The mind-body connection; how meditation can make you happier and healthier

When I started studying nutrition, I soon realised how much more I needed to know about what makes us healthy. It’s not enough to eat well, we need proper sleep, exercise, less toxins, and most of all, manage our stress levels.

It was this part that intrigued me the most. I had never thought of myself as stressed out. I’ve always been quite balanced, never suffered anxiety or been a worrier. But when I did an adrenal test at college, my cortisol levels were on the floor. This happens when you’ve been so stressed out for years that your adrenals struggle to pump out enough. I thought feeling tired was normal, that it was just part of being a mum and having a career. 

So naturally I got interested in what to do about it. And meditation seemed to be the number 1 cure, so I dived in. By the time I started my Happy Hormones business, I had a regular morning meditation and yoga routine, and loved it. It set me up for my busy day and helped me stay balanced. In fact, whenever I took a break, my kids would gently remind me to get back to it (I was clearly a nicer person when doing it regularly!).

Fast forward to earlier this year and the business is now 10 years old (how fast did that go?) – and there’s no doubt I was feeling a bit jaded. I hadn’t got the energy or stamina I used to have, and was definitely getting more snappy and impatient with everyone. I had an amazing life but wasn't feeling very joyful or appreciative.

Watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 148).

I was scrolling on my phone one day, and discovered that Dr Joe Dispenza, someone I have followed for a while, was running a weekend retreat in Europe (he’s American so this is quite rare). And there were tickets left (also rare, they usually sell out within hours). Before I knew it, I’d booked a ticket!

I'm not usually that impulsive, and I was apprehensive about going on my own, but in researching for my new book I've discovered how important it is to step out of your comfort zone and try new (and unknown) experiences.

The venue is in beautiful Basel, Switzerland, and when I get there on the Friday evening, it’s actually a stadium that looks like the O2! It’s already packed. I had no idea this many people would be there. It’s sold out. A full 8100 people are attending, and they have got there early! There’s hardly any seats left. I grab one and soak in the amazing atmosphere. Turns out there are people there from all over the world, some 79 countries, the furthest being New Zealand. 

The music starts and it feels like a rock concert. Everyone’s dancing and it’s electric. Dr Joe appears and the place goes mad. Now I’m worried this must be some kind of cult!

But then he starts talking and everyone settles down for the serious stuff.

I’m a very logical person, so the sceptic in me is strong. But I’m also very open minded, having seen how holistic medicine has helped so many (including me). And there’s a ton of undisputed evidence of the health benefits of meditation, both physical and mental. 

And Dr Joe’s work is steeped in science. His knowledge of neuroscience and quantum physics is impressive. And he explains it in a way that truly makes sense.

He starts off with epigenetics, how our genes are influenced by our environment. And mainly by how we think. This is how it works; our thoughts create emotions, which then create chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) that inform our cell behaviour and switch genes on or off. 

Let’s break that down. So you have a simple thought like ‘I’m looking old today’ (this is one I have frequently), that triggers a feeling in your body of sadness or low self esteem, which signals your brain to release stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol) which travel to your cells and switch on genes that create imbalance (inflammation, etc). The emotion of sadness or low self worth then creates more thoughts about how old you look, and the vicious cycle begins. And this can go on for years, with every new thought reinforcing the emotion until it becomes an automatic programme, running from your subconscious. And now we’re more at risk of imbalance and disease.

And this is just one train of thought. We might have hundreds of negative thoughts or complaints every day, relating to what we see on our social media, the news, how we interact with our partner, family, boss, colleagues, worries about money, health, relationships or work stresses – the list goes on. Imagine all those negative loops running every single day! 

The good news is that the reverse is also true. If we think positive thoughts, like ‘I look good today’ or ‘I love my life’ or simply being grateful for something, it creates feelings of love, gratitude, joy, which then tells your brain to release happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones can switch on genes that promote health and balance.  And now we have a ‘virtuous’ cycle where we not only feel happy but we are literally creating health in our bodies. The mind is totally connected to and in sync with the body in a positive way.

