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Why Meditation?

With Eric Jeffers

Season 4, Episode 4 | September 28, 2021

Just as you train your body, it’s important to also train your brain. Meditation is a powerful tool we can use to become more aware, compassionate, and focused — in as little as a few minutes a day. In this mini episode, Eric Jeffers, yoga and meditation Master Trainer at Life Time, explains the strength of meditation and offers simple tips anyone can use to get started.

Eric Jeffers is a yoga Master Trainer, yoga boutique manager, and meditation teacher at Life Time in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

In this mini episode, Jeffers suggests those who are looking to get started with meditation try these tips:

  • Choose an object of meditation. For most people, that’s the breath.
  • Sit comfortably.
  • Pay attention to your breath. You may feel your breath as movement in your belly, ribs, and chest, or notice it as the air moving just below your nose.
  • Any time you realize your attention has wandered, observe that without judgement, and guide your focus back to your breath.
  • Continue for as long as you wish. It’s best to start small, say for five minutes, working your way up to longer stretches.

“It’s literally just doing that over and over and over again,” says Jeffers. “The changes start to accrue with consistency more than intensity. So don’t try to meditate for an hour and a half once a week; meditate for five minutes a day every morning. There’s more benefit — and it’s a much easier path — that way.”

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Transcript: Why Meditation?

Season 4, Episode 4  | September 28, 2021

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, Life Time’s national digital performer brand leader. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode, we’ll break down the various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond, who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

In this mini-episode, we’re talking about meditation and mindfulness with Eric Jeffers, a master yoga and meditation teacher at “Life Time” Laguna Niguel in California. Eric, let’s kick right off with the art of meditation. Tell us a little bit about what it is.

Eric Jeffers

Oh. [LAUGHS] It’s a big question, and yet, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Because sometimes, the most powerful things that we can do can be summed up in single words and then you could take a lifetime to explore them, right? Like, one of the biggest things we all do here is we learned to move, we learned to sweat, we learned to use our bodies. So you move, and yet, when you start to break that down into pieces, it’s practically infinite.

So it’s the same with meditation. Generally, though, when people use that word, they’re referring to a set of techniques that are very old and from multiple traditions that we use to train the mind the same way you train the body. So there are lots of different techniques that you might use. You might call them all meditation even though they’re all very different. But one way or another, they have to do with learning to control where your attention is.

Jamie Martin

How is meditation different from mindfulness?

Eric Jeffers

That’s an excellent question. So meditation is– again, part of the challenge is translation. A lot of these traditions are really old. So when we use the word “meditation,” we’re referring to collective practices. Mindfulness is an interesting concept because it is a lot more specific. When we say mindfulness, we’re referring to a state of mind described in meditation traditions that has to do with non-judgmental awareness. So literally speaking, mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word “sati.”

Pali is one of the ancient languages of North India, similar to Sanskrit, spoken 2,500 years ago. And “sati” translates into something like mindful awareness, or remembering, you even can say. So the idea is that you’re aware of your experience, whatever it is you’re noticing, just, your life as it’s happening, without judging it, without reaching for something or trying to prevent something else. So in other words, you can also define mindfulness as by comparing it to its opposite. When we’re lost in thought, when we’re anticipating the future, or holding on to the past, or clinging to some experience, this is not mindful. So mindfulness is the ability to be in your experience as it unfolds without resisting one part of it or clinging to another.

David Freeman

Well, the beautiful part about meditation, or even when we speak about mindfulness, is the uniqueness to each individual and what that means to them, and what they might be going through. So what are some of the benefits that you’ve personally seen and also helped others see within their personal meditation?

Eric Jeffers

Great question. So the benefits of meditation and mindfulness both are myriad. There’s so many things, and it is a lot. Using the analogy to training the body is a really good one. We physically train, and that training might be a little bit difficult. Like, working with a trainer is sometimes very challenging because that person is driving you to be uncomfortable, but then the rest of the day, and in fact sleeping that night, getting up the next morning, you’re actually more at ease in your body. You’re resting heart rate goes down when you start stressing your cardiovascular system. The mind is no different.

So, generally, when we’re not attending to or paying attention to how we use our minds all day, they, like the body, get a little out of shape. They get unfocused. They get scattered. And this starts to cause us all kinds of problems. So when one learns meditation practices, it’s not that you’re necessarily trying to relax in that moment. It’s that the challenge that you’re setting for yourself, in learning to control your attention, pays off later. The same way your resting heart rate goes down when you start working out regularly, the resting condition of your mind starts to change when you build its ability to stay concentrated, stay focused, stay at ease, stay equanimous.

