An MD’s Personal Take on Meditation

I will fully admit that I am no expert on meditation. But then again, most of us aren’t. Monks train full-time for years to be good at meditation. Just like I shouldn’t be surprised that Lebron is going to dunk on me when I’m not practicing basketball (okay, he’d probably dunk on me no matter how much I practiced), I shouldn’t be surprised if meditation isn’t immediately yielding monk-like results on my first try—or even my twentieth.

For real, clearing your brain is difficult! I was focusing so hard on clearing my brain that when a thought would come in, I would be stressed that I was thinking when I was supposed to be clearing, dammit! Then I would think about thinking, and then I would think about how circular it was. Then I would think about the huge pile of laundry waiting, whether I remembered my daughter’s permission slip, and why don’t we know if there is life on other planets and…oops, there I go again. Ugh! Eventually, I realized that my mind will never be clear. Neither will yours! Mediation isn’t about an empty mind, but rather a focused mind. It is about focusing on something specific. Whether it is a mantra, a fantasy, or a goal, the goal of meditation is simply to focus.

Before I understood what meditation really was, I complained to a particularly good meditation instructor that I found meditation nearly impossible. She smiled and patiently explained said that while we may feel uncomfortable at first and that we may think it’s impossible to stop our “monkey minds” from chattering away, meditation is highly effective for cleaning up old, accumulated stress. The trick is to keep practicing it and trust that you’ll get better in time.

She also stressed the importance of finding something that works for you. You don’t need to meditate in the lotus position. There are plenty of other forms of meditation that you may find more enjoyable. The goal is to put yourself in a space where you’re not overthinking and worrying. Here are a few suggestions I like:

  • Picture a trunk that holds all your old stressors, dating back to your first memories. Open it up, and put the day’s stress inside. By making this a regular practice, you’re not only shaking off the stress of that day and finding somewhere to put it, but you’re giving yourself an opportunity to let a little bit of old stress out.
  • Or you can use my newer more positive version of the trunk exercise. Imagine putting all of the awesome things about today in a big beautifully decorated trunk. From the way the sun shone through the clouds to the funny text you got to the compliment from a friend, it is a place to store all of your wins in a safe place so you can take them out anytime you need an extra boost of sunshine.
  • Download a guided meditation app. Find a pleasing voice that allows you to focus on their words, listen to the music, and follow along. Many of these apps are designed around progressive guided meditation techniques that take you through a series of relaxation messages to help you unwind your physical tension.
  • Exercise, whether it’s walking, jogging, or lifting weights, can put me in a meditative space.
  • Practice yoga or swimming. Both require you to focus on your breathing and be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Create a soundtrack for your life. Movies tell us how to feel by the background music. You always know when you should be feeling romantic or when the shark is about to sneak up and bite your butt. Make an energetic playlist for exercise, a mellow playlist for bedtime, or a stress-release playlist when you feel like you’re at your wits’ end.

Music is remarkably effective for altering your feelings and mindset. Use it to your advantage. Sing loudly in the car—anywhere else where you aren’t worried about people staring at you. Dance a little while you’re at it. I also listen to a podcasts, satellite radio, audio books, and a comedy channel. Remember to be flexible. Your preferences are likely to change both over time and throughout the course of the day.

Mantras are another great brain hack! If you only have five minutes of downtime, repeating your favorite mantra can be a great way of calming your mind and relieving stress. Just take a deep breath, say your mantra, and repeat. Here are three of my favorite mantras to help get you started.

