Where I trained as a physician at Columbia in New York City, meditation wasn’t exactly embraced. When I was a resident in internal medicine and a patient asked about relaxation techniques going into surgery, the other doctors on staff actually rolled their eyes. I still don’t understand how this is possible.
The medical community can no longer deny meditation’s power to positively induce biochemical, physical effects on the body. Even better, it’s free from side effects, unlike the medications many doctors prescribe to reach the same goals. Meditation has been scientifically documented to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol , lower inflammation and improve sleep .
Chronic inflammation is at the core of a host of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression. Meditation lowers inflammation by signalling the brain to lower inflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6, which is a biomarker that can indicate unhealthy levels of inflammation in the body.
Some studies suggest that meditation is just as effective as—if not more effective than—mood-altering medications for depression and anxiety . Specifically, meditation has been shown to increase brain gray matter volume (which smart phones destroy) in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri. These are the parts of the brain responsible for regulating our mood.
Meditation reduces stress, which reduces cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol imbalances blood sugar and hormones and leads to weight gain. It can also 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 the reversal of memory loss in 9 out of 10 Alzheimer’s patients.
The digestive system is one of the biological processes most affected when the body is under stress. This can wreak havoc on the gut, causing everything from inflammation, to acid reflux, bloating , and more. By calming the mind and body, meditation takes us out of stress response, and signals to your brain that you are in a safe environment, thus improving biological processes such as digestion which is compromised during times of stress. What’s more, meditation stimulates the Vagus nerve, which modulates proper digestion from the stomach to the intestines.
In my own life, I have seen the way that meditation has allowed me to transform feelings of stress and anxiety into relaxation and clarity. Personally, it has been the most powerful and reliable medication I have ever taken.
Meanwhile, the reality is most diseases today (over 95%) are diet and lifestyle driven, with burnout being one of the top complaints our patients in cities like NYC, LA and San Francisco come to us to treat.
Burnout is a result of an imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Too many of us are living in fight or flight mode (sympathetic dominance) and never balancing that with our innate “rest digest and heal” mode (known as parasympathetic dominance.)
As a result, modern bodies are suffering from sleep disorders, digestive problems, hormone imbalances and all the downstream problems that come from eating too many carbs and sugar to keep going, like diabetes heart disease and dementia.
I see every day how a regular meditation practice can restore balance and heal the body.
We encourage a daily ten-minute meditation practice for every patient. As we explain to them in our sessions, you can eat all the right foods, take all the right supplements and medications, and get every test known to man, but if you don’t get your brain on board with your body, you won’t be successful.
The roadblocks are that people don’t understand meditation or feel intimidated by it. At Parsley Health we make it easy by teaching these three principles.
Even a few minutes every night before bed is powerfully transformative. If five minutes is all the time you have each day, then stick with that. It’s more beneficial to do five minutes daily than longer amounts of time occasionally.
There are amazing apps (Headspace is one of our favorites) that can guide you through a beautiful, simple meditation practice. You don’t need a quiet room or a fancy set up. You can meditate anywhere.
If you don’t like mantra meditation, try a breathing practice or focusing on your breath. Or try visualizing yourself where you want to be in life, or even just keeping your intention focused on your actions while you make dinner. There is no one right meditation, so don’t get caught up in having to follow a method or technique. The right one is the one you do regularly that works for you.
It’s no secret we’re big fans of meditation at Parsley Health. Our doctors and health coaches created a 5 Day Clear Mind and Body Reset to guide you back to feeling your best. Includes a daily videos with biohacks, a daily guided meditation, plant-based meal plan, ongoing support from our health coaches, and more.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health, America's leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. She founded Parsley to address the rising tide of chronic disease in America through personalized holistic medicine that puts food, lifestyle, and proactive diagnostic testing on the prescription pad next to medications. Since founding Parsley in 2016, Dr. Berzin has seen 80% of patients improve or resolve their chronic conditions within their first year of care, demonstrating the life-changing value of making modern holistic medicine accessible to everyone, anywhere. Parsley is available online nationwide.
Dr. Berzin attended medical school at Columbia University and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her book, Prescription for Happiness: How to Eat, Move, and Supplement for Peak Mental Health, was published by Simon Element in January 2022.