Meditation + health – part 2
In part 2 of his interview, DR GARY HUBER continues to share his thoughts with VICTOR KANNAN on the effects of meditation on health and well-being.
Q: Do you recommend meditation for children?
GH: Yes, and I think it’s important that as adults we realize that children are very smart and they can inculcate a lot of things if we just speak to them. We can’t always treat them like babies. We can talk to them about food, and they’ll understand. We can talk to them about meditation and mindfulness, and they will understand. They get it because they have a better idea, a better concept of it than we do.
GH: When they are coloring, or during quiet playtime, they are not distracted, they are not multitasking, so they’re at meditation from a very young age. I taught my kids to meditate when they were about 9 or 10 years of age, and I would have taught them earlier had I known about it. But I really wasn’t aware of it. It starts with a conversation. You keep talking about it, and it seems very natural because it is very natural.
I think it’s important for kids, especially in this day and age with the iPhone just celebrating its 10-year anniversary. They’re immersed in this whole concept that 24 hours a day digital images have to be coming at their brains and they literally have to dodge all of this incoming information. How are they going to do that? This is deletion mode.
Go back hundreds of years, what did Da Vinci do? To learn something new, he had to get on a horse, ride to a new town and hope to meet someone smart or find a book he hadn’t seen before. He had to go out and seek information. Now it’s being thrown at them at such an incredible pace that if we don’t teach our kids how to meditate and how to quiet their brains and be calm, the influx of all that digital information is going to crush them. That’s my concern.
Q: Do you think that the current age that we live in adds to diseases such as ADD and ADHD?
GH: Absolutely. We see autoimmune diseases on the rise and we see degenerative diseases going through the roof at an incredible pace. They are multiplying tenfold in one generation. You mentioned ADD.
I ask parents, “Your son is diagnosed with ADD. You know what that stands for?”
When they say, “Yes, Attention Deficit…”
I tell them it stands for Accumulated Dumb Decisions. ADD is not a disease.
I walk them through these questions: “What lab tests were run to diagnose these diseases?”
“What X-rays were done? What CT scans were done to make that diagnosis?”
“So let me get this right. They just looked at a list of symptoms and said the child is inattentive, he has trouble at school, he has outbursts.”
These are just symptoms, and they stamp a diagnostic code on it. The child doesn’t have anything. He has a challenge, but the question is why does he behave with this list of symptoms? That’s all they are, symptoms.
It really comes down to what I consider to be Accumulated Dumb Decisions. We feed children wheat and sugar and crackers and fruit roll-ups and processed garbage. We don’t give them vegetables, because they don’t like them. We don’t give them beans, and we give them what one mother called ‘kid food’. And what’s kid food? Hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and processed garbage. We feed them junk, then we put them in front of a video game for three hours and have lights flashing in their eyes, and then we let them stay up late and they don’t get sleep. What do you think that brain is going to do? Do you think that brain is going to be calm? No, it’s going to be all over the place.
So the decisions that we make as parents about what we expose our kids to are important. At least in the United States, exposing our kids to meditation is a foreign concept.
Q: Have you seen children benefiting from meditation, especially in their ADD scores and things like that?
GH: Well, I consistently recommend it to my patients, but how many of them engage in it consistently and come back is a challenge. So, no, I can’t say that I have seen it reducing ADD scores, but I’ve seen it in my own kids. My son was in high school and he was having a very challenging soccer match that afternoon, and he was very nervous about it. He said, “Dad, I meditated for five minutes and I felt much better and I think it helped me to play well.” I was shocked, not that it worked but that he had actually heard me and did what we had talked about at home. And I do have some kids who come in and say, “Yes, I meditate. I do find it helpful.” I know it works. Often times with kids it’s just about getting the parents to reinforce and make it happen.
I think it’s important that as adults we realize
that children are very smart and they can inculcate
a lot of things if we just speak to them.
We can’t always treat them like babies.
We can talk to them about food, and they’ll understand.
We can talk to them about meditation and mindfulness,
and they will understand. They get it because
they have a better idea, a better concept of it than we do.
Q: Modern lifestyle is out of balance. We eat junk food, we sleep less, and we stress out. We are unbalancing ourselves actively, or even mindlessly or unmindfully. So what is the onething that we can do to understand that we are unbalanced? Second, what can we do to re-balance ourselves?
GH: For them to understand they are imbalanced, ask them some simple questions: “Do you think it’s reasonable not to sleep and expect to have energy? Do you treat your car better than you treat your machine, yourself? You take your car for an oil change every 3,000 miles, you get regular check-ups, and you rotate the tires. What do you do for yourself? What kind of oil are you putting in your engine?”
When I ask those questions they say, “Yes, but I have to do these bad things because I’m so busy. I have kids, it’s my job and all these demands.”
But I gently coax them, “Who put all those demands in your life? Who is this bad person who makes you do all this? You are.”
We are ultimately responsible.
Many of us are so married to our ego. When I say this, people respond, “Are you saying that I am egotistical?” No, we all have an ego, which is never at rest. Ego is always fearing or wanting; it’s always chasing after something or running away from something. So much of our life is spent in the ideology that we have to be a certain thing or drive a certain car or be in a certain club – that’s the ego. If we can separate ourselves from that and really take comfort in silence, take comfort in who we are, take comfort in the simple pleasures of life, life begins to slow down. It has a comfort level and a satisfaction that we are never going to obtain by being married to our ego. We are not going to buy anything from the mall that’s going to make us as happy as the present moment.
So trying to introduce these concepts, which are a natural part of meditation, is a way I can encourage people to eat better, to exercise, but if you are not willing to change your approach to life and take control of it, then I think you’re always going to struggle.
