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Is meditation as helpful as therapy?

[Editor’s Note: We at Headspace love Parsley Health. They, too, are looking to improve the health and happiness of the world. Below, find a piece from their founder, Robin Berzin MD, on one how meditation may be the ultimate preventive healthcare for the mind.]

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I think meditation is better than therapy, or at least, it’s a faster way to change the habitual patterns you’ve been programmed to live out day to day.

I saw a therapist in my early 20s when I was going through a tough breakup, and the interaction was definitely supportive and nurturing at the time. But one thing I will never forget is my therapist saying this: “Most people don’t change through thinking about a problem. They change through powerful experience. It could be travel, falling in love, or losing someone or something close to them. But its experience that changes who we are are as people.” A year or so later, while traveling in India and Nepal during medical school, where I worked with an NGO on a cervical cancer screening initiative, I met people who I would describe as seekers: people who were heavily invested in finding greater awareness in their lives, so that they could change, evolve and improve their lives. It was there that I was introduced to the Buddhist idea that while analyzing problems is useful, our “analyzer” brains are not what change us and that if anything, talking about an issue over and over solidifies the problem in your present reality. So that every time you complain to your mom, or rehash an issue with your friends, or turn a problem inside out with your therapist, you are mentally solidifying that thing in your mind and in your life. I came to agree with this philosophy deeply. And through my own exploration of meditation, I feel I have made the biggest changes in how I think, how self-aware I am, and therefore how I choose to day to day.

I have had a regular yoga practice for about 12 years, which is meditation in motion for me and has helped me achieve both physical and mental self-awareness in the middle of a crazy busy very front-brain driven lifestyle. I have never been back to therapy since those days in my early 20s. I haven’t needed to because meditation helps me deal with the common stresses, anxieties and low moments that we all experience as humans. Meditation is one of those topics that evokes either passionate enthusiasm, blank stares, or repulsion because of its association with woo-woo types in white, and a kind of hokey spiritualism that a lot of us feel is untrustworthy. But the truth about meditation is this: it is a game-changing strategy for improving your life that hits squarely at the intersection of the two things we all want most—balance and performance. We all want to feel grounded, centered and in control. At the same time, we all want to optimize our energy and mental focus so that we can achieve more in a given day. Meditation is the only practice that does both, while simultaneously building gray matter in your brain, a physical restructuring that improves processing and literally paves the way for new ways of thinking.

We are taught to tie our shoes but not to change our moods. The ability to experience our emotions as an observer, without getting caught up in the storm, is a vital skill set we all need, and yet this is not something we are taught as children. The ability to recognize and then reset your own emotional state, and therefore create instant happiness, is a practice meditation teaches us. For me, the best way to see any situation clearly, and to act from a place of calm and clarity, is to first find a place of internal amusement and enthusiasm. An amused, enthusiastic frame of reference is a powerful frame of reference. From here, I can make decisions that are core to who I am, not attached to fear or ego. Meditation is a way to cultivate that frame. I’m a doctor first and foremost and I believe that meditation is medication. Studies show not only that meditation rewires your brain, allowing you to have new thought patterns, it has been shown to decrease health care usage by up to 40 percent. I would guess that this is because when you are aware, you take care of yourself, and you are more in touch with your body. You’re also probably less chronically stressed, and we know that stress causes inflammation and decreased healing. Next week, after Thanksgiving, Parsley Health is doing a Parsley 7 Day detox challenge and a giveaway. It’s a chance to process the food you ate over the holiday and reset. But I would argue a detox done right isn’t just about what you put in your mouth. It’s mental, emotional, and energetic as well, and the people I see have the best results at Parsley across the board are the ones who make meditation a regular part of their lives. This piece originally appeared on Parsley Health.

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