Most people can now appreciate that meditation is good for your brain, but few know that it is also important for maintaining your waistline. Meditation is one of the best kept secrets for life-long, effortless weight management. We often talk about the need for a physical detox, but if you don’t accompany these physical cleanses with a mental detox tool like meditation, you can sabotage your own success as the mental and emotional toxins begin to surface.
As an integrative neurologist who created a powerful program for reversing neurological disease, which had the unexpected side effect of spontaneous weight loss, I would often talk to my patients about how emotions begin to come out, like mental toxins, as the body releases deeper levels of physical toxins. In my book, The Prime, I outline this unique program that combines the best of modern medical research with the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda that has withstood the test of time. A key ingredient of The Prime program is starting a meditation practice. As people progress on The Prime, their toxic, inflammatory weight spontaneously begins to fall off, but the toxic emotions that have been hidden deep within the subconscious mind also come up to the surface. That’s great, but without a strategy to deal with them, you are at risk of becoming overwhelmed and even quitting the program. Emotions are powerful. But so is meditation.
But meditation does more than help you deal with emotions. It also has a direct anti-inflammatory effect on the brain and body. Meditation reverses the whole stress response and its cascade of signals, and it improves immune function. It regulates the way the brain fires, making your brain smarter and improving the brain-gut connection. Several studies show how meditation reduces the severity of gut-related dysfunction, such as digestive issues and irritable bowel syndrome.
One of the most important recent medical discoveries is the importance of the brain-gut connection in preventing neurological diseases as well as reversing weight gain. As a neurologist, I was taught that there is only one brain—the one sitting inside your skull. But when I completed my training in Ayurveda, it was clear that there are actually two brains—the one inside your head and the one inside your gut, also known as the enteric nervous system. Part of the process of gaining excess weight literally involves brain damage in your gut, which makes you more susceptible to neurological problems and food addictions.
Meditation is particularly good for getting back in control of cravings. Cravings are caused by overstimulation of the pleasure centers, leading to food addictions, but meditation blocks that overstimulation response, teaching the brain not to be fooled by it. Studies have demonstrated a reduction in substance abuse with meditation. Meditation also naturally and gently increases serotonin, so you feel good even in the face of detox symptoms. Hundreds of studies demonstrate these effects. It is indisputably a beneficial practice. Its benefits are so powerful and pervasive that I recommend meditation as a new habit for a lifetime and a necessary tool to accomplish long term, effortless weight management.
But how do you do meditate? I was trained in Transcendental Meditation (TM), one of the most widely studied forms of meditation, originating in India. I find TM extremely easy and highly beneficial. It works for me, and it is the form of meditation that I recommend to my patients. TM is a form of mantra meditation, meaning you repeat a sound in your mind using special techniques that require an instructor, who assures you are doing it correctly. You can take a course to learn TM, which I recommend, or you can try other techniques if you prefer. Many of these are explained in books, in apps, on websites, and even on videos or CDs that guide you through the meditation technique. Studies show benefits from many different types of meditation (although TM usually comes out on top). Simply sitting quietly without distractions and focusing on your breathing for fifteen to twenty minutes once or twice a day will have noticeable benefits. The most important thing is to find a meditation practice that fits you and start doing it regularly.