It's easy to think of meditation as a "bit woo" and "not really doing much". But this simple tool has powerful benefits for both your health and your happiness.
Dr Orlena chats to Dr Rachel Beanland about her "meditation journey" and how it's helped her create her "amazing healthy life".In this podcast you will learn:
- The role of meditation in the prevention of diseases
- Meditation as a great way to relax and perceive things with more clarity
- The science behind meditation and its amazing benefits
- Two types of meditation
- How meditation can help both healthy and chronically ill individuals
- How meditation improves sleep
- Meditation as an important tool for self care
- Finding a type of meditation that works for you
- The obstacles of meditation and how to overcome them
- How meditation doesn't have to be perfect to be beneficial
- How to start meditating
- The role of meditation during the pandemic
Transcript of Interview with Dr Rachel Beanland
Dr Orlena: Rachel. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Rachel: It's great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.Dr Orlena: So just a little background. We went to medical school together so many years ago. Can you just give us a start by giving us just a little background of what you were doing and how you've come to meditation?
Dr Rachel: You're right. We were at university together. I did a very traditional start to my medical career. I worked in hospital medicine, adult medicine for a period of time. I loved it. I loved being in that environment. I really enjoyed being in clinical medicine.But I also had an ongoing passion for infectious diseases and that had come actually from my medical training. And when I was doing my elective in South Africa, I happened to be in an environment where they were piloting at the time antiretrovirals for women who were pregnant for prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV.
Prevention is Better than Cure When It Comes to Diseases
Dr. Rachel: That sparked something in me to think about. Medicine from a different aspect and to think more about prevention. And so this has kind of always been there in my mind and as I started to practice clinical medicine, I've realized that a lot of people were coming back into the wards that I was seeing.
And I could see that there was a lot of illness and morbidity that was preventable and it started me sort of thinking a little bit in a different fashion and how I could get more involved in that. So I made a decision to start my public health career and I trained in public health in the UK.
Through that it was a great training to be able to identify lots of different skills I could take forward in terms of looking at population health. Looking at preventative medicine and looking at interventions that could be effective and really understanding how those interventions could be put into practice.
And I continue to work in public health, which has been fantastic. It's given me lots of opportunities to work at different levels, nationally, regionally, and globally. And I really enjoy that aspect of my work. And interestingly, at the same time that my public health career started and I made a shift to alternative medicine.
I also started to notice a shift in myself in terms of how I was looking at the world around me. And starting to be a bit more conscious about the decisions that I was making. And at the same time, I started to explore yoga and yoga became something that I started to do much more regularly and that went on to lead me to become a yoga teacher and I now share that with other people.
Getting into Meditation is a Great Way to Relax
Dr Rachel: I'd always seen meditation as part of yoga. And I would always do a bit of meditation as part of my yoga practice. I would join in at the beginning of the end, but I often saw meditation as something a bit mystical.
I did some work in Nepal for a period of time and I would watch people meditating and think, “Wow, how can they achieve the ability to sit like this. How can they be still? And how have they managed to get that sense of contentment and stillness?”
But I always thought it was really other people that were doing it. And I never really thought I could do that myself. I think that's quite common that a lot of people sort of see it as something a little bit different, a little bit mystical, but over the last, I would say probably the last three or four years, I've started to explore meditation much more for myself.
That happened when I was very fortunate to be trained by yoga teachers who were very passionate about meditation and to be around people who made it very accessible. They explained the process, explained the benefits of it, explained the discomfort, the enjoyment of it, and made it very easy for me to try it myself.
I've come now to a point where it's really key for me to continue meditating. My practice is always evolving and I'm always intrigued to try different types of meditation and different ways of meditating. I continue to kind of push the boundary for myself and explore, but I would say it's really part of my day-to-day life.
Using Meditation Day-to-day Gives You Clarity
Dr Rachel: Meditation has given me skills to be able to use some of the things I do in meditation when I need them most in day to day parts of my life. Like if I'm very stressed or I'm going through a challenging moment, it's something that I will go to. For me, it's a sense of calm, faith and incredible clarity that I can give myself by doing something very simple of just sitting and being.
Meditation Makes You Perceive Things with More Clarity
Dr Orlena: Before we get into all of the benefits and the obstacles of meditation, can you give us a picture of how your life felt before you started meditation and the bigger picture of how it is now. The before and after the effect that it has had on your life.
Dr Rachel: Before my mind was always hectic. I know that I find it very difficult to be in the present moment. And I replay events that have happened in the past. And I also look at events that are going to happen in the future. My head was always, always full of these things and it is still sometimes now. Sometimes I have to continually bring myself back to the present.
