The Gift of Calm for the Holidays

Not only does stress feel awful, it can power up during the holidays and unravel relationships—and your health—now, and into the future.

With the wave of yoga and mindfulness popularity sweeping the country, the holidays, especially, are a good time to put meditation to work in our daily lives. The moment we get the busiest, the most fearful, or the most stressed, is the exact time that we need to pause and center on the present moment and return to our true nature of calm.

I have instructed my patients in this practice for more than 30 years, and I know from personal experience—as a meditation practitioner and as an oncologist helping to guide my patients—that meditation is one of the most powerful tools we can utilize for healing.

Meditation’s beauty is not only its ability to distress the body, but to remind us—any moment we choose—that our true nature is one of harmony and balance. I discuss this more thoroughly in my upcoming book, “The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny Through Diet and Lifestyle” due in April from Viking.

A recent interview with Jack Kornfield, “The Meaning of Life” published in the New York Times, highlights the profound positive effects of meditation and reflections by one of this country’s most influential teachers.

In his book, “The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology,” Kornfield quotes Alan Watts, an earlier teacher, author and scholar who helped bring Buddhism to the West in the 1950s. Today, mindfulness practice is used by major corporations like General Mills as well as the U. S. Marines.

“The art of living is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” – Alan Watts

In his recent two-day teachings in New York, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, reminded his students: “Meditation is not just relaxation.” From the Dalai Lama’s (and Buddhism’s) perspective, meditation must include an understanding of the causes of suffering and our wish to free others, as well as ourselves, of suffering.

What we know as physicians is that when we help patient’s shift their perspective from fear to faith in their natural state of calm, they feel empowered and hopeful about their own recovery. Their suffering decreases, and their sense of wellbeing increases. More than 300 scientific studies have documented meditation’s positive effects.

A study earlier this year analyzed the effects of meditation on gene expression, and the results are positive. Results used blood tests to compare effects on participants who practiced a day of intense meditation versus those who were engaged in leisurely activities during the day. Researchers “detected reduced expression of histone deacetylase genes (HDAC 2, 3 and 9), alterations in global modification of histones (H4ac; H3K4me3) and decreased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (RIPK2 and COX2) in meditators compared with controls.” In other words, the expression of the very genes that can produce inflammation and those that can negatively affect the DNA was reduced through the practice of meditation.

Here are some simple techniques I use with my patients. They’re quick, they’re easy, and they will absolutely enhance your sense of wellbeing and your health.

Try to do any of them for 10 minutes, but even if it’s for only 3 minutes or 5 minutes, it counts. Remember, you are building a new consciousness and that’s what counts. Your practice builds on itself.

5 Simple Ways to Meditate

  1. When you feel your shoulders or neck tightening, stop, consciously relax your shoulders, close your eyes, and focus on the present moment.
  2. Count your breaths. Breathe slowly, count to 10. Repeat.
  3. When you hear a car horn or a church bell, take it as reminder to drop into your true essence. This is Thich Nhat Hanh’s technique to tap any opportunity to return to your natural sense of harmony.
  4. Count your blessings. Close your eyes and recall what is already good in your life.
  5. Repeat your favorite mantra or scriptural passage. “Om mani padme hum,” “The Lord is my Shepherd,” or the passage of your choice.
References:
  1. Wu, Tim, “The Meaning of Life,” T Magazine, The New York Times, Oct. 14, 2014.
  2. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/buddhism-meditation-spiritual-mindfulness/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1
  3. http://www.jackkornfield.com/mindfulness-fearless-presence/#more2035
  4. Kallman, Perla, Alvarez-Lopez, Maria Jesus, Davidson, Richard, Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators, PsychoneuroendocrinologyFebruary 2014, Vol.40:96–107, doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.004