of a waterfall or something. Just bear in mind that the objective is to shut off that brain-computer-ceaseless-chatter for a mere ten minutes a day. How you achieve that is up to you. Every one will have a different method.

Just be aware that you don’t need yogis, gurus, meditation tapes, saffron robes, or incense. Just get that brain to stop its interminable whirring—and just for 10 minutes.

What will happen

After the ten minutes, you will feel refreshed. If you do this in late afternoon, when all the day’s worries have piled up, you will find that things don’t seem nearly so pressing. Another thing that happens, it seems, is that subconscious processes get to assert their influence and needs. We appreciate that this not a very precise statement, but something like this is going on. Without doubt, there is a lot of mental activity that occurs at a subconscious level—maybe most of it—and some of it has useful messages for our conscious side. These messages appear to get delivered or resolved in a meditative state.

Here’s a personal experience that I discovered this by accident and it surprised me. I like to drink. I also know this is bad for me. (Various ideas that red wine is heart-healthy have largely been debunked.) If I meditate at cocktail hour, I’ll drink less, or not at all. If I do not meditate, and five o’clock rolls around, I will want a glass of wine. If I did meditate, I usually don’t want that glass—it’s not a matter of self-discipline, I actually don’t want it. I may later on, or may not, it varies. Anyway, the point here is that something during meditation got into some other part of my brain and reduced my desire for wine, to my obvious benefit.

You can meditate any time, any place, but it probably needs to be fairly quiet. Standing in line might present a good opportunity, though if it is noisy, meditation is difficult.

In any case, do it. Ten minutes per day will probably add three healthy years to your life. Meditating 10 minutes/day starting at age 50 will add up to around 100 days by age 90. So investing 100 days will gain you three years. This is a 10:1 payback and thus, one heckuva deal, worth it even if you never come to enjoy meditation.

  1 comment for “Meditation and Stress Reduction

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