The difference is before I found that that was actually making me feel very frustrated and angry inside, like I was always feeling like I was battling against the world around me. And even if my life was very happy. I was progressing through my career, I was enjoying my life. I had a wonderful relationship with my husband and we were doing all the things we want to do in life. I still felt this inner sense of facile, this frustration and what meditation has done for me is just taking that away a little bit.
It's like opening a set of curtains. Before I could see through the curtain, but just the light. Now the curtains have been pulled away and I can feel everything more clearly. And so even though life still brings us challenges, it's just given me that ability to see things clearer.
Now I can observe how I am in the world much more than I was before. So I know from a Yogi perspective, we talk a lot about the sort of doing and the being. And I think that's what it shifted for me before I was doing, doing, doing, and my thoughts were doing, doing, doing, and now I'm able to be much more.
Meditation Offers You Calm Amidst the Storm
Dr Orlena: That's really interesting and I would echo that. One of the things that I see in my life is I have four young children who are full of huge, great, emotions all the time. And obviously these emotions clutter around the four of them bouncing off each other and I'm affected by these big emotions.
My adult brain just wants to calmly get on with whatever it is I want and to do. I find that meditation for me is like a little oasis of calm in this noise and clutter and big emotions that my children are busy throwing around. I can just go and hide in my bedroom and enjoy this peace and calm, even though I'm aware that all that noise and stuff is going on now no longer affects me.
I can still be here in very close proximity to them, but without it amplifying within myself. So it's interesting, isn't it? How we have slightly different benefits, but also kind of similar.
The Science Behind Meditation and It's Amazing Benefits
Dr Orlena: Can you tell us a little bit about the science behind meditation because there is actually loads of research about it and how it has big benefits to our health.
Dr Rachel: I think it’s super important that we look at the science and I think it can tell us so much because like you say, it is evolving, but there is already a lot of evidence that has been conducted.
I think one of the things to think about with meditation is there are so many different types of meditation, but actually the principles of meditation and the way that the physiological effects on our body of meditating are pretty much the same with all those different types of meditation.
We are slowing down our breathing. We're focusing by doing that, we're slowing down our heart rate. So as we're reducing those, a person's parasympathetic nervous system is being activated. So those physiological principles generally will happen for most types of meditation.
Dr Orlena: Can you explain what a parasympathetic nervous system is? I know that we've been to medical school, but do you just want to explain it for people who don't know what it is?
Dr Rachel: People have heard about the fight and flight response. So when we're really anxious and we're stressed and we have a natural response to increase our heart rate, to increase the adrenaline in our bodies, to be able to respond to something.
And that has come from a really sort of primordial response in us that if we were being chased by an animal, we could respond quickly.
What we want to try and do with meditation is the opposite there to try to really induce the states of relaxation in the body. By doing the inverse of that, what we can do with an activate the nervous system in our body that calms and reduces all of those heightened alert to push it back into that state of relaxation?
Two Types of Meditation. Both are Great!
Dr Rachel: There’s a lot of evidence which has been done particularly on two types of meditation.
One is the transcendental meditation that people may have heard of. This was really quite trendy back in the seventies and eighties. And so as the medical research progress, people did a lot of evaluation on what that type of meditation looked like and what impacts it gave people.
Transcendental Meditation is Taking a Step to Another Level
In transcendental meditation, the idea of that is you're transcending. And from a Yogi perspective, you're sort of transcending into your next level of consciousness.
And you're reaching this samadhi, which is like being in the way we talk about the conscious and the subconscious, but it's another level. Like taking a step to the end of the level.
Mindfulness-based Practice is a Structured Way of Meditation
The other meditation that has a lot of evidence on is around mindfulness based practice. And that's also because it's been a very structured way of delivering meditation.
People may have heard about MBSR, which is mindfulness based stress reduction. There's lots of those mindfulness based practices, which contain meditation in them.
You will find that those two predominantly fill up a lot of the research space, but increasingly there are trials and studies on the use of yoga and meditation, the use of walking meditation, lots of different techniques and types, but I think the message is that they all will induce the same physiological effect over time.
Meditation Can Help Alleviate Symptoms of Chronic Illness
When you look at the evidence, what we do know is that there can be really useful and healthy people. And they can also be really useful as an additional therapy in people who have chronic illness.
There's lots of evidence coming through with people who have chronic pain or who are going through treatments with cancer and how those meditation therapists can be used in addition to clinical treatments, to support and to achieve different outcomes for those groups.
