San Francisco MD and Parsley Health team member, Tiffany Lester, is an expert in internal medicine, and is no stranger to the positive effects that mindfulness can have on a healthy mind and body. Here, the pro shares a bit of her wisdom.
I try to practice what I preach. Every day I counsel patients on healthy habits – from managing stress to eating a healthy diet. But the one thing I was recommending but not actually doing myself was meditation.
So I made a commitment in 2017 to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. I’ve only fallen off the wagon once – after meditating for 76 consecutive days! As a physician, I am intimately familiar with all the research behind the benefits of meditation. I prescribe meditation just like I would an antibiotic because I see it as a form of medicine. On many levels, it’s even more valuable than any supplement or medication as it is accessible and affordable to all. The benefits of meditation are abundant in the literature, including stimulating the vagus nerve which regulates proper digestion, lowering blood pressure, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and lowering inflammatory cytokines, like interleukin-6.
In my own life, I have seen a dramatic improvement in sleep quality and how I respond to stressful situations at home and work thanks to mediation. Although the actual stressors in my life haven’t changed, becoming more grounded has allowed me to respond with grace while keeping my sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) in check. I have more clarity and less anxiety around the stressors in my life and it’s the most powerful medication I’ve ever used with absolutely no side effects!
At Parsley Health, our members get exclusive access to the premium subscription of Headspace, which offers excellent guided meditations for beginners. And while this can be very helpful, you don’t have to spend a dime to get the benefits of a daily meditation practice.
Your lifestyle and personality will determine what type of meditation works best for you. Below are a few tips I share with my patients.
If the idea of sitting still for even 60 seconds sounds like torture…
Try a moving meditation. Next time you go for a walk or run outside, don’t take your cell phone. Practice mindfulness with each step you take and play a little game with yourself. For example, focus on deep breathing and having no thoughts until you reach that stoplight or parking meter. Then let all the thoughts come for the next two blocks. Rinse and repeat or the next 20 minutes and notice how much calmer and more present you feel.
If you need to ground yourself while at work or before a big presentation…
Have some chocolate. Close your office door, go outside to a secluded space, or even just head to a bathroom stall, and savor a small piece of chocolate with your eyes closed. Focus on all the different flavors and the sensation in your mouth. Bonus: The magnesium naturally found in chocolate will help relax your tight muscles and nervous system.
If you can’t stop the stream of consciousness while meditating…
Choose a mantra. This could be a word or a phrase that has special meaning to you. Focusing on this word will allow the other thoughts to slip away. If they do return, notice them, and then simply refocus on your chosen mantra.