Medicine Meets Meditation – with Drs. Andrew Weil and Jon Kabat-Zinn

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November 6, 2014

Dear friends, enjoy this short exchange between Drs. Andrew Weil and Jon Kabat-Zinn on medicine and meditation. Jon and Dr. Weil have published a fascinating audio program with Sounds True entitled, “Meditation for Optimum Health: How to Use Mindfulness and Breathing to Heal Your Body and Refresh Your Mind.” 

Andrew Weil: I’ve always been interested in the fact that there is a linguistic link between the words “meditation“ and “medicine.“ Both of them arise from a Sanskrit root that also has given us the English word “measure.“ And while it’s impossible to pin down the exact meaning of that ancient Sanskrit root, it seems to have to do with thoughtful action to establish order. Implied is a sense of some kind of active process: it’s work-action of some sort with a goal in mind, and the goal is creating order. So medicine and meditation are both different expressions of that kind of process in different realms.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Adding to what Dr. Weil has said, I believe the common root “to measure“ has something to do with the platonic notion of “right inward measure.“ And so medicine is the restoring of right inward measure or order when our health is disturbed in some way. And meditation is, in my mind, the direct perception of right inward measure.

Sounds True: Is there specific evidence that meditation can impact health?

Andrew Weil: There actually has been a great deal of medical research on the health benefits of meditation. One of the researchers who has established a reputation in this area is Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School. Years ago, he described what he called “the relaxation response,” which was a set of physiological changes correlated with a particular type of meditation, namely transcendental meditation, which involves repetition of a mantra. And the typical changes that were seen were a slowing of heart rate, a slowing of respiratory rate, and a decrease in blood pressure. So I think in very simple terms, meditation is a way of engaging the relaxation response, a way of decreasing chronic, nervous driving of the cardiovascular and digestive systems.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: When we’re so busy, running here and there, that can be tremendously problematic in terms of our overall health—mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual. When we get really driven on automatic pilot, trying to get someplace else all the time, without being attentive to where we already are, we can leave a wake of disaster behind us in terms of our own health and well-being, because we’re not listening to the body, we’re not paying attention to its messages; we’re not even in our bodies much of the time.

Mindfulness—paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally—immediately restores us to our wholeness, to that right inward measure that’s at the root of both meditation and medicine.

More from Meditation for Optimum Health

The same ability that helps ordinary men and women achieve extraordinary success is also the secret to optimizing your life span, letting go of stress, and even enhancing your body’s self-healing powers.

In Meditation for Optimum Health, you will join bestselling authors Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn for a practical introduction that makes it simple to enjoy the life-changing benefits of meditation ­ even if you’ve never tried it before.

How does meditation work? Can anybody do it? What do I need to get started? Is it religious? Does it have the power to heal? In alternating sessions, Dr. Weil and Dr. Kabat-Zinn give you straight answers to the most common questions about meditation, and dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding this time-honored practice.

By learning to cultivate the power of your attention through daily practice, you can harness the full potential of your mind, and use it to enrich every dimension of your life. You will learn how meditation can actually unify your mind and body’s many related functions ­and help you start enjoying the best health of your life.

Complete with real-life examples, and a proven program of step-by-step meditations to get you started, here is the perfect introduction to the oldest and most effective system for feeling better, naturally: Meditation for Optimum Health.

medopt

Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the founder and director of its renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic. His clinic was featured in 1993 in the public television series Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the author of 15 books, in print in over 45 languages. These include Full Catastrophe LivingWherever You Go, There You Are; Coming to Our Senses; and Mindfulness for Beginners.

Author photo © Jaume Cosialls

Also By Author

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Befriending Pain

Current statistics tell us that 20% of the US population has some form of chronic pain, defined as severe discomfort that has continued for six months or more. That’s more than 50 million people. Jon Kabat-Zinn has received international acclaim for his leading work in bringing the life-changing practices of meditation and mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. In this inspiring podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Jon about his empowering new book, Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, and how we can greatly improve our lives (and our entire world) by reframing the way we relate to our thoughts, our minds, and the sensations of our bodies. 

Listen in as they discuss the epidemic of chronic pain and the power of mindfulness to ease suffering of all kinds, the myth of the “good meditator,” the body as the starting point for practice, exploring your “emotionally freighted thoughts,” our longing to be who we really are, working with the mind and learning to inhabit a space of embodied awareness, the refuge that is meditation practice, letting go of our stories, befriending the sensory field of what we call pain, the miracle of life on Earth, the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness as the direct path to liberation, surfing the waves of your own experience, unity within diversity and the arising of compassion, focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong, how we are all on a growth curve on life’s journey, and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

On The Mindfulness Revolution and Our Fear of Authenti...