Meditation Helps Healthy Individuals As Well
If we look at the healthy person, so someone who is not taking other medications doesn't have any chronic illnesses, then the main benefits of meditation for them are, reducing stress and reducing anxiety. As well as, increasing that sense of being mindful and present in the world around you. Improving sleep quality and looking at, reducing insomnia. And also one that I find really fascinating is improving cardiovascular health.
Those are the key areas I really like to think about in terms of benefit, because I think there are things that all of us would love to improve in our life. We all want to be less stressed. We all want to have less anxiety, be a bit more present and mindful and sleep is part of our,, balanced life and healthy life, as well as thinking about our overall cardiovascular health.
So those are the key areas and it's been shown in many different types of groups that by doing meditation, you can improve your levels of stress. Be happier in the moment that you are. And this has particularly been shown in different workplace environments. Say when you're looking at health care workers, the levels of stress will reduce.
As with any study and this is where my public health brain comes in. The difficulty is that we're measuring a group for a period of time. You will find is many of the evidence that is out there that you get a better outcome and you'll see much more benefit by repeating the meditation over a longer period of time.
Some of the research has not gone on for a long enough to show a great benefit, but there's lots of indication that by regularly meditating, with simple meditation practices, you can really improve some of your health and wellbeing measurements very easily.
Meditation Improves Sleep
Dr Orlena: I would like to just add sleep, of course, is one of my four pillars and very, very important. But when we talk about meditation for sleep, it doesn't have to be that I'm going to do a relaxation to go to sleep. It can be, if I do 10 minute meditation in the middle of the day, it can also benefit me. And the way I see this is. The vast majority of people who have problems with sleep it's because your brain is busy worrying.
You know, you wake up, which is part of normal sleep. And then suddenly your brain is like “cling” and you're going through your to-do list or your, you know, as you say, going through things that have happened in the past, and that makes it difficult for us to go back to sleep. But when we train our brains to turn that off and focus on our breathing or just calm down, We can also do that in the middle of the night.
It has that knock on effect of helping us sleep better.
Dr Rachel: I think that's the beauty of meditating is that by meditating regularly, you're able to induce benefits in your own health and wellbeing, but it also gives you that tool to use it like, you've just given with that example of sleep.
Meditating in the morning will help your sleep quality at night time. But also if you wake up in the night, you can use the same technique to try to get yourself back to sleep again. I find that that's an amazing way. It's a tool to be able to use at moments when life is more difficult or more challenging.
Meditation is an Important Tool for Self Care
Dr Orlena: Yeah. When I talk about self care, I think we need, what I call preventative tools. Tools that we're doing regularly, that just stop us from getting into moments of stress, but equally we need those tools for emergency, for when we realize that our anxiety levels or stress levels or anger levels are going higher and meditation can function as both. Is that what you're saying?
Dr Rachel: Yeah, definitely. And I think one of the most fascinating things for me about the science is how people are now able to show that it actually will stop us from getting high blood pressure and reduced our blood pressure.
All of those studies that have been done, particularly with people who haven't developed any signs of heart disease, but also the people that have got some early signs of high blood pressure or they're developing, slightly getting more overweight, whose risk factors are increasing slightly towards developing heart disease in the future. It's amazing that by using meditation, that you can reduce that risk.
That's been endorsed now by the American heart association who actually released a statement saying that because meditation is such an easy tool to employ it's cheap, it's easy and accessible that actually it should be considered in the whole host of other things we do to prevent people from getting heart disease.
And I think that's an incredibly powerful statement to come out from, a body, which has realized that we can do things for ourselves as individuals, which will have an impact on our individual health. They may not be the only thing. And like you said, if you package it as part of your self care, then it becomes something that you do and you continued lifelong.
Dr Orlena: Yes. And no side effects as well.
Dr Rachel. Exactly. I think very few of the studies have got any side effects.
Find a Type of Meditation that Works for You
Dr Rachel: I recently wrote a blog about apps and the use of mindfulness apps. And I think it is important that we're slightly mindful of our use of different mindful apps. I think it's very important that if you are considering doing that, that you also discuss with your clinician and your health professional as to how that looks and the best ones to try that have actually been evaluated and appropriate for you because the potential side effect is that it can cause other thoughts to come through your mind.
And so it is important that if you are going to go through that process, that you are able to deal with whatever comes up. That would be the only thing I would say is that if people are thinking about adding meditation, they find it very uncomfortable. Or they're adding it as on top of other things that they're doing for their own chronic conditions.
It's just important to find out the right type of meditation for you that feels really comfortable. And from my own experience, I think it's great to try different types because at different points in your life, you may find that they're easier or they give you more benefit.