Q: Some people don’t know which meditation system to choose. What would you recommend?
GH: I think there are multiple ways to meditate. I’m a very big fan of the Heartfulness approach, but I also concede that Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation and other forms are all awesome. They are great gateways and they have a lot of commonalities and overlaps. So find a path you are comfortable with. The key is to get in the pool. It’s like exercise: there is no perfect exercise. There are all kinds of ways to move your body. Find out what works for you.
Q: Do you have any advice for young doctors who are coming into the medical field, especially in this age of new diseases, new challenges and new lifestyle choices?
GH: My advice to young people coming into medicine is that we’re are always going to need thoracic surgeons, we’re always going to need emergency room doctors, we need traditional medical doctors, but I would love for every physician out there to have some understanding of integrated medicine. We are not taught that in med school. If somebody is going into family practice or internal medicine or something a little more general, then I would love to insert this in medical school training.
That’s the whole idea of the integrative approach, of using meditation as a tool. I would also love to insert nutritional training. I have some young physicians in residency who are looking at the integrative model, and they talk to their patients about sleep, diet, meditation and exercise. I don’t know what it would take to really implement this on a broader scale other than what Heartfulness is already doing by putting the message out there, and hopefully more and more of my colleagues will grab hold of it.
There is a growing interest. I lecture for the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and also the Metabolic Medicine Institute of the George Washington University, and physicians are coming in to learn about integrative medicine.
Q: I am impressed with the information that we find at www.nih.gov. They publish a number of studies and promote meditation for health.
GH: There is literature out there. There are 120 research articles about MRI studies on people who meditate and seeing changes. That’s pretty hard science. That’s just MRIs, and there are hundreds of other studies. So there is evidence.
Q: What is your take on the heart-brain connection?
GH: You cannot live without either one!
Q: [Laughter] I like this about you – your quick sense of humor!
GH: Life shouldn’t be boring; boring is no fun.
Q: People talk about meditating on the brain, meditating on the heart, meditation affecting the brain, affecting heart rate variability etc.
GH: Everything affects everything. Stress lowers thyroid performance, it lowers sex hormones, it increases blood sugar. It affects your brain and it affects sleep. Heart and brain are just two organs, two pieces of the puzzle, and they are communicating with thousands of signals per minute back and forth.
Meditation impacts the vagus nerve. We have the parasympathetic, our calm, cool, groovy side, and we have the sympathetic side: “Go, go, go! Run, accomplish, take the hill!” Those signals are fed back and forth between the brain and heart on a second-by-second basis. Meditation affects heart rate variability, beat to beat, the time difference between each individual beat. We measure that and see that meditation improves it. I don’t think you can’t separate heart and brain, as they’re so intertwined.
Consciousness and thought are not just in your brain; every cell in your body has a consciousness. When we understand that, we know that every part of our body plays in this. You know we are nothing but a ball of energy. These energies are moving and fluxing in different ways, and often in ways that we can’t even measure. All thought isn’t just in the brain; all parts are communicating in some way.
Q: Do you think meditation helps in relationships?
GH: Oh yes. Relationships are built upon how comfortable and confident I am with myself. If I am stressed and I’m married to my ego and I’ve my own self-doubts and I’m scattered and wanting and fearing, I’m going to be a much more difficult person to have a relationship with. It will be easier to have a relationship with somebody who is calm and can experience joy in the moment.
If you are meditating and calmer, you tend to make better choices.
You tend to be more open to get your work out in that day.
And if you’re ultimately stressed, nothing good happens, nothing changes.
So I think it’s kind of a doorway that pulls you into a better existence.
Q: The ideas of empathy and deep listening are all essential parts of the social skills one needs.
GH: To feel benevolent, have empathy, and understand somebody’s situation, you have to let go of your self focus and open yourself to other people’s experiences. Meditation has helped me do that in my own personal life. I grew up in a loving household with five kids, a mother and a father. You would say, “Ah, it’s a typical American family!” My mom, God bless her, tried hard. She did a lot of good things, but she was a very judgmental person, and I learnt that from a young age. I was pretty harsh in my twenties, with black and white ideas of what the truth is; I wasn’t an open-minded thinker. Learning to meditate has really helped me to morph and change my physiology, to be more benevolent, open-minded and accepting.
Q: That’s an example of how epigenetics affects us. The choices that we make are not the end of the story; we can change who we are and what we do.
GH: Yes, at any point in time!
Q: It is not that we are born with a certain destiny; we can change it.
GH: I agree with that statement 100%. Destiny is whatever you decide it to be. You have infinite control. On a dime you can decide to think in a different way, you can decide to be more open-minded, and it opens doors and changes the path of your life.
Q: What is your simple prescription for everyday life?
GH: That’s a great question. I often tell my patients, “Look, life is really pretty simple; we complicate it. We can make it as complicated or as simple as we like.”
My prescription to you is that we need four basic things to be healthy and happy:
We need good food.
We need sleep as our body detoxifies, our brain recharges itself, our whole body is ready for the new day if it’s given sleep.
We need some basic movement, some exercise. Our body is meant to move.
And the last thing is to manage stress.
If you do those four things your body will function naturally. Simplify your life. Instead we are more than happy to overcommit, overstretch, overstress, eat garbage, and do all the wrong things.
Managing stress means letting go. Managing stress means meditation and exercise. Those are the things we do to manage stress, because the opposite of stress is the pursuit of passion. Pet the puppy, hug your wife, be with your children, fish if you like fishing, but do something that makes you giggle, do something that makes you smile. There has to be that pursuit of passion to offset the other side of the equation. That’s my prescription.
Interviewed by VICTOR KANNAN
May 31, 2019
May 31, 2019
May 31, 2019