I’m sharing a guest post today from my Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program co-author and fellow Registered Dietitian Alex Caspero on why meditation is the best gift you can give yourself. I began my own meditation journey about 6 months ago after deciding I needed something to manage the endless to do list that was life. While I don’t successfully practice every single day, I aim to most days, and it has honestly made a big difference in my stress and anxiety levels. I know it sounds silly, but before you close out this post and say meditation isn’t for you, give this post about the health benefits of meditation a read.
Why Meditation is the Best Gift You Can Give Yourself
by Alex Caspero, MA, RD
Don’t hesitate, meditate! My first yoga teacher had that phrase as a bumper sticker on her car, and while it still makes me chuckle now as much as it did then, I now have a much deeper appreciation for the intention behind those words.
Seriously, though: want to change your life? Try meditation. Whoa! Is that a bit too hyperbolic? It might be dramatic, but I know it to be true. (Thankfully, so does science – which we’ll get to in a bit!)
I loathed meditation before I loved it.
As a busy go-getter, I had zero patience for the concept and even less discipline for sitting still and practicing mindfulness. Meditation!? Who has time for that? Sure, I’m stressed and often anxious, but who isn’t? How is sitting still and breathing going to change that?
I assumed that my time was better spent working on my ever-growing to-do list and responsibilities. I was planning a wedding, working full-time and launching my own business on the side – all of which led to a panic attack and complete burn-out. Which, ironically, is how I ended up at a three day Vipassana retreat. 36 hours of complete silence, no eye contact, a broth fast and hours and hours of meditation.
The first day was excruciatingly miserable and I spent most the time daydreaming my escape and excuses for getting out of the rest of the weekend. And then, something magical happened. My walls broke down, my resistance faded and I felt at peace.
Meditation is powerful stuff. If this sounds like a bunch of hippie-dippie nonsense, I completely understand. I was first introduced to yoga through power vinyasa and would frequently leave class at savasana in order to go run. I loved yoga as a workout, not because of any mind-body connection. I believed that rest was a sign of weakness, so I pushed myself and my body past my limits in order to do more and be more. While some of these themes still come up for me on occasion, my meditation practice has completely changed my outlook and the way I respond to stress, anxiety and times of sadness.
Meditation teaches us that events themselves are neutral. It’s your reaction that creates the anxiety, the stress, and the emotion afterwards. In other words, mediation (and mindfulness) determine your reaction to things that occur to you.
I don’t know about you, but this is a completely different model than how I was previously living. Now, I know that how I react to other people’s actions and comments says more about me than it does them. If something rubs me the wrong way, it’s not them, it’s me. Meditation is a daily reminder that life happens through us, not at us.
This shift in thinking also explains why meditation is a powerful tool in letting go of a traditional diet mentality; it allows us to be conscious observers in our emotional connection to food and gives us the permission to change.
Because of this, I almost always recommend meditation to my clients – especially those whom I see for intuitive eating. I put it to them the way I’ll put it to you: try it for thirty days. Give yourself thirty days of daily meditation and then let me know how you feel. If you hate it, you never have to do it again. But – if you like it, then you must keep going. So far, everyone single person is still on their meditation path.
Science agrees. In a recent study, 35 unemployed and employment-seeking (read: highly stressed) men and women were asked to incorporate meditation into their lives. In just three days, significant changes to the brain were found, with increased activity in the portions dedicated to processing stress, focus and calmness. Additionally, their blood levels showed lower levels of inflammation, even four months after the study was complete.
Other studies have shown that meditation can help increase attention span, manage anxiety and depression, ease pain and boost learning, memory and immune function. Emerging research is also showing that meditation can change the way genes express themselves and increase your life-span. Incredible, isn’t it?
Results like these is why I say that meditation is the best gift you can give yourself. It’s free, easy and takes very little time to complete. While every day is best, consistency is key; start with 2-3 days a week then work up until you are doing it every day, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes.
All of the above reasons are why we’ve incorporated meditation into each week of our 6 week virtual intuitive and mindful eating group program, Joyful Eating, Nourished Life. During the program, you’ll receive seven audio files, one each week, with guided meditations, deep breathing exercises and short yoga flows to help you maximize the benefits of mindfulness. In the private Facebook group, we’ll support each other with daily meditation challenges in week 4, which we are dedicating specifically to mindfulness and meditation. We want the process of meditation to be exciting, encouraging and most of all, doable. We’ve created a real-life approach to a centuries old habit. (Want to join us? Click here to learn more and sign up for the program.)
Whether you join us for the program or not, though, I hope you will at least consider trying meditation if you haven’t already. There are many free meditation resources out there (like guided YouTube videos and podcasts) along with my favorite app, Headspace.
Have you tried meditation? What resources do you find most effective?
And if not, what are the barriers holding you back from practicing meditation?