Becoming a doctor and being a doctor are hard work. Once you graduate and begin reaping all the benefits of those long hours of clinical rotations, study, and memorization, you will inevitably be challenged by further mental (and emotional) hurdles in your professional life. Successfully facing these stressful situations is part of the job. Luckily, there are many readily accessible methods, with meditation heralded as one of the most effective.
The popularity of meditation as a natural, life-enhancing activity is growing and so is the evidence in its favor: the mental, emotional, and physical advantages are numerous. Not only can daily practice improve your cognitive and emotional intelligence, it can also relieve pain, prevent insomnia, and lead to molecular changes in the body that promote stress reduction and even increase brain mass. Furthermore, increased academic performance and the ability to cultivate successful, trusting relationships with patients (also known as doctor-patient empathy) are also associated with the benefits of meditation.
If you feel meditation might be right for you, there are many resources at your fingertips to find the perfect practice. For example, free apps like Insight Timer can be downloaded directly onto your mobile device and provide guided meditations for all experience levels.Convenient online classes can also be accessed via secular organizations such as The Interdependence Project, which boasts a vast number of international home-study students and access to many interesting podcasts and videos. Beginning with a minimum of five minutes of practice per day is recommended: the important part is making time for it, just as you would any exercise regime. Devoting time to your own well-being should be a priority
Beginning with a minimum of five minutes of practice per day is recommended: the important part is making time for it, just as you would any exercise regime. Devoting time to your own well-being should be a priority early in your medical studies so that managing stress becomes habitual.
Some descriptions of different practices, newer and older, are listed below. Have fun reading and exploring!
Samatha – One of the original practices taught by the Buddha 2,600 years ago and otherwise known as “calm-abiding” meditation. The focal point in this practice is mindfulness of breathing: this acts as an “anchor” in staying in the present moment and acknowledging discursive thoughts.
Vipassana – Another one of the original practices taught by the Buddha, and also referred to as “clear-seeing” or “insight” meditation. The point of focus is not the breath as in the Samatha method, but moment-to-moment sense experience. You can isolate the senses by focusing more on the experience of sound or vision.
Loving-Kindness – Otherwise known as metta meditation, dating back to the time of the Buddha. Focus is placed on a set of phrases in conjunction with the imagination and memories of people we associate different feelings with, whether it be hate, admiration, or indifference. This is meant to cultivate a strong, non-judgmental, and loving approach to all beings.
Zen – A school of Buddhism that first developed in China in the 5th century and later developed in Japan. It centers on seeing the body, mind, and breath as one entity. Focus begins with the presence of the body, as the body’s position and one’s awareness of his or her own body in turn affects one’s mind and breath. Traditionally practiced while working closely with a teacher.
Yoga – There are many types of yoga, two of the most popular being Kundalini and Bikram. It has its roots in India and ancient Hindu scripture (well before the time of the Buddha) references yoga. Emphasis is placed on asana (body movement) and atman (the self): the awareness of mind and body in tandem help control the body and the senses. Working closely with an instructor is recommended.
Body Scan – Sense perception is used on every inch of the body, normally starting with the feet and slowly working up to the top of the head. Lying down is recommended, as it induces relaxation. This practice is especially good for those with insomnia or chronic pain.
Transcendental – This method is more expensive than other forms of meditation, costing up to $2,500 – an investment that provides access to a teacher and a personalized mantra. Focus is placed on the mantra, to induce a calm and non-reactionary approach to discursive thoughts and emotions. David Lynch is an avid supporter and practitioner. First started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who famously taught The Beatles this practice in India during the late 1960s.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – This practice was developed in the Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabatt-Zinn. This requires an eight-week, intensive training in mindfulness meditation (online classes are available). This method has been added to many hospital programs throughout the U.S. and is growing internationally. Aids in relieving the many medical conditions associated with stress and anxiety.