Vickie's Quest for Zen-My Meditation Experience
Vickie's Quest for Zen-My Meditation Experience
November 4, 2020
2020 is nearing a close, and I can’t say I am sad to see it go. It has been challenging for all of us, and has brought into sharp focus what is truly important. For me, it was the importance of my mental health, which I have always known was important, but didn’t prioritize as I focused on the visible aspects of my health like physical activity and nutrition. As a business owner and health care professional experiencing the COVID pandemic, I realized that my ability to handle stress needed some work: worsening insomnia, repeated cold sores, worsening tummy troubles and a vague feeling of tightness in my chest just a few of the physical warning signs that lead me to get my blood pressure checked (I have a family history, and thankfully it tested normal) and to seek methods to manage my stress in addition to my already thorough exercise routine.
I get that stress is going to be a part of life. Our body’s response to life-threatening stress has its place, but it is meant only to serve us for a short period of time for fight or flight. It’s the low grade long-term stresses that have become our norm that are more concerning, as it leaves our nervous systems in a constant sympathetic/fight or flight state, and doesn’t allow the parasympathetic nervous system room to do it’s recovery magic. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress’ prolonged strain on your body can contribute to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Exercise and meditation/mindfulness are among the suggested strategies that can help to manage that stress and reduce the associated risks.
According to Tim Ferris in his 2017 book “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers”, over 80% of the “titans” he interviewed practiced mediation or mindfulness daily, and these seemingly super-humans thrive in high-pressure situations. The scientific research on meditation is growing, is daunting to wade through, and as with most scientific research involving humans, not entirely in agreement. A couple of positive studies did spark my interest. A study published online December 2019 in the Social Science Journal (Elizabeth Monk-Turner (2003) The benefits of meditation: experimental findings, The Social Science Journal, 40:3, 465-470, DOI: 10.1016/S0362-3319(03)00043-0) comparing an experimental group that practiced mediation for a 14 week period with a control group found that meditators benefited most with regards to experiencing fewer symptoms of aching muscles or joints (that certainly peaked my interest!!) as well as lower use of drugs and tranquilizers. A 2015 study published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal (Luders Eileen, Cherbuin Nicolas, Kurth Florian (2015) Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects fo long-term mediation on gray matter atrophy published: 21 January 2015 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551) showed that long term meditators demonstrated a slower loss of gray matter volume compared to non-meditators. Of course there are studies that show no proven direct benefit of meditation and mindfulness for specific conditions. I personally think that specific conditions such as IBS or depression have multiple factors involved in their state, and to study one factor in isolation without compete control of the other factors is virtually impossible with humans. Given there is no risk (other than time) to meditation or mindfulness, the potential reward is worth giving it a try, particularly when one takes into consideration the conventional alternatives to manage the physical and mental consequences of stress.
I had previously dabbled in meditation and mindfulness using different apps and guided meditations, simply because I knew it was supposed to be good for me, but was frustrated that I didn’t seem to get better at quieting my mind, and I didn’t seem to be experiencing any tangible benefit, and so didn’t persist with the practice.
Then I listened to Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation, in Episode #2 of the Broken Brain Podcast (May 11, 2018). What I learned is that meditation and mindfulness are not the same thing, although the terms are used interchangeably. According to Emily, “meditation gives the body deep healing rest and de-excites the nervous system (I so needed that!!!), allowing the body to rest and recover, consciously guiding the mind toward an anchor, such as a mantra”. Emily defines mindfulness as the“ art of bringing your awareness into the present movement”and states that it changes your state in that moment. Emily explains the neuroscience behind stress “(it makes you stupid, sick and slow”) and meditation. Intrigued by the potential benefits she described, I, was ready to give her method of meditation, based on Nishkam Karma, a try.
I borrowed Emily’s book “Stress Less, Accomplish More” from my local library, which describes the science in more detail, and then teaches you a basic version of her Ziva technique. I committed to the twice daily 10 minute sessions, the first in the morning following my workout and before breakfast, the second after seeing clients during the work week, and mid-day on weekends. What I noticed almost immediately was an increase in my energy levels throughout the day, and following each session. Impressed with what I was experiencing, I enrolled in her Ziva Online course, and completed the 15 day mediation course. This is the only meditation/mindfulness method I have successfully stuck with for more than a week, simply because it is much easier than any other technique I have tried before, and I didn’t become frustrated because I lacked the self-control to clear my mind (which, by the way, is not the goal of this technique). Within a week my digestion had improved significantly, my sleep better, although not perfect, but awaking feeling far more rested. I continue to feel more energy throughout the day. That increase in mental energy has me thinking clearer and more focused in my work. The hardest part of the practice is making myself sit down 15 min twice daily to do it, especially the second sitting, particularly on weekends, oddly enough!! I have committed to sitting for 2 sessions daily for 3 months, and am curious to see what the effects are when I stick to the practice for that long; will it be like exercise, and the best benefits will appear in the long term? Given the results I am feeling, I am more than willing to put the time in to find out. I will keep you posted!