It's sort of not one size fits all type approach.
The Obstacles of Meditation and How to Overcome Them
Dr Orlena: What are some of the obstacles that people encounter when they think about meditation?
Dr Rachel: I was saying about this sort of mystical effect approach. I think everyone's idea of meditation is you must sit still and you must empty your head.
And the problem is if you try to do that to your body, it's probably the opposite effect that's going to happen. It's a little bit like when we think, oh, I don't want to eat chocolate and all you can think about then is chocolate.
A lot of people talk about, you know, quietening the mind and bringing yourself to silence.
And there are some things that you can do to just come into that observer role. And so one of the things that I think has really helped me is when you come to do meditation, if you think you're going to be fidgety and you're someone that moves a lot, do a few simple yoga poses before you meditate, because actually yoga and the process of all the yoga was designed to get you to that final state of relaxation, your Shavasana, when you're laying flat in corpse space.
Doing a few little movements beforehand, doing a couple of poses, just simple poses on the ground where you're stretching or moving a body. You will find that your body actually can sit still much easier. So that can really help with that sort of fidgetiness.
The other thing is not to be so strict with yourself.
If you find that during your meditation, you need to move and you are just distracted by that ache in your leg. Let yourself move. You don't have to sit there. No one is watching you. And by just simply stretching and bringing your leg back in or taking a twist, you can really find that you can just continue. You've dealt with the distraction and you've come back to it.
The other thing are the distractions and people will find that they will have distractions based with their thoughts but also things around them. And so, as you explained about sort of going into another room, taking yourself away from the distractions, I think that can be a really physical thing that people can do to give themselves that quiet.
I've sometimes meditated with big earphones on like I've got today just to block out noise. Even using an eye mask can really help just to block out all that stimuli. That's creating all these little thoughts and all these little firing of neurons going on in our brains.
Then I think when you're meditating itself, people are sort of thinking, oh, I’m thinking I shouldn't be thinking. What I would say is try to be that observer.
And so if something comes up, just say, that's a thought I'm going to let it go. Try not to be hard on yourself. Try not to bring that expectation that you should achieve something when you're meditating, because you will achieve the opposite if you do that.
I think there's definitely something about creating the right environment and then really giving yourself permission to let it happen and to let your thoughts be and let your body meditate. And explore because, that's, that's part of the practice. Is it flourishing and trying things
Meditation Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beneficial
Dr Orlena: I would say as well, I do my meditation when my children are around and my children, they fall out with each other, get upset with each other, but when that happens, they're announced, sort of come and sit on my lap quietly. They know that I'm just going to carry on meditating. And actually I find it really helps to calm them down.
So they might come and sit on my lap. And then disappeared. They're ready to go back. Obviously for me, that makes my meditation look slightly different than I had anticipated, but that's okay. It's still meditation and as you say, it's not perfect.
I've been some outer experience, but I'm still not reacting to them in the same way that I would if I was trying to help them sort out their problem.
And actually I think it really benefits them because it allows them to calm down and then go and sort out their own issues.
How to Start Meditating
Dr Orlena: If somebody's listening to this and they think, okay, I would love to start meditating. How do I give it a go? How do I start?
Dr Rachel: I would say try a little bit first.
Don't set yourself a huge goal. I think that's the first thing. So start small.
There are lots of apps out there. And one that I really like is insight timer because insight timer has a huge community on there. And it's also been shown actually that from lots of studies that by meditating with other people, we can get a greater benefit of some of these things into our own wellbeing.
And so what the insight timer does is, it'll tell you the other people who are meditating around you, and it's a really nice way to feel that you're actually doing it with other people.
You can try guided meditations. And I would say that's a nice way to start. So listening to someone talking through, and they may simply start by focusing on the breath or focusing on different parts of the body.
I think just starting to listen to that and starting to create your own ritual really. It's a little bit like you were saying you have a way of going to where you go for your meditation in a way of how you interact.
For anyone who's meditating, I think is starting to set up that little practice for yourself where you are going to sit in a certain way. You're going to try it in a certain room, try some guided meditations to start with and then just slowly build up. Try a couple of days in a week or try once a week and then see how you feel works for you and give yourself that flexibility to try something can realize that, you know, some things will feel very strange and some things will feel great.
If you're someone with a busy mind hearing, something to begin with will really help eventually it might be very nice to sit in silence and that can be very good for a lot of people. But I would say if you're someone who's worried that you're going to get lots of thoughts and listening to something, whether that's a mantra or the guided meditations is a great place to start to begin with.