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Deepen your personal healing practice with guided meditations, audio presentations, and learning intensives by Jon Kabat-Zinn on Sounds True »

Have you ever wondered who coined the term ‘mindfulness’? That was Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. He describes it as “paying attention on purpose with a non-judgmental attitude.”

“I take an enormous amount of pleasure in actually not trying to get anywhere” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

Partly because of his work and research, this concept of ‘mindfulness’ has become mainstream. We see it at colleges, small businesses and large corporations, and—perhaps most notably—in medicine (Kabat-Zinn also founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School).

In Tami’s interview with Kabat-Zinn on Insights at the Edge, the two begin asking: Why is mindfulness gaining popularity in the first place? In the process, they explore what’s simple, profound, and relatable about it.

AGE OF MINDFULNESS

mindfulness revolution woman

“Once you realize that we are completely embedded in an interconnected world … the only real response is a sense of profound appreciation or affection for the fact that we are not separate” 

Mindfulness has always been a part of humanity. It has been called different names and interpreted by different lenses, but the concept of some greater unity of which we are all a part—that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

So, even if it’s a trend, couldn’t there be more to it? In a way, mindfulness seems to take on the breath of intuition, not necessarily logic or reason. It is truly the air of possibility.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS

mindfulness revolution thoughts

You cannot get rid of your thoughts. But when you create distance between yourself and your thoughts, you can let them wash through you. You do not have to fight to maintain them or believe them. And, you do not have to fight to let them go.

“Suppose the sky is awareness. If a bird flew through, then the sky would know it. … [The sky] has its own sort of ground condition of just being the sky, just being awareness”

He describes this awareness not as a state of being, but as a shift in seeing. There was always space there. We just needed to rotate a lens.

Have you ever retreated your vision while meditating, so that you were gazing out from between your two closed eyes? Like that. That field of awareness stretches infinitely—as conscious beings, it weaves us together.

This feeling is both humbling and terrifying in its awesomeness. When the sky is so big, we don’t know what we are. But we can accept this uncertainty. Our minds, our egos, our bodies—can expand with it.

WE ARE ALL GENIUSES

mindfulness revolution connected

Homo sapien sapien literally translates from Latin to “the species that knows and knows that it knows.”

In the episode, Jon and Tami talk beautifully about mindfulness’s fundamental humanness. There is an utter connection between our feet grounded on this Earth, and the spaces we don’t understand.

“There is something about mindfulness that is absolutely core to our humanity … the final common pathway of what makes us human”

Sometimes, meditation helps us feel the truth of this. Once we know this awareness is there, we can integrate it into the ways we think and make decisions.

FEAR OF AUTHENTICITY

mindfulness revolution authenticityWe reach for purpose; we wish to understand our place in the universe. (It isn’t weird for us to do this. If I were an alien, and I heard humans were doing this, I would be like, well, yeah.)

Yet, we are afraid to be ourselves. We don’t want ourselves to disappear. So we keep inside our deepest sorrows, anxieties, and emotions.

The parts of us we try and protect so carefully end up banging on the walls inside of us, stuck.

“It’s not like we can never suppress that shadow side … but if we can come to understand it in a deeper way, then I think there is a potential … [to] elevate what is most beautiful and good about all human beings”

What if we gave all of it—ourselves, and our connection to the world—the space to breathe?

(And the possibilities begin to shimmer.)

 

ABOUT JON KABAT-ZINN

Jon Kabat-Zinn Author Photo

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society in 1995, and its world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic in 1979. His trailblazing research has helped bring mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine. He is the author of 10 books, including the bestsellers Full Catastrophe Living; Wherever You Go, There You Are; and Mindfulness for Beginners.

Take a look at Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book and accompanying CD of guided practices, Mindfulness for Beginners, published by Sounds True!

★★★★★ Easy to read and informative as well as inspiring. —gus c
★★★★★ In my opinion, a must-read for all humans. —Yves N

ABOUT THE AUTHORDani Ferrara Blogger Author Photo

When she isn’t writing, playing music or teaching, Dani Ferrara blogs at Sounds True and researches the alchemy of healing. Explore her art at daniferrarapoet.com.