  • “Resilience is a muscle!” You aren’t born with a fixed amount that gets used up. Everything you do toward self-care and stress management helps your resilience muscle get stronger and stronger. Make specific efforts to grow this, like a bodybuilder building biceps, so your resilience muscle is strong enough to bear the load of any stressor that comes your way
  • “My brain is my bitch.” Your brain believes what you tell it. If you tell it that everything sucks and the sky is falling, it will believe you and oblige with the appropriate sympathetic response. If you tell your brain “I’ve got this” and “let’s go bring on the awesomeness,” it will believe you and give you the positive energy you need to conquer the world. Be mindful of this and take full advantage of your brainpower!
  • “Who am I not to?” This mantra is the shortened version of a powerful quote by Marianne Williamson, abridged here: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened abut shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. As we let our own light shine we unanimously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I use the “Who am I not to?” mantra all the time with patients wondering who they are to “health up”—and I used it for myself more than once while writing this book. But that particular mantra connects with me; yours might be different. Whatever mantra you choose, you need to hear it, see it, and say it frequently for your brain to absorb and fully integrate it. Repetition is the key to learning. Write your mantra on a sticky note and put it on your desk, steering wheel, and refrigerator. Write it with a marker on your bathroom mirror. Say it at every stoplight. You can even use your mantra as your computer password so you are typing it every day.

The above is an excerpt from Habit That!: How You Can Health Up in Just 5 Minutes a Day by Dr. Jaime Hope; Lion’s Crest Publishing, 2018; All Rights Reserved

Unified Mindfulness: The Meditation Practice That May Change My Life

When I was a little girl, I used to sit cross-legged in my grandmother’s walk-in closet, close my eyes and chant “OM” to myself over and over. I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but I knew that meditation offered a more peaceful life, and at the age of eight I was already craving serenity.

My childhood interest in meditation didn’t last very long, and I wouldn’t return to it until decades later. Meditation apps were suddenly the hot thing a couple years ago, so I decided to give a few of them a try. I had no issues with any of the apps I tried, but once again I failed to develop a regular meditation practice.

If you’re anything like me, you may be drawn to meditation for its well-known benefits, but you find it too “out there,” too vague, too difficult to grasp. Am I doing it right? What’s supposed to be happening?

This is not unusual. As Julianna Raye, founder, president, and head trainer of Unified Mindfulness, explained to me, “Meditation is tricky because initially results can be subtle, and oftentimes people are confused. There are lots of things that can interfere with your ability to adopt a solid practice. The mind can come up with any little reason to say no, because we’re used to our routines.”

Through speaking with Raye and going through the Unified Mindfulness online training course, everything finally started to click for me. Or, as Raye puts it, the Unified Mindfulness system “throws the doors open” for people like me. And perhaps you.

So, let’s dive in…

Julianna Raye’s Story

An accomplished singer/songwriter, Julianna Raye has released three albums, toured extensively and collaborated with many big names in the music business. But there’s much more to her story.

Before she began practicing meditation, Raye suffered from anxiety and depression. At one point, she was suicidal—in the planning stages, even. Therapy was not enough, and Raye didn’t react well to anti-depressants, so medication was not an option. A concerned therapist recommended meditation.

“When I discovered mindfulness, the big revelation was that it changed me in a physiological way,” Raye told me. “I didn’t expect the rewards to be so tangible.”

Raye continued: “As I got deeper into it, I began to see a pattern interrupt. For me, I found that the anxiety and depression were conditioning. Mindfulness was the key to breaking through the spell of my conditioning.”

Two years after beginning her practice, Raye found a life-changing teacher in Shinzen Young, the architect of Unified Mindfulness. She began going on retreats, which took her practice to the next level.

“I discovered just how good I was capable of feeling,” she says. “It meant that I could rely on my own inner capacity to self-generate well-being and pleasant experience, and that’s very freeing.”

Raye rose above her depression through immersion in mindfulness, including more than 100 weeks of silent retreat training and over 12,000 hours of formal practice. “I recognized that if I didn’t do this, I was going to live life chronically managing my unhappiness and dipping deeper and deeper over time into that pit of depression,” Raye revealed. “So, I gave it everything I had, and it took a lot of time and a lot of focus, but I came out the other side totally transformed.”

