Meditation is the Focus on Facebook

Meditation can provide overall health benefits, particularly in dealing with stress and anxiety, but like any process, the more you work at it, the better the results.

That was the overall message during the most recent #OurDocTalk live chat on Facebook as physician Madhav Goyal, M.D. shared his knowledge and insights into meditation and health.

Several questions came up in the chat regarding how often and how long one needs to meditate each day in order to see the impact on their wellbeing.

“Once a person has learned to meditate, the general recommendations of most meditation programs are to meditate more than once a day. It is similar to taking certain medications; their effect reaches a steady state when they are taken more than once a day,” Dr. Goyal explained. “For meditation, a person is trying to increase their level of awareness. More frequent, even ‘micro-meditations’ are helpful in creating a lasting awareness.”

During another portion of the chat, he added that “you don’t have to meditate for lengthy time periods. But like many other skills, the more effort one puts into it, the more benefits one is likely to receive. For example, if I spend 5 min twice a day jogging, that would be better than nothing. But if I spent 30 min twice a day jogging, I will get a lot more benefit out of it.”

Dr. Goyal is the lead author of a study published online in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the impacts of meditation on health. The study found moderate strength of evidence that mindfulness meditation reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain.

The full chat can be found on the NorthBay Facebook page (Facebook.com/NorthBayHealthcare) and an edited transcript is here:

Q.: Are there any benefits to micro-meditation, (5 minute meditations done frequently throughout the day or week)?

Dr. Goyal: Once a person has learned to meditate, the general recommendations of most meditation programs are to meditate more than once a day. It is similar to taking certain medications; their effect reaches a steady state when they are taken more than once a day. For meditation, a person is trying to increase their level of awareness. More frequent, even "micro-meditations" are helpful in creating a lasting awareness.

Comment: Thanks for bringing meditation mainstream

Q.: I need to learn how to meditate what resources are good for this?

Dr. Goyal: There are many different meditation programs differentiated by how rigorous they are and what kind of mental activities they involve. In general, they are all fairly secular. The most rigorous form taught here is called Vipassana, and involves going to a 10 day retreat where you train in a monastic setting, and you'll get about 100 hrs of meditation under your belt there. The website is www.dhamma.org . They have certain rules you need to follow, so persons who are interested should review their website to see if this is right for them. They have the details and locations of their retreats on their website. There is a less intense form of this called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which involves going to a class ~2.5hrs/wk for 8 weeks. The closest place to Vacaville that teaches this is in Davis. I'm hopefull that we will be able to get a course going in Vacaville or Fairfield some time soon. Another popular form of meditation is called Transcendental Meditation (www.tm.org). This involves learning a mantra initially, and they really emphasize the easiness of doing this meditation. The training is ~ 2-4 hrs initially. If you look at their website, they have numerous celebrities who endorse this meditation. These 3 are some of the most popularly practiced ones around here, but there are more if one looks on the web. There is also probably a lot of overlap in these different forms at some stage or another.

Q.: I need to learn how to meditate also...please advise thanks!

Dr. Goyal: Many people have been going to these apps to learn how to meditate. I personally don't think that is the best approach. Learning to observe the subconscious mind, becoming aware of what the mind is doing on subtle levels, what the body is feeling, how the two are interacting to give us our current life experience, and how to use these observational skills to master our own minds - these are daunting tasks! Learning from a trained instructor in-person I think is the best approach for someone who wants to do this seriously.

Q.: I know someone who has difficulty falling asleep. Most nights it takes him 2-3 hours to finally fall asleep. He has restless leg syndrome and also cannot stop thinking about things (not anxiety, it could e things he loves). He exercises regularly and eats fairly healthy. He drinks no caffeine after noon and rarely consumes alcohol. Are there any tips with meditation for this person?

Dr. Goyal: He probably should first discuss his restless leg syndrome with his doctor and make sure he is not iron deficient. My approach to sleep difficulties is to meditate regularly, at least twice daily. And if one has a hard time falling asleep, then meditate in bed rather than tossing and turning. Eventually, you will fall asleep. In my experience, I've found that meditation has a lag effect. That is, I might not feel the effects of meditation today. But if I am meditating regularly, like a drug that reaches steady state, I find the calming effects start to take place later on. So it is not something to be used "as needed." It really is a path to be followed daily, and regular meditation tends to lead to a smoother day to day feelings.

Q.: One thing that should be noted in this chat is that Dr. Goyal is the lead author of a study published online in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the impacts of meditation on health. Dr. Goyal, can you explain briefly what the study concluded and what types of meditation you looked at?

Dr. Goyal: We looked at all forms of meditation that had been tested in a randomized controlled trial, and were compared with a group that controlled for placebo effects. We found the TM and MBSR (mindfulness) were the two most studied forms of meditation. We found moderate strength of evidence that mindfulness meditation reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain.

Q.: Are there any anti-anxiety medications that don't cause weight gain?

Dr. Goyal: Yes, there are. You should discuss this with your doctor. Since mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety, and does not have any associated side effects like weight gain, this should be considered by anyone who feels they need treatment or help with anxiety.

Q.: If someone is suffering depression would Synthroid help? I read in a google search that it may along with other drugs be helpful.

Dr. Goyal: That needs to be discussed on a case by case basis with their doctor. But mindfulness meditation does reduce symptoms of depression, so should be considered by anyone who may need treatment for it.

Q.: Can you stop taking blood pressure medicine?

Dr. Goyal: I assume you mean if you are meditating? You should not stop any medicines, and I'd recommend you measure your pressures and then discuss them with your doctor.
Comment: Dr. Goyal is a wonderful Doctor.

Q.: Do you have to do meditation sessions for lengthy time periods each day? And how can a person help their anxieties with it?

Dr. Goyal: No, you don't have to meditate for lengthy time periods. But like many other skills, the more effort one puts into it, the more benefits one is likely to receive. For example, if I spend 5 min twice a day jogging, that would be better than nothing. But if I spent 30 min twice a day jogging, I will get a lot more benefit out of it. One would have to learn and practice the meditation to help their anxieties.

Q.: How soon are results typically seen?

Dr. Goyal: That really varies on so many factors. It depends on how focused one is, how much effort they put into it, and how stressed they may be at the outset. Someone who is very troubled or in a lot of pain when they start may have a harder time getting into it, and it may take them longer and more effort to see results. And not everyone may see results.

Q.: How to meditate when u have de personalization?

Dr. Goyal: In general, learning to meditate under the guidance of an experienced teacher is the best way to learn. The teacher can help the student through any challenges they face. An app won't be able to do that.