Equanimous meaning non-reactive observations. It’s an obscure word, “equanimity.”

[LAUGHTER]

Jamie Martin

I love it. So when many people come to meditation, or when they think of meditation, they think of sitting with their eyes closed.

Eric Jeffers

Yeah.

Jamie Martin

But let’s talk about that a little bit. Because there are many different ways to meditate and be aware, right?

Eric Jeffers

Absolutely. Well, in fact, you hit on something exactly right. In theory, eventually, it’s whatever you’re doing.

Jamie Martin

Right.

Eric Jeffers

It just — yeah, so whatever activity you’re in your life, whether it’s — in Japan, they say “chopping wood, carrying water.” Eventually, it’s your everyday tasks, the things, interactions with loved ones, all of it can become part of your practice of remaining aware, remaining compassionate, remaining focused. To train the mind in that way, sometimes, though, it does help to simplify what’s happening. So we might sit comfortably in a chair. Many people sit cross-legged on the floor because that’s more comfortable for their bodies.

You can, though, learn meditation standing, walking, lying down, sitting. And then eventually, of course, any activity can be meditation. We can enter a sort of flow state doing anything, any physical activity, any activity in which our minds and bodies are engaged. In many traditions, meditation is associated with tasks like cooking, or making tea, or painting, or archery.

But, yeah, in the beginning, the reason it’s associated with sitting, or lying down, or maybe something simple like walking is because we are actually asking ourselves to do something that’s very challenging. So by narrowing what’s happening, it makes it easier to pay attention to where your mind goes, where your attention is.

David Freeman

You just used a term that stands out to me, and probably a lot of individuals that are listening right now. “Flow state.” Can you dive a little bit deeper into what that is?

Eric Jeffers

Yeah. So, yeah, I wish I had at the top of my head who coined that term. But it’s a common enough one. Do you know?

Jamie Martin

Yeah, I think it’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Is that right? Is that the right name? That’s another one.

Eric Jeffers

I’m not sure. That’s amazing. Yeah.

David Freeman

Yeah.

Jamie Martin

That’s one name I know.

Eric Jeffers

Another episode, another episode.

[LAUGHTER]

Eric Jeffers

One of the ones I always think of, believe it or not, like — [LAUGHS] at my age, so the ’90s Bulls are like my reference for basketball. But Jordan, Michael Jordan, would talk about how when he was at peak performance, there was no one else there. He would hear the sound of his breath. He would know where the ball is without looking. Like that ability to be so enmeshed in what you’re doing, you can’t define where you are and where the thing you’re doing ends or begins.

So it’s a sort of loss of awareness of judging your activity, and becoming so engaged in it that it’s hard to say where the person doing it ends and the thing being done begins. So it’s very hard to define, but it’s peak performance times. There is a body of evidence growing that says that regular practice of meditation can help people more easily enter flow states. So it’s not that you’re straining, because that’s the whole idea, I think, of flow states. When people talk about those peak performance moments, it’s not that you can make it happen. That’s the whole point. Trying to make it happen actually prevents it from happening. It’s a softening in to whatever it is you’re doing that you’re not there judging it as successful or unsuccessful. You’re just doing it.

And so meditation has been shown to help people enter this state more easily and more often. And it is certainly — all sorts of states of being might come up when one is meditating, and that’s certainly one of them. But it’s almost as if that’s just this wonderful side effect of this very simple activity you do. Again, I know I use it a lot, but it’s analogous to what we do with the body. Like, you don’t expect doing some simple exercise is going to dramatically change how you feel the whole day. It’s the same with the mind. You take 15, 20 minutes to train your mind the same way you take an hour to train your body and your whole life changes.

David Freeman

I want to take that analogy and that reference as far as Jordan and the ’90s Bulls to something that recently just happened as far as with Giannis and the Bucks winning. And he had this amazing quote as far as the ego being the past, the future being pride. And he said, being present, that’s humility, and that’s where I live in. I live in the moment. So just being in the moment and observing and knowing what it is that you’re doing versus trying to focus on what I’ve already done and what I’m trying to do, he — and it led to a championship. So that’s powerful.

Eric Jeffers

That’s an amazing quote. I’m like, just give me a moment to write this down.

[LAUGHTER]

Jamie Martin

Make sure you use that.

Eric Jeffers

That’s incredible. The ego being the past. That is it. Yeah. So the part of the mind actually– again, meditation being studied with traditional scientific methods is still relatively new, but one of the things that has been shown is a lowering in the activity of what’s called the default mode network. The default mode network in the brain are the parts of the brains that we go to when we’re not paying attention to what’s happening.

