Robin Berzin, MD is a functional medicine physician and the founder of Parsley Health. Her mission is to make functional medicine accessible and data-driven, so that more people can access this holistic, root-cause approach to health.
Robin has experience with multiple types of meditation, and was kind enough to share some nuggets of wisdom with the Ziva community. Please note that the meditation style she is referencing is Vipassana or mindfulness, which is very different than what we teach at Ziva.
At Parsley Health we prescribe meditation to almost every member as part of their treatment plan. This makes us radically different than any medical practice I have ever seen or heard of. We are doctors and health coaches using testing, nutrition, supplements and medication to help people heal from chronic disease and create more vitality. So why are we so convinced meditation is an essential part of treatment?
Scientifically speaking, the reasons are clear:
- Meditation lowers inflammation by signaling the brain to lower inflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6. (1)
- Meditation rebuilds gray matter in the brain, which smartphones destroy. (2,3)
- Meditation reduces stress, which reduces cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol imbalances blood sugar and hormones and leads to weight gain. It also may 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. (4)
- Meditation stimulates the Vagus nerve, which modulates proper digestion from the stomach to the intestines.
Practically speaking, the reason I tell many of my patients to meditate is this: You can do the perfect diet, you can take the right supplements, and you can do all the tests, but if you don’t get your brain on board with your body, you won’t achieve your goals.
I see it over and over: People will take drastic measures to cut out foods like gluten, dairy and grains on an autoimmune diet, take 10 supplements a day and spend hours at the gym. But when it comes to sitting still and meditating, they come back visit after visit and say “I haven’t gotten there yet.”
I understand, meditation can be hard (especially if you don’t have any training). The 10 day silent meditation called Vipassana that I did in 2008 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life – and that says a lot given I went to medical school at Columbia. It was also the most profound and life-changing thing I’ve ever done because it reframed my perspective on the nature of reality and who I am as a person. Meditation gave me a toolset I have for life that works to heal my mind and body.
The truth is you don’t have to go away for 10 days to see meditation work for you. (You can learn online with Ziva.)
Here are the top 7 reasons why you’re still not meditating, and how to hack them.
1. You try it and it feels terrible, so you assume you failed.
This is wrong. Meditation will not feel like it “went well” or was “successful.” You will sit down and watch the whirling of your brain go haywire. You will realize how hard it is to focus on something like your own breathing, and you will get frustrated. The key is to realize that just by sitting to meditate, you are already successful. Monks spend their lives working toward a perfectly clear zen-like state. Guess what…you won’t get there in 20 minutes! You don’t have to. Simply the act of observing your thoughts is healing to the brain.
2. You think you need to be alone in a dark quiet room.
Not even close. You can practice Ziva Meditation anywhere that you can sit and close your eyes — regardless of noise level — and you can practice mindfulness throughout your day. You can be mindful as you cook, as you walk to work, and as you drive. Mindfulness is just bringing your attention to the present moment, usually using a specific point of focus like the breath as a tool to keep your attention present, and noticing (without self judgement) when you’ve fallen into thoughts of the past or the future. Then from there, you can bring your attention back to the present when you realize your mind is wondering. Taking care of your brain and body goes hand in hand with a consistent meditation practice
3. You’re too busy.
The funny thing is, if you think you’re too busy to meditate for 20 minutes a day, you probably really need to meditate for 40 minutes a day. We are all busy. Busy is never going away these days. But if you take a few minutes out to come into the present, get out of your head and still your mind, research shows you will be more productive. Which is why meditation has become the top tool of some of our most powerful and successful CEOs. (5,6)
4. You’re addicted to social media.
What would happen if you cut your time scrolling through fantasy versions of other people’s lives by 20 minutes a day, gave your thumb a break, and meditated? I guarantee you would be happier. Is the time you spend scrolling making you or your life better?
5. You don’t understand it.
This one is fair. I highly recommend reading a book like A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, or Mind over Medicine by Lissa Rankin MD, or taking a class online. Meditation never made sense to me at all. I was a yogi and a runner. For me, if it didn’t involve sweat and intense physical exertion it was a total waste of time. I had to learn about meditation and then experience it for myself to get it. It’s not something you can intellectualize. It’s something you can contextualize by reading about it, and then you need to just try. It can’t hurt you, so there is literally no reason not to.
6. You think you need a lot of time.
You don’t. A few minutes a day can be life-changing, and once you have an established practice it becomes a part of your routine that you want to make time for. There are also many different types of meditation, so you can find the technique that works best for you. At Parsley Health we share a breathing exercise that I wrote about years ago on MindBodyGreen that people find really accessible. Other people enjoy binaural beats or using guided visualizations on their phones. And if you’re ready to take the dive into a twice-daily meditation practice, Emily Fletcher is the person to talk to.
7. It seems woo woo and weird.
Also fair. But today’s meditators aren’t hippies with beads or out there yoga nuts. They are CEOs, athletes, moms and millennials; people who are simply trying to improve themselves and their lives with the best tools available. Better sleep, more energy, increased productivity… who wouldn’t want that?
So, the next time that you find yourself coming up with an excuse to not meditate, just remember that the barrier to entry is a lot lower than you think — and the benefits are substantial. You will never regret starting a meditation practice, so take a few minutes today to sit quietly and know that you’re doing your brain and body a world of good.
1. Mindfulness Meditation reduces Interleukin-6: Biological Psychiatry http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223%2816%2900079-2/fulltext
2. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density –Psychiatry Research
3. Media multi-tasking activity is associated with smaller gray=matter density –PLOS One Journal
4. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program – Impact Journals
5. How Meditation Benefits CEOs – Harvard Business Review
6. CEOs Who Meditate – The Huffington Post
7. A Simple Breathing Exercise to Calm Your Mind & Body – Mind Body Green