Now Raye is dedicated to empowering as many people as possible with the tools that have been so transformative for her. As a result, she has been training individuals and groups in the Unified Mindfulness system for nearly two decades. Raye’s vision, as she puts it, is “to do everything I can while I’m on this planet to help people help themselves the way I’ve been able to help myself.”

So What is Unified Mindfulness?

If you like things spelled out for you, Unified Mindfulness may appeal to you. It’s a perfect place to start if you’re new to mindfulness, but those with established meditation practices can learn from it as well.

The system defines mindfulness as a set of three attention skills, all working together. These skills are developed through a consistent meditation practice, but they can also be cultivated during everyday experiences. Raye walked me through the three skills using the example of brushing your teeth.

  1. Concentration power: Quite simply, this is the ability to focus on whatever sensory experience you choose. If you were brushing your teeth, you would choose to focus your attention on that action and let everything else fade into the background. Doing so strengthens your ability to concentrate in general, helping you focus on what you consider to be most important at any given time.
  2. Sensory clarity: This is the ability to track and explore sensory experiences in real time. While brushing your teeth, you might notice the texture of the toothpaste and then the tingle of coolness in your mouth. Our ability to detect this sensory information enriches our life. Raye described it as similar to a chef tasting the flavors of a stew. We become the chef of our own sensory experience. When you achieve this clarity, ideas may come to you more clearly, and you can make links of association that you wouldn’t ordinarily make—much like when you’re in “the zone” at work or while playing a sport. Sensory clarity also helps us manage challenging experiences by reducing sensory clutter.
  3. Equanimity: This is the ability to allow sensory experiences to come and go freely, without interfering with them in any way—without trying to hold on to the experience or trying to push it away. Raye explained that we tend to fight with our inner experience, often without realizing it. When we do, we make matters worse for ourselves by expending precious energy. Equanimity allows us to better process unpleasant experiences and gain deep fulfillment from pleasant experiences. When we learn how to permit an experience to come and go, then a little hint of joy has an opportunity to spread and possibly gain momentum throughout the whole body. Like the simple joy of focusing on brushing your teeth for just a minute or two!

Unified Mindfulness also teaches methods for meditation, such as the “See, Hear, Feel” technique. Raye notes, “Once you understand that it’s about skill development, then you can explore what works for you. We like to lead with See, Hear, Feel, because it’s a great way to show people firsthand that any experience at all can be a meditation. But it’s a very easy leap from this technique to another technique that they might love.”

Does Unified Mindfulness Produce Results?

The facts are in: Using more than 50 years of research and testing, Shinzen Young designed an approach to mindfulness that is comprehensive, rigorous and stands up to scientific inquiry. The Unified Mindfulness system is used by leading institutions such as Harvard and Carnegie Mellon for their research on meditation.

And the American Psychological Association (APA) recently reported on a study where Raye trained employees at a digital marketing firm in the Unified Mindfulness system. This was the first study of its kind to research how mindfulness impacts subjects during their workday.

According to the results, participants who received the half-day training and practiced mindfulness daily for six weeks “showed reduced work-life conflict, increased job satisfaction, and an increased ability to focus their attention.”

I asked Raye about the application of Unified Mindfulness in recovery. “Mindfulness is not a replacement for 12-step programs, but it’s a wonderful complement,” she responded. “There’s a vicious cycle that happens when we get caught up in negative thinking and emotions. Being able to manage that is very helpful—you’re less likely to turn to a substance because you’re able to better manage the overwhelm. On the flip side, as your practice evolves and you’re experiencing greater fulfillment, you start to have a virtuous cycle where these pleasant rewards mutually reinforce each other in a healthy, healing way, and that can be really stabilizing.”

As someone who quit drinking nearly two years ago, I have been longing to institute a mediation practice to sustain and enrich my recovery.

After taking the 10-part CORE Training, which is the first step in learning the Unified Mindfulness system, I’m eager to sign up for the 30-day action plan next. I may even do their teacher certification program once my practice is well established.