 

Jon Kabat-Zinn: The Mindfulness Revolution

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is the internationally renowned founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, whose trailblazing research has helped bring mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine. Jon is the author of many books and audio programs, including Wherever You Go, There You Are and the Guided Mindfulness Meditation series. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Jon about the role of science in validating mindfulness practice, the 180-degree shift that lets us rest in awareness instead of identifying with our thoughts, and the potential cultural renaissance that could arise from a “mindfulness revolution.” (72 minutes)

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5 Tools to Create More Space in Your Mind

Busyness, distraction, and stress have all led to the shrinking of the modern mind.

I realize that’s a strange thing to say. Most of us don’t think of our mind as something with space in it, as a thing that can either be big or small, expensive or claustrophobic.

But just think about the last time you felt overwhelmed, stressed, or out of control. Chances are, you might not even have to think that hard. You might be experiencing that state right now as you read these words.

What happens in these moments? 

First, our mind wanders. It spins through all sorts of random thoughts about the past and the future. As a result, we lose touch with the direct experience of present time.

Second, we lose perspective. We can’t see the big picture anymore. Instead, it’s like we’re viewing life through a long and narrow tunnel. We become blind to possibility, fixated on problems.

Put these two together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for eradicating space in the mind. The landscape of the mind begins to feel like a calendar jammed with so many meetings, events, and obligations that these neon colored boxes cover-up even the smallest slivers of white space. 

So it could be nice for our partner, for our kids, and, mostly, for our ourselves to consider: how can we create more space in the mind?

Here are five tools for creating mental space. If you want to go deeper, check out my new book with Sounds True on the topic called OPEN: Living With an Expansive Mind in a Distracted World.

1. Meditation.

You’ve no doubt heard about all of the scientifically validated benefits of this practice. It reduces stress. It boosts productivity. It enhances focus.

That is all true. But here is the real benefit of meditation: it creates more space in the mind. To get started, try it out for just a few minutes a day. Use an app or guided practice to help you.

2. Movement.

So, maybe you’re not the meditating type. That’s fine. You can still create space in the mind by setting aside time for undistracted movement.

The key word here is “undistracted.” For many of us, exercise and movement have become yet another time where our headspace gets covered over by texts, podcasts, or our favorite Netflix series. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. But it can be powerful to leave the earbuds behind every once in a while and allow the mind to rest while you walk, stretch, run, bike, swim, or practice yoga.

3. Relax.

When it comes to creating headspace, we moderns, with our smartphone-flooded, overly-stimulated, minds seem to inevitably encounter a problem: we’re often too stressed, amped, and agitated to open.

Relaxation – calming the nervous system – is perhaps the best way to counter this effect and create more fertile ground for opening. When we relax – the real kind, not the Netflix or TikTok kind –  the grip of difficult emotions loosens, the speed of our whirling thoughts slows, and, most important, the sense of space in our mind begins to expand.

How can you relax? Try yoga. Try extended exhale breathing, where you inhale four counts, exhale eight counts. Try yoga nidra. Or, just treat yourself to a nap.

4. See bigger.

When life gets crazy, the mind isn’t the only thing that shrinks. The size of our visual field also gets smaller. Our eyes strain. Our peripheral vision falls out of awareness.

What’s the antidote to this tunnel vision view? See bigger.

Try it right now. With a soft gaze, allow the edges of your visual field to slowly expand. Imagine you’re seeing whatever happens to be in front of you from the top of a vast mountain peak. Now bring this more expansive, panoramic, way of seeing with you for the rest of the day.

5. Do nothing.

Now for the most advanced practice. It’s advanced because it cuts against everything our culture believes in. In a world where everyone is trying desperately to get more done, one of the most radical acts is to not do — to do nothing.

Even just a few minutes of this paradoxical practice can help you experience an expansion of space in the mind.

Lie on the floor or outside on the grass. Close your eyes. Put on your favorite music if you want. Set an alarm for a few minutes so you don’t freak out too much. 

Then, stop. Drop the technique. Drop the effort. Just allow yourself to savor this rare experience of doing absolutely nothing.

Nate Klemp, PhD, is a philosopher, writer, and mindfulness entrepreneur. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Start Here and the New York Times critics’ pick The 80/80 Marriage. His work has been featured in the LA Times, Psychology Today, the Times of London, and more, and his appearances include Good Morning America and Talks at Google. He’s a cofounder of LifeXT and founding partner at Mindful. For more, visit nateklemp.com or @Nate_Klemp on Instagram.

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