So when you’re lost in thought, when your mind’s wandering, when you’re not paying attention to the person speaking to you, the default mode network is activated. The default mode network is associated with rumination, with thinking about the past, anticipating the future. It’s associated with negative self-thoughts, like things that where we’re thinking about ourselves as separate from our experience. So that idea that the ego is the past maps on really well with meditation.

David Freeman

Wow.

Eric Jeffers

Because the past has passed. What’s happening right now is what’s happening right now. And especially for a high performance athlete, if you’re thinking about what happened a few moments before, well, you’re missing the present moment. There’s no way to climb out of that hole. Yeah, that’s a great analogy.

Jamie Martin

So if somebody wants to start meditation, or they’re interested in figuring out how to incorporate that into their lives, what are the recommendations you have for just getting started with meditation?

Eric Jeffers

Absolutely. It’s really simple in a way. You choose an object of meditation. For most people, the most useful is the breath. And this, over so many of the traditions, the breath is used as the object of meditation because it transcends language. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. It transcends culture, and any ideas of what’s right and wrong. Everyone’s breathing, right?

Jamie Martin

Right.

Eric Jeffers

So you choose an object of meditation, so let’s say the breath, and you sit comfortably. If you’re sitting in a chair, you can sit with your feet on the floor, hands on your lap, or on the arms of the chair. If you sit comfortably on the floor cross-legged, that’s fine. You can sit with your back against something. But sitting is the best place to start. It simplifies what you’re doing.

Then, you try to pay attention to the breath. If you feel the breath as the movement of the belly, and ribs, and chest, or if you feel the breath is the air moving just below your nose, either one. And any time you notice that your attention has wandered, you just observe that, without judgment, say, oh look, my mind has wandered, and you guide it back to the breathing. And it’s literally that, over and over and over again.

At first, what happens is people think, oh, I must be terrible at it because I keep noticing how my mind is wandering constantly. And what’s beautiful about that is that’s them describing getting good at it very quickly. Because the problem with being lost in thought is that we’re lost in thought. We don’t know we’re thinking. So if you’re sitting there, really aware of like, oh, my mind is going so fast. That’s great. That means you’ve noticed what’s happening. Calmly guide your attention back to your breath. It’s that simple. And you start small.

It’s actually better to start small. Again, to go back to the analogy of using the body. Those people– if you haven’t worked out in a few weeks, and you go and go to the gym for two hours, and then can’t work out for five days because you overdid it. Start smaller and work up. So 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 at the most in the beginning.

Jamie Martin

Right.

Eric Jeffers

But, yeah, like five minutes of just sitting, trying to watch your breath, and with no self-judgment. You just sit there. Your eyes closed. Your mind wanders, guide it back. You hear something, you want it back. Turning your phone off helps.

Jamie Martin

[LAUGHS] Yes.

David Freeman

Well, Eric, I think you summed it up. That was amazing. Everybody take that breath in. Exhale it out. And is there anything you want to leave us with that we probably did not touch on yet?

Eric Jeffers

No. I think that’s about it. I think that there’s resources abound. There are a lot of ways to find it. Remember — I think that idea of self-acceptance of starting with just wherever you are. Many of us are very goal-oriented, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a wonderful thing to set goals and achieve them. But I think with meditation, one of the first things to do is to just pay attention a minute, two minutes, five minutes. Try to watch your breath. And then do it again the next day at about the same time. That’s also really helpful.

So you make it part of your routine. You get up in the morning, do whatever you need to. Take five minutes to sit. Try to watch your breathing. However distracted you are, however concentrated you are, be done at five minutes, try again the next day. And then day after day, just like with the body, the benefits and the changes start to accrue with consistency more than intensity. So don’t try to meditate for an hour and a half once a week. Meditate for five minutes a day every morning. There’s much more benefit, and it’s a lot easier path that way.

David Freeman

I like that.

Jamie Martin

It makes me want to do that right now and as soon as we wrap up here. Eric, thank you so much.

Eric Jeffers

It doesn’t make for the most interesting podcast today. Let’s just sit for five minutes.

Jamie Martin

We’re going to sit. We’re going to do this. Eric, thank you so much. This has been great. Thank you.

Eric Jeffers

Thank you.

David Freeman

Thank you, Eric.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today, and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram, @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30, and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at el.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to rate and review, and share on your social channels too.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It’s produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, and video production by Kevin Dixon, Coy Larson, and the team at LT Motion. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode, and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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