Watch: Dr. Connie Jennings on COVID-19, mindfulness and the healing power of meditation
Connie Jennings, MD, is the medical director for our UK Integrative Medicine & Health program, which focuses on the interaction of mind, body and spirit to treat the whole person. Dr. Jennings shared the following recommendations on how integrative medicine practices such as mindfulness and meditation can help with the physical and mental stress relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch her full video on mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page.
Let’s talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply a way of learning to live in the present moment. And even though I said simply, it's hard to do – it's not an easy task.
Living mindfully means we're engaged and focused on this moment. It takes a little practice to let go of worries and regrets and ruminations. Our brains are programmed to do that for us. But we can learn to let go of some of that and focus on this moment.
When we practice mindfulness in tumultuous times like this, we begin to see our lives more clearly. And when we can see things clearer, we make better decisions. We have longer attention spans. And we stay more focused on the task at hand. We practice mindfulness regularly. We will begin to develop deeper levels of wisdom, patience, and compassion.
One tool that we can use to develop these things is to focus on the mind-body connection. And one of the important components of mind-body health is breathing. Breathing is an important tool that we have with us all the time. It's our most important source of nutrition.
Think about a baby. Watch a chubby, healthy, peaceful baby sleeping in his bed. You'll see that baby breathing deeply. And as he breathes deeply, his belly will pooch out. That's good for us. We need to practice that.
Sometimes, we can do that a little better by just placing one hand on our chest and the other hand on our belly, and just feel your body breathing.
The in breath will take care of itself. Just breathe in. Feel your belly rise, and then focus on exhaling. Your exhale needs a little attention to make it long, and as your exhale gets long, your pulse slows down. Respiratory rate slows down, and blood pressure is lower.
When these things start to happen physiologically, then our brains release endorphins. Endorphins are calming and a way to self soothe.
This is a good way to help yourself fall asleep at night or stand outside a room and take a couple of deep breaths before you have a difficult meeting or presentation. Practice deep breathing.
The healing power of nature
One of the best things we can do to help reduce stress is to get some vitamin N. Vitamin N is nature. Mother nature is healing. There really is something healing for us when we look at blue sky and green grass.
Nature connects in our brain as something that is good. The planet is healthy. We're healthy. There's oxygen. There's food. There's water.
Any time you can, go outside. At the very least, look out a window and get a little blue-green medicine.
When we're outside getting our dose of blue-green medicine, that's a good time to consider trying a little meditation. The definition of meditation is paying attention on purpose without judgment. That's a mouthful – paying attention on purpose without judgment. Walking outside is a good time to practice that. Practice just thinking about the outdoors, the trees, the sky.
Other ways to meditate
There are other ways to meditate. Some people like to sit still. Some like to lie on the floor. We even teach sometimes an eating meditation. Whatever form of meditation that appeals to you is the best meditation.
You may be familiar with Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson is considered one of the winningest coaches in NBA history. Phil thinks his success is because he encouraged his players on all of his teams to meditate. He is convinced that meditation made his players better team members. They looked out for each other better. And they were better at making split-second decisions.
People who meditate are found to be more creative. They solve problems faster. They have lower levels of baseline anxiety. Any level of meditation that you can do will only improve your life.
Integrative medicine and the end of the pandemic
Right now, we're all focused on getting our vaccines for COVID, but I also want to tell you about how the science is growing so rapidly around integrative medicine. It's one of the fastest growing bodies of medicine that we have right now.
There was a study within the last few years that showed us that in people who meditate and then get, in this case, it was a flu vaccine – but let's say any vaccine – the meditators group were found to make more antibodies to the vaccine than the people who did not meditate.
That tells us something. Meditation is good for the body. There is definitely a mind-body link.
There are many modalities in integrative medicine. There must be something that speaks to each of us. These practices only improve our health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to end. Maybe at the end of this, we will all have learned a new tool that will make us more hopeful, more compassionate, more patient and more forgiving.
Watch the full video with Dr. Jennings: