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 in 2 hrs a day for 4 days at 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