Usually, by this time of year, I am off somewhere warm or relaxing at the coast, watching the storms roll in. However, this year, I am teaching until tomorrow and then taking off in the afternoon for Chicago to visit three of my four sisters, their families, and my Aunt Lily. I sort of dread the busy airports, the Chicago traffic, the slow ride to Valparaiso, Indiana by bus. When I travel, I try to avoid the mad crush by leaving early. It didn’t work out that way this year. One can’t help but get all caught up in the frenzy of the holidays. I can’t believe how busy I am this time of year!
Maybe that is why I made time to read a great book by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD called Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. The author survived brain cancer and wrote this amazing book which is all about choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. His approach is holistic and includes yoga and meditation as integral tools for the healing process and for staying balanced and healthy. Below are some excerpts I thought were very powerful.
In careful documented studies, researchers have been able to measure how yoga and meditation allow us to release tensions regularly. By releasing tension and lowering stress, the immune system functions optimally:
“We can all learn to cultivate our inner strength. Over the past 5000 years, all the great medical and spiritual traditions in the East- such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, and qigong- have taught that any individual may take over the reins of his or her inner being and bodily functioning. This can be achieved by simply concentrating the mind and focusing on the breath. This mastery is one of the best ways to re-establish harmony in a person’s physiology and, as a result, stimulate the body’s natural defenses.”
Here is what Dr. Servan-Schreiber says about the “monkey mind”, the busy mind that jumps from thought to thought and never sits still:
“ Many of us have become strangers to our inner world, gone astray in everything that seems more urgent and more important- emails, television programs, telephone calls. Many of us need to begin over again by making contact with ourselves.”
One way of making contact with ourselves is done through the meditative arts, by sitting still, or allowing oneself to hone in on breath and inner sensation. Learning to cultivate inner calm, we begin to create an inner harmony, which creates a condition akin to fertile ground where healing can happen:
“Kabat-Zinn (great Buddhist teacher) always insists that spending time every day alone with one self is a “radical act of love.” Like the great tradition of shamans, who always prescribe a ritual of purification to be performed alone, this reflective solitude is the essential precondition to harmonizing the inner healing forces of the body.”
The breath in yoga is the gateway to biology, inner awareness, a feeling of being connected to a great force of energy (life), and transformation.
“The gateway to the inner self is breathing.” Through meditation, people “discover an immense sense of simple well-being, which has been absent in their everyday lives.”
Dr. Servan-Schreiber goes on to say, “Breathing is the only visceral function that is totally autonomous with regard to the conscious mind (like digestion or heartbeats, breathing goes on even if we’re not thinking about it) and yet easily regulated by the will. The control center for breathing, located at the base of the brain, is sensitive to all the molecules that are constantly exchanged between the emotional brain and the organs of the body, including the immune system.”
Of course, I love to read about tangible and scientific measurements of the effects of meditation in a laboratory environment and here is what the author has to say on this subject:
“Several Tibetan monks have participated in meditation experiments. During meditation, their cerebral rhythms register a larger amplitude of oscillations than in non-meditative states. In addition, activity measured within the different brain regions begins to oscillate in harmony. The regions are said to “synchronize.” On the scale of the brain, it’s a phenomenon comparable to establishing coherence in the body’s biological processes. Still better, this synchronization lasts even beyond meditation sessions.”
On the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on the immune systems of patients, the author writes, “And this (harmonization of the different brain regions) effect reached further than the brain…their (the meditators’) immune systems reacted to the flu vaccine more.”
I like how Dr. Servan-Schreiber states the importance of practicing yoga and meditation on a daily basis for healing and staying healthy:
“What seems essential to the mobilization of the body’s forces is to renew contact every day-with sincerity, benevolence, and calm-with the life force that vibrates constantly within our bodies. And to bow to it.”
I wish you some quiet time and inner balance as the year spins to an ending of sorts and a new year begins. And I wish all of you wonderful holidays! Stay warm and healthy!