I’m also excited to check out the Unified Mindfulness online summit and retreat coming up in March (if you sign up for the CORE Training you’ll receive updates on this event). In addition to interviewing experts in various fields who credit meditation as a meaningful part of their life, Raye and her colleagues are holding an online meditation hall that will be open for 12 hours a day over five consecutive days. Beginners can stop in for a session or two, while those who have been considering going on a retreat may want to try a full day.

Not since I was a child sitting in my grandmother’s closet have I been so hopeful about the prospect of meditation in my life. But this time around, I have a sturdy foundation providing valuable and proven support.

Feeling Frazzled this Holiday Season? We’ve Got the Cure!

Welp friends, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. OR it can be the most hurried, stress-filled and expectation-riddled season of all. I find that it really all depends on my perspective. My sanity and joy during the holiday season hinge on my dedication to self-care.

Just so we’re all on the same page, I’ll give you my definition of self-care. I believe that self-care includes mindsets, self-talk and actions that create space for us to remain healthy and grounded, throughout various seasons of life. In difficult, stressful or challenging times, we desperately need self-care practices in order to be refreshed and renewed, and to keep us from burnout. In seasons when we are experiencing ease, joy and peace, self-care serves to fill us up to a truly abundant state. Our needs are met and we can generously overflow to others.

The purpose of self-care is not to become self-focused and certainly not to be selfish. Rather it is to love others as we love ourselves. Did you catch that last part?

“. . . as we love ourselves.”

This means that we have to learn how to love and be kind to ourselves before we can possibly overflow with love and kindness to others in a truly unselfish, no-strings-attached kind of way.

In my experience, honoring my need for self-care chases away scarcity and the resentment that comes from continuing to give from an empty well. As I have love and grace for myself, I am filled up with love and grace for others. Scarcity, resentment and burnout are replaced with abundance, overflow and freedom.

Just let that sink in.

Imagine experiencing the entire holiday season from a place of abundance, overflow and freedom. Freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to invitations, without the guilt that people-pleasing often brings. Freedom to give from a loving, generous place, knowing that others may or may not be able to give back in the same way—or at all. Freedom to be yourself among the various groups of family members, friends and coworkers you’ll find yourself with in the coming weeks. Imagine experiencing all of this grace and freedom for yourself and then extending it extravagantly to others. To me, that sounds like the most wonderful way to be any time of the year.

Here are a few of my favorite self-care practices that I integrate into my daily routine. They keep me from getting depleted during an ordinary, no-drama week and are thus extra necessary during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Meditation and prayer


Reading a great book

Taking a walk

Hugging an animal

Eating well

Having a treat

Time with a loved one

Time with friends in recovery or other encouraging friends

During stressful or challenging times, I often add:

  • Counseling
  • Chiropractic care
  • Saying ‘no’ to optional busyness in favor of downtime
  • Additional recovery meetings
  • An extra visit or call with a friend
  • Coaching or mentoring sessions

Any support I need to process my experiences, thoughts and feelings when I am under added stress is an investment in my sanity and serenity. These resources help me to slow down and choose how I’d like to respond, rather than reacting under stress. They also help me glean lessons from my experience instead of just white-knuckling my way through them.

The point is, self-care takes lots of forms—from a cozy day of resting, recharging and hugging your pet (possibly against their squishy-faced will), to action steps such as reaching out for support or setting boundaries. All of these choices help to keep us healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, as the official Ambassador of Self-Care . . .

. . . I invite you to consider being kind to yourself this holiday season, and year-round. The world has only been entrusted with one of you and so I encourage you to take care of your wellbeing accordingly. Let yourself be renewed and recharged and then love others generously from a place of abundant overflow.

And now let me ask you…Which of these self-care practices resonate with you? What you would add to the list? Which practices are essential for you, even in the busiest times?

You can start today, with just one small choice or action. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated!

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment and then share the article—and the (self) love.