When we’re constantly stressed (ie modern life), our brain is operating in high BETA wavelengths, neurons firing off left right and centre as it perceives the stresses in our lives as threats or dangers – just as in the old days we were being chased by predators, modern day stressors are responded to with the same fight or flight system. The brain is in a state of incoherence – it’s no wonder that we find it hard to focus or be creative when we’re stressed.

In survival mode, all our energy and resources are directed to the front line emergency services. There’s very little energy left for vital internal jobs like rest, repair, rebuilding and replenishment. 

So, when we feel negative emotions such as anxiety, overwhelm, depression, frustration, anger, loneliness, unworthiness, guilt, and more, we’re not only turning on genes that promote disease, but also restricting resources designed for our digestion, sleep, immunity, heart health, brain function and ultimately our longevity. 

And these emotions keep us stuck in the past, blaming others, our environment or circumstances for how we feel (eg job, family, partner, finances, past trauma, etc). When we live according to our past stories and limiting beliefs, we get stuck in a negative loop and wonder why nothing changes.

If we can get out of that BETA high stress mode and let go of our old identities and limiting beliefs, we can start to create some new beliefs and thoughts. This can then help us access happiness and health from within us rather than externally, but also turn on health promoting genes and give our bodies the resources it needs to function properly day to day. 

Now, if only it were as easy as just closing your eyes and thinking a few positive thoughts (as some will have you think). You can’t just think positively if you FEEL negatively. You have to match the thought with the feeling for the body to get the message. Otherwise nothing changes.

That’s where meditation comes in. When you’re truly in the present moment, you’re not thinking from the past (your memories and limiting beliefs), or from your predictable future (you can’t create a new future when your mind is in the past). Letting go of your current reality opens you up to create new possibilities. You get into a mental space of nothing – or as Joe says become ‘no body’, ‘no one’, ‘no thing’, ‘no where’ and in ‘no time’.  This is where your brain waves get more coherent. Out of BETA and into ALPHA, then THETA and if you’re good at it, DELTA and GAMMA. But just getting into Alpha, you can start to access your subconscious mind and send it new messages. You can literally turn on feelings of peace, joy and happiness whatever your outer circumstances. 

Phew, Ok that was just the first evening session! By the time Saturday afternoon comes around, I’m ready to put this in to action. The first meditation gets underway. Now I’ve done some meditating in my past, but nothing like this. I’ve got 8099 other people in the room with me, and the energy is palpable. A few minutes in, and my body is reacting, finding a reason to stop. But that’s the work, it’s all about taming the body when it wants to give up. And it does! My neck was screaming at me, my bum was numb, I was ready to kick the woman in front of me who was coughing every few minutes. But the secret of meditation is to stay with it. To ignore the body protesting. Stay in the ‘nothing’ and relax into it. Get past that and you’ll get the rewards. By the end I was feeling amazing. 

The final day was even better. From 8.30am to 8pm, we really put the science into practice, and by the final meditation, the whole room was literally bursting with love and new possibility. We witnessed so many stories of how people had transformed their lives, and their health (including many with serious health conditions), that there was no doubt this thing worked. Our inner world has so many of the answers we seek, we just need to tap into it.

My weekend experience only really hit me on my flight home. For the whole flight I had tears rolling down my face. I felt so much love and gratitude, it was literally pouring out of me! I must have looked a state, but I didn’t care. I really can’t describe it other than a feeling of pure joy.

And now I’m back in the real world, I want to keep hold of it. So I’m committed to doing a meditation practice every single day, no exception. If it makes me feel this good, AND it helps keep me healthy, why wouldn’t I?

If you’d like to learn more about Dr Joe’s work, I highly recommend his books, particularly ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself', and you can try out any of his meditations on YouTube, or check out his website for details of his retreats and other resources.

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