Note: This is a repost of a timeless and very popular post. It was originally published in December 2016.
I go to a holistic doctor, one who practices integrative medicine and, ugh, my numbers aren’t good. My cortisol levels, in particular, are excruciatingly high. Cortisol, also called the stress hormone is released in response to stress. Prolonged, elevated levels of cortisol do all sorts of nasty things to our bodies including decreasing bone formation, damaging cells in the hippocampus of the brain which can lead to impaired cognition and weakening the immune system for just three. My doctor recommended certain lifestyle changes that I should make and suggested meditation to help reduce my level of cortisol.
Meditation? Really? I think I’m pretty good at maintaining stress levels. I walk, exercise, sing, read, write. No, no, my doctor said. Exercise, while fabulous, puts stress on our bodies and cortisol goes up. All the other things I mentioned that I do for relaxation engage my mind. I need to take my mind out of the equation and, if I’m to understand her correctly – and I’m not sure I did – be mindful while mindless. Meditation, she explained, will help me deal with stress in a way that’s beneficial to my body.
I have friends who meditate. One, a very good friend who I admire for the calm, cool way in which she seems to breeze through life, has been meditating for years. And, for years, she’s been encouraging me to meditate. I’ve tried. I have. I found it an exercise in futility and frustration. I can’t clear my mind. I can’t sit still. I can’t think of nothing. It’s hogwash, stupid and I can do other things that are better. Leg pressing 40 pounds for three sets of 15 is one of them, right? Oh, but that stresses my body and makes my heart pound. Hell. So I’m back to the meditation and, crap, how do I clear my mind?
I turned to Devi Brown,TV and radio personality and founder of Karma Bliss, a retail and lifestyle brand specializing in tools designed to kick-start your self discovery journey, including healing crystal collections, healing crystal jewelry and centerpiece meditation chairs. Devi is dedicated to helping those seeking a deeper connection with themselves and the world. Devi has been featured in outlets such as New York Magazine/The Cut, Essence, The Coveteur, Well + Good, XONecole, HerAgenda, The New York Times, Good Morning America, CNN and many more. She was the perfect person to demystify meditation for me.
Melody Lesser: I’ve been told by my doctor to meditate. I’ve tried it several times but I can’t get my mind to think of nothing. I want to meditate but I have no idea how to start. Help?
Devi Brown: I’m going to tell you something and you are going to overthink it. It’s as simple as sitting down and being quiet. For years I’d been googling meditation and seeing people do it and I didn’t think it was for me. I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s method of meditation and I had a conversation with someone at his facility who taught me how to do it. Instead of getting frustrated because I was bored, or because I kept thinking about things, I made the choice to stop thinking. I know it sounds impossible. In reality, it’s simple. You find a 25 minute window, a quiet place. Then you sit down and get comfortable, take a couple of deep breaths in through your nose and settle into that moment. Close your eyes. Place your arms in at your sides or in your lap and just sit still and quiet. Of course as soon as you start to do that, you start to think, “I’m doing it wrong.” The thing is, it’s not going to work in ways you think. The second you start thinking about something, make a conscious thought not to think about it. Inhale through your nose; exhale through your mouth. Think about who are you. Remain in silence.
ML: I’ve heard this, but how do I actually DO it? I can’t easily push thoughts out of my head. They’re pervasive.
DB: Ok, I’m going to give you an exercise. Put down your phone. Step away from your computer and think about who you are. What’s your name, your family status, your work? Now, take away one of those questions and think about your name and who you are to the people in your life. Now, take away two of those things and think about your name. Concentrate on it. Now, take away your name. Then sit there. Imagine you’re nameless. Sit in stillness. Your mind is searching to define you in some way. When we picture ourselves now – when you take those definitions away – we’re filled with emptiness. That’s the peace that we’re trying to find.
I did what Devi suggested. I put down the phone and turned away from my computer. When I thought of the three questions Devi posed to me, I also – and inexplicably – saw myself sitting on a beach facing the ocean. There were others on the beach, but as I stripped away each definition of myself and was left with only my name, my mind emptied the beach of its denizens and it was just me and the ocean. When Devi said, “Take away your name,” I literally went blank. My mind had nothing to grasp. It was enlightening and frightening at the same time. I’m not used to thinking of nothing. I didn’t think it was at all possible. I allowed myself a second or two of nothingness and then I grabbed my computer and phone.
ML: Devi! I did it! I understand what you mean!
DB: (Laughing) If you notice that you’re thinking a thought, choose to release that thought. We have that power in meditation to turn off thoughts. Sit still, be quiet and release your thoughts.
ML: Yes, I just experienced that and I want to do it again, even though it startled me. Wow. I’ve never been able to do that before, but let’s get back to the interview. Where should I meditate?
DB: Anywhere. You have to stop overthinking it. You can meditate anywhere. All you need is a place to be still and quiet. I can even meditate in my car on my lunch break. I turn on the air conditioning, park my car where there are few people and meditate for 25 minutes.
ML: Should I concentrate on my breathing? Will that help clear my mind?
DB: You can concentrate on your breathing. It’s a tool for clearing your mind, when you focus on your breathing. You can also use a mantra, a Sanskrit word that doesn’t have a meaning but has a vibration. Repeat it over and over and put the attention and focus on your mantra.
ML: Yes, I’ve read about mantras. Can you give me one?
DB: You can do Om, or sohum. The word’s meaning isn’t important. It’s about vibration and focusing on the word and how it feels. You’re feeling the meaningless word. It’s such a difficult concept, not thinking. Your mind and opinions really matter. It’s your currency. So it’s hard to wrap your mind around not thinking. [That’s why] using a mantra helps.
ML: Do I need any props, like candles or pillows?
DB: You need nothing except yourself.
ML: How do I know if I’m doing it right? What if I’m doing it wrong?
DB: It’s always right. You can’t do it wrong. I think that perception is part of a greater problem. When you do something for yourself, it’s always a win. So lose that win/loss equation. For a sense of self, there is no competition, no win or loss scenario. Anything you do for yourself is a win for the day. I know that’s not the answer you may want. When I say we overthink it, I’m coming from a place where I did the same thing. Meditation strips you of all those layers. There’s not a real way to quantify it. You have to fall into it. There is no right way. You giving it your best effort is one hundred percent right.
ML: How often and for how long should I meditate?
DB: The more you do, the easier it becomes. Once you begin, you’re already experiencing the peace that you’re looking for, so it’s easy to continue meditating.
ML: What are some of the benefits of meditation?
DB: For me, the first thing I started noticing was that I had a higher level of joy in my day and a lot less overall stress. That’s why it’s important to start your day with mediation. It sets the tone for peace in my day. It changed the levels of irritation in my day.
ML: When will I realize the benefits of meditation?
DB: You can realize it on day one. I think it’s different for everyone. I noticed an immediate shift the first time I meditated for 25 minutes. The shift I noticed was that I felt I mattered to myself more. It was a kind of love and peace on a deeper level. I’m highly disciplined when it comes to work and when it comes to aiding people in my life, but I place myself last when it came to a personal goal that I was setting. I knew that with meditation, I was making a conscious step forward in choosing myself. I felt an overall sense of calm and happiness. I had this calm of knowing that everything was going to work out to my benefit as long as I made the decision to invest in myself in that way.
ML: My doctor says I should meditate, that it would be good for my stress levels.
DB: Actually, many medical studies point to the fact that the moment you start meditating, your blood pressure goes down. That’s an instantaneous benefit. Deepak Chopra has made the connection between meditation and lowered blood pressure, calmer heart rates. If you continue to do it, you maintain those benefits over time.
ML: How long do you meditate now daily?
DB: I go in and out. I meditate every day and strive for two 25 to 30 minute sessions per day. I commit to my morning time even if I can’t do it more during a busy day. I had a day last week where I didn’t want to sit still. I drove to the park, took my shoes off and walked. I did a walking meditation through a museum. I completely unplugged, didn’t have my phone. I walked slowly and spent a moment with each painting. I felt so good when I left. I think there are other ways to incorporate that stillness in your day even when you think you can’t meditate.
ML: Can I build up to 25 minutes a day and start with, say, five minutes?
DB: Don’t think of meditation in a mentality of building up to a certain time. Start with 25 minutes. Find a quiet place and meditate for 25 minutes. Just fall into it.
At this point, our interview ended and we said our goodbyes. Frankly, I’d have talked to Devi for the entire rest of the afternoon, if I could have. She is knowledgeable, charming and one of the most calming people I’ve ever met. When she asked me to do that exercise with her, I was hesitant, skeptical. But sitting comfortably with my eyes closed, listening to Devi’s voice as she told me what to think about and then, one by one, took those things away, I was able to think of nothing. I was able to think of nothing!
I’ve meditated twice since our interview. I unplugged which, for me, is a big deal. Off went the phone, the TV which I sometimes use as a background to force my focus on my work and, off went my computer. I began by trying to think of nothing and, in very short order, thoughts came flooding in. I pushed them away and when they came back, instead of becoming frustrated and thinking myself a failure at meditation, I pushed them back out and tried to just be. Ugh, that sounds so mumbo jumbo but I kept pushing out thoughts and just sat. I concentrated on my breathing and I sat. I had set a timer, never thinking that I’d actually need one because I was sure I was going to fail by not being able to sit still for 25 minutes. But, after a while, I forgot about the timer, forgot about the thoughts in my head that I managed successfully to ignore. I just sat. I relinquished my internal struggle to think of nothing. I stopped doubting that I was doing it right. I just sat and tried to be in the moment with myself. More mumbo jumbo but, afterwards, I felt great, relaxed and stimulated at the same time.
Meditation, like so many other things, is a habit. The more you do it, the more you want to do it and the more comfortable you become with it. Life is hectic; unplugging is difficult and can be scary. But, as Devi says, it’s something you do for you and therefore it’s always right and always a win.
Thank you, Devi!
About Devi Brown
Devi Brown is a radio and television personality who has spent more than a decade hosting shows from coast-to-coast. She is the founder and CEO of Karma Bliss, a retail and lifestyle brand that is centered on spirituality and is passionate about helping people connect with the worlds inside — and outside — themselves. She is certified by Deepak Chopra’s Chopra Center in Primordial Sound Meditation, an ages-old technique that dates back to the ancient Vedic traditions of India. Before launching Karma Bliss, Devi was Music Director and the #1 rated host for iHeartMedia’s Houston station, 93.7 The Beat, and also hosted entertainment segments for Houston’s CBS television affiliate, KHOU11. She also hosted MTV’s talk show “Hip Hop POV” and helped launch SiriusXM’s “Sway in the Morning” show as co-host alongside hip hop and cultural legend Sway Calloway. Devi was a host on L.A’s 93.5 KDAY and has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, The View, TODAY and MTV2. Her interviews and content have been published on leading websites, including Billboard, TMZ, and CNN. She has also been interviewed for print outlets including Vogue, The New York Times, The Source Magazine and The Houston Chronicle. Devi is married to Houston Texan Duane Brown. She splits time between Houston and her hometown of Los Angeles.
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