There are lots of apps out there, but I really like insight timer.
Dr Orlena: Do you have meditations on the insight timer?
Dr Rachel: I've actually just starting to put some meditations on there. People can also listen to some of my guided meditation and I've got a few guided meditations on my website as well.
They're all really short because the way I started with meditation was just, five minutes, 10 minutes. And I think that's a really good way to start. You know, you can build up as much as you like, and. In my own practice, I've gone on to do three days of meditation, silent retreats, and sitting for hours at a time.
Which was fascinating, but that's not for everybody. And I think that's taking them the mystery, but to take the mystery out of the meditation and really just find something that works for you, because you don't have to tell anyone what you do when you meditate. It's actually just finding something that gives you that space, that clarity and gives you all the benefits that we know are there for meditation.
Dr Orlena: How can people find you on the insight timer? The insight timer is a free app that you can download. And I think they've got a paid section, but they've got so many, they've got thousands and thousands of free ones, including I have to put one whole meditation on there.
It's how to stop overeating meditation. But where can they find you on the insight timer?
Dr Rachel: Rachel Beanland and you should be able to find me sit straight on there, or you can go to my website, which is www.resilienceyoga.fr. All my meditations are on SoundCloud, but there's a link there from my website to take you directly to those.
Dr Orlena: I would add as well. I've tried a lot of the different apps. And the one that I'm loving at the moment is the balance app. And they actually have a free year's membership, which they're giving out at the moment. But what I love about it is it does exactly what you say.
It starts off by giving you guided meditations, and then it allows you to have a little bit more space and a little bit more space. So it's just something that I found worked for me.
Dr Orlena: Tell everyone about your site and what services you have on your site and how they can find you.
Dr Rachel: resilienceyoga.fr is my site. And I am a yoga teacher as well as a mindfulness meditation teacher. I like to combine both of those share about how yoga and meditation has enabled me to be much more conscious about the decisions I make in my life. Say whether that's decisions in my career, but also decisions I take in everyday life.
On the website, you can find my meditations. You can also find a link to my podcast, Authentic Tea, which shares lots of stories of other women who are medics, who have been through medical training and become doctors, shared all their stories about how they're finding different, exciting paths in their own life.
Meditation during the Pandemic Reduced Stress Levels
Dr Rachel: One of the things that's also there, which is actually, I was meant to mention is that during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Happiness Research Institute did a big cross-sectional study of how people were managing at home in the pandemic and what people were using as tools through lockdown.
And they published their results from that survey and found six different actions. And so I've got a little toolkit on the website, which goes through those six actions and gives you some examples and one of those is about meditating.
They showed that during the lockdown and during times where people are really restricted during the pandemic, meditation is a great way to increase your levels of happiness and wellbeing.
You can find that on there and all the information to that survey, which I think shows the power of a very simple tool that we can use when times get more challenging and difficult for us.
Dr Orlena: Absolutely. I remember that first day. Oh, such a long time ago now, but we've just been told that there was no school and this sort of realization that something really big was happening and it was actually affecting my life. I just remember that day feeding sort of nervous and on edge and being aware of it and going, I just have to go and have an hour to myself and I did some yoga and a bit of meditation and I just came out feeling like “I can deal with this”. It’s different, but we're safe. My family's safe. We can take whatever life throws at us.
Final Words of Wisdom
Dr Orlena: Any last words of wisdom from you?
Dr Rachel: I would say just try these things. If you're intrigued about meditation, give it a go. If it doesn't feel like it's for you right now, that's fine. You know, but I think take away the mystique about it.
I would love to see more people using meditation in their everyday lives and it being part of what we share with people for overall well being, because I think it has such potential to support us as we move through everything that we experience.
- Meditation for Beginners
- Coping With Stress
- The Benefits of Deep Breathing
- How to Get Out of a Negative Rut
Dr Orlena Author Bio
Dr Orlena is a health coach. She helps busy mums go from "I can't lose weight" to feeling fit and fabulous. Find out more about her here.
Connect with Dr Rachel:
Resilience Yoga www.resilienceyoga.fr
Guided meditations on Insight Timer – Rachel Beanlandhttps://insig.ht/MXYbBR1z6gb?utm_source=copy_link&utm_medium=live_stream_share
Resilience Yoga Blog articles:
How to quiet the mind for meditation https://www.resilienceyoga.fr/post/how-to-quiet-the-mind-for-meditation
What are the benefits of meditation https://www.resilienceyoga.fr/post/what-are-the-benefits-of-meditation
Free toolkit https://www.resilienceyoga.fr/toolkit
Dr Orlena's FB Group: