Today on the Doc On The Run podcast we are talking about how you could use the power of meditation to relax and heal.
This episode will explain pretty much everything but if you still have questions after you are done with this, look at the Virtual Doctor Visit at the bottom of the show notes.
Dr. Segler: I am really excited to have Jason Stephenson on the show today as a guest. Jason completed a diploma in Neuropsychological Immunity in Queensland Australia and in this course Jason says that he really began to understand the power and connection between health of the mind and body. Jason has been involved in the meditation and relaxation field for over fifteen years and he even has a YouTube meditation sleep music channel that has over four hundred and thirty thousand subscribers and he’s had over ninety nine million views. Is that right?
Jason Stephenson: That’s right, it’s now over seven hundred thousand subscribers now. It’s crazy!
Dr. Segler: Wow! Jason’s also spoken and performed on an international level in Australia, United States, Hawaii, Taiwan and Malaysia and one of the reason I wanted to have Jason on the show today is that I have noticed how many injured runners start to seem to kind of lose their focus when they get hurt and it’s interesting because concentrated focus is exactly what runners through long workouts, gets them to finish your speed work on pace and of course helps runners finish their goal races on time when they’re in an event.
Many runners meditate and they don’t medicate because they’re just trying to kill time. They’re meditating because they’re trying to calm their mind. They have to try to relax all that background noise if they want to focus better and I always ask runners if they meditate and some say they do. Some say they don’t. Those who don’t meditate often seem to cite this lack of free time as their primary excuse. What’s interesting to me is that when I see injured runners and ask them whether or not they meditate and they usually don’t have this lack of free time as an excuse anymore because after all they’re not running and they have at least severely cut back in the amount of time they’re spending exercising as a result of the injury.
But for whatever reason when they become injure they don’t really seem to recognize the value of meditation. Maybe it’s just that they’ve lost their focus and they kind of forgot about it. Maybe they’re distracted because they’re kind of upset that they signed up for race they don’t think they’re going to get to run it. But in this episode Jason’s going to help us all understand a little bit more about meditation, living in the moment and how meditation has helped him and how it maybe can help us as well as runners. So Jason welcome to the show!
Jason Stephenson: Hey Chris thank you so much for having me! I’m really pleased to be here today at this moment.
Dr. Segler: Yes and it’s great to have you! I know we had a couple of difficulties getting things scheduled but you are really gracious with that. I know it’s a tough thing when you’re halfway around the world to schedule an interview. I really am glad you’re here and before we get started with some questions about meditation maybe you could just give us a little bit of background about you and your specific interest that you developed in meditation.
Jason Stephenson: Well I’ll tell you what I first began meditation when I was about seventeen years of age and I remember going to a class with my mom and she was doing meditation and she said you want to come along for a class and I sort of thought yes and I expected meditation, I thought it was sort of Mystical back then. I didn’t really understand anything about it and I expected that I would probably go to this class and possibly even levitate or something.
I walked into this classroom and the main kind of guru was there and they have the kind of hippies in the class and sat down and okay I didn’t levitate in that class. But I will tell you, I remember the peace of mind that I walked out with during that session and I didn’t do meditation and so ten – fifteen years later that it was something that always stuck in my mind that those few moments of doing that class.
So then I ended up picking up meditation again when it was recommended by a counselor. I was going through some difficult personal struggles and suffering with a lot of anxiety and stress and she just said this might be a good thing for you to do and so I did and luckily we happen to have here the largest Buddhist meditation center in the southern hemisphere. It was just being built and I signed up and did a ten-day meditation retreat and I guess after that, the rest is history.
I really began to understand the true benefits of meditation and that’s where I’m at today and now it’s a part of my life both professionally creating guided meditations but also relying on meditation to keep me calm, to keep me centered, to help me develop more empathy and compassion for others as well.
Dr. Segler: That’s interesting because the idea that you’re going to be more centered, your mind’s going to be clear, the sort of side benefits of being more compassionate and sort of understanding others better. That’s an interesting thing that happens that way but you talked about a lot of different things with meditation how that evolved over the long period from when you first went to meditation to where you really kind of got to the point where you can create these things to help people on their own guided meditations.
My sort of perspective as a professional seeing runners, one of the things that I have noticed is that there’s a lot of evidence in the medical literature that meditation can do all those things but not just produce the sense of well-being that one can get from meditation but can also because maybe as a side product of that change in your perspective and your well-being that it actually can reduce circulating markers of stress like cortisol levels and other stress hormones. And from your perspective as an expert on meditation, what’s the simplest way to describe the overall effects of meditation that meditation has on someone?
Jason Stephenson: Well, basically meditation takes us out of the fight or flight mode that we can get stuck in today and of course the fight or flight mod is being ingrained in this for many years past back in the Caveman days when it was in our system to protect us from life threatening situation so we could fight or we can run and escape dangerous situations. And I guess the problem is today is that we can get these similar stress response, these boost of adrenaline and we are not using it, we are not running.
What meditation can do is to help to bring our bodies back and our minds back to equilibrium. Some say that meditation is just about relaxation but as you said it’s more than that. It’s been proven scientifically to change our blood chemistry for the better and the more we do meditation the more obvious these changes are occurring. As I mentioned before is that meditation can also help us be compassionate and more patient and have more empathy without others.
When I talk about more patience you see, when we see in meditation sometimes thoughts into our minds where we might say “Oh I’m too busy to do this” or “Oh this is boring” and our mind plays tricks and we want to do anything we can to escape that moment of just being still When that occurs to me now I realize “Oh yeah okay. So if I want to get up and run away, I will leave the meditation.” I actually make myself sit there for another five minutes because that is usually when I need meditation most and so this is helping to me to develop patience within myself and this can extend then to my life outside in all sorts of ways dealing with people and work situations and so here are so many benefits of meditation and how it affects us.
Dr. Segler: That’s interesting. There is a documentary, I watched. It was not really a meditation. It was more about the effects of sort of our modern stressful lifestyle that you talked about and just mentioned and in large part it was following the work of this guy a Stanford who has done all these studies on primates and how that relates to stress and how they cope with stress in a community and all this interesting stuff that can shorten your life span.
There is this one scene where he talks about the fight or flight response that we develop and which can sort of just get locked into that sort of this fight or flight thing just with our electronic devices, the stresses from work and daily grind so to speak and he says “A rollercoaster is a classic way to stimulate that sort of exciting fight or flight response. But it doesn’t last for two weeks and that’s really what we have done is we get involved in these drives at work and sometimes even training for events or other things and we get locked into this cycle and meditation as you say is one of those ways to break that up to actually get you out of that.
But just as you mentioned it’s very difficult to sit still to actually give yourself the opportunity to do that and not long ago one of my closest family member who I won’t say who it is but repeatedly told me that meditation could be helpful and a number of experts have actually recommended meditation to this person. This person is also a runner and they told me that they’ve never been able to sit still long enough to clear the thought circulating through the mind. Now that’s just what you talked about how you would just make yourself sit there for another five minutes. But because this runner actually seems to view that difficulty and have all that difficulty with just the process is sitting still that for years when attempting to do this, they’ve just given up.
What sort advice do you have a for an athlete who might really benefit from meditation but is really having a hard time just sitting still enough to clear the mind and actually get into the process of meditation?
Jason Stephenson: I love this question actually and the reason is because it’s a bit of a misconception about what meditation is about and many people say that the aim is to clear the mind and the great news is that we don’t have to clear the mind. That’s actually not what meditation is about. That’s more of a doing an action of the meditation simply about being.
There’s a gentleman by the name of Jon Kabat-Zinn who has brought meditation out here to the west and has made it broadly known. But he actually says a lot of times, he says put the welcome mat out for your thoughts and so what you’re beginning to do is rather than have the thought circulating “Oh my goodness I can’t do this meditation, my mind went shut down, I can’t clear my thoughts”. The idea is to allow these thoughts to come into your mind to be aware of these thoughts and see them, acknowledge that thought and then you don’t have to follow keep following where it leads. But then just gently shift your focus back to your breathing. So no matter how many times thoughts come up because they do come up where we are being thinking, we have thousands of thoughts per day.
The idea here is not to beat yourself up over these thoughts. But to actually welcome them in and say “Okay, I see you, I acknowledge you but now let’s just shift back to the breathing again”. If you have a hundred thoughts then a hundred times you can just keep shifting your focus back to your breathing and I think when we do this we stop beating ourselves up and the process of meditation actually becomes easier. It’s not difficult because we’re just simply being as we are, not trying to achieve any outcomes of clearing the mind.
What happens is I guess the thought process begins to slow down the more we become aware of our thoughts. It just naturally will begin overtime, an extended, begin to slow down and there might be days where you’ll have times where they’ll be a ton of thoughts and there will be other days where you begin to just simply get into it and you can just be and there will be not so many thoughts.
Dr. Segler: That’s interesting. I remember I was doing some meditation exercise that I don’t remember if I read it or if I listened to it or how I found this but the exercise is basically to just sit quietly and just be aware of the sounds that were present. To sort of listen for the spaces of silence between noises and now that was easy to do that. But then what I found was some part of that exercise was supposedly to clear your mind and then when you would hear a sound you were supposed to if I recall hear the sound and take the sound in without attaching any judgment to it. Which I found very very difficult. What I noticed was that if I were sitting there and then suddenly I would hear this little noise and I would realize “Okay well that’s the refrigerator”. I would immediately go down, what is in the refrigerator that is making a noise. Is it the compressor? How does a compressor work? What exactly in the compressor is making that noise?
I was having such a difficult time with that and then of course because I knew I was supposed to identify without judgment and I have actually done this complete analysis of the compressor and the refrigerator and then I had judgments about that. And found it to be very difficult. So I think that is sort of a problem for lots of runners and triathletes and many of us are sort of type-A personalities and for many of us running is a form of meditation. What’s funny is I have had a number different experts tell me that I should never listen to any sort of audio podcast like a business podcast, personal development podcast or an audio book on technical stuff like medicine or any of that sort of thing when I’m running. And I’ve been told sort of gently that since running is a form of meditation for me, I should only really allow the sounds of nature or maybe music as a part of that experience.
I think that may be true. But then it’s also true that it’s very difficult for runners to if they’re trying to incorporate meditation as a specific exercise into their routine, it’s very difficult for them to sit still. So what’s the simplest way for anyone who perceives themselves to be really busy, who really doesn’t just like sitting still? What’s the simplest way for that person to begin the practice of meditation?
Jason Stephenson: I think it’s really important to still establish time for sitting. I don’t think we can escape that and but what we can do is start off even with two minutes a day. Just two minutes a day of being and establish a routine. I meditate, my best routine to meditate use before bed. I do this virtually every night without fail because it’s a great time for me to let go of the day’s events. So my routine is night times but if you can start with two minutes a day even for a week and this will help with the routine. Once you’ve done that you could move it up to three minutes or double it to four minutes and then see if you can work your way out just a ten minutes a day and you see what happens then if we take the time out just to sit and to breathe.
Sometimes as you said, you can also be focusing on sounds, you might focus on sensations. That’s all okay whatever you want focus on but the process of just being and seeing, what happens is we can then begin to use these and take the benefits of these sitting, and being and catching our breath and use it in all areas of our lives. So you like you said, running itself is a meditation and so is walking and so can be washing the dishes and all we need to do is to be fully present and to connect without breathing. And so the seeking practice whether that be two minutes a day or ten minutes a day helps us to establish to be fully present in the moment and then we can then begin to spread that presence out and catch ourselves.
Sometimes we go on autopilot out in life. We might be driving from point A to point B and we’ve got no idea of what happened in between. But if we begin to become aware and if our mind wanders off again, just gently pull it back to what’s actually happening now and this is where the training of sitting, the sitting meditation can help to extend into all areas of our lives. I hope I make some sense there.
Dr. Segler: Oh yes, definitely and I mean that’s really useful advice because I think that that’s part of it is that even when I have a looked into different meditation routines I remember when I was in Med school going to a meditation class and it was like an hour and so the idea of doing like an hour of meditation even if I was interested in trying to do it and just trying to think “Okay can I really do an hour a day? Where’s that time going to come from?” I’m not unique in this. I mean I do lots of different things. I do a podcast every week. I interview lots of experts. I lecture at medical conferences and see patients. I write books. I have kids. I have a lot of stuff to do so I think and I also run, do races and all that.
Time is really difficult to find and two minutes is pretty easy to find though. I think that’s really useful because I think even when you look at some beginning meditations, they’re ten minutes and it’s so hard for us to not have judgment I think when we’re not good at meditation because as athletes we want to be good at everything. We don’t want to do the things we’re not good at.
Jason Stephenson: Sure and can I just say that I meditate for twenty minutes a day and that’s all I do before bedtime. For me it’s just twenty minutes, it’s comfortable for me, that’s all I do. Some would say I should do more but I do what’s right for me and I know that practice is so beneficial to me and it spreads to areas of my life. So I’m grateful for what I have and for what I’m doing at this present time and so personally ten minutes, if you could get to ten minutes it would be wonderful and over time people will see the benefits of that sitting for ten minutes.
Dr. Segler: Yes, that’s great advice. I have read so many books and so many a different things about people talking about meditation and it’s not just authors. I mean Michael Phelps is obviously one of those world class athletes who’s talked about the routines they used to clear their minds before workouts and races and many business experts do the same thing. Even Tony Robbins who is like kind of the big time guru of all of that. He has this very specific routine he does every time when he does in the morning, every time before it goes on stage, every time he has a presentation.
I think it would be very very difficult to convince ourselves that there’s no value in a two-minute routine like you just mentioned. That there’s no value in ten minutes of clearing our thoughts and helping us to focus better. What can you tell us about what happened with you after you really started developing your practice of meditation? How did it change your capacity to focus on specific goals or just live in the moment?
Jason Stephenson: Well it’s interesting because I was told from a young age at school, all of my school reports, my teachers wrote that Jason is easily distracted, needs to focus more and this was throughout my whole virtually all my schooling life. I would be dreaming. My mind would be wandering all the time. I’m the person that needs meditation the most and about a sixteen months ago I broke my tib and fib in an accident and I remember laying there in a lot of pain and saw my leg in a really disjointed bad way. And I think that vision itself of seeing my leg was enough to trigger more pain even if there wasn’t pain but it was the sending my mind into all sorts of crazy things
My meditation practice then kicked in and I remember saying “Okay this pain is happening but let’s just accept this pain rather than fight against it and let’s just see it for what it is” and then I went to focusing on my breathe and as I was doing this I just began to really focus on my breathing. And what happened is it was almost like the pain was obviously still there but it wasn’t as pronounced as what my mind was telling me. So I began to accept this pain and I could breathe through the pain and it was an amazing trigger in my mind I said “Wow! Okay this is happening now and I’m not feeling pain as much. This is working”.
So just this alone, the breathing alone and connecting to the present moment because we’re not concerned about the anxieties of what’s going to happen in the future when we bring ourselves right into the present. It’s a gift that we can carry this wherever we go and it helps to me for me to focus on my daily work activities. If I become distracted, if I catch myself flicking through screens on the Internet, I stop and I become aware of what I’m doing I’m like “Okay I know what’s going on now. Let’s just call our mind back now and let’s deal with this now”. It’s a beautiful thing for me. It’s perfect. It’s a beautiful awareness.
Dr. Segler: That’s interesting and I remember when I was in med school there was a Neurology lecture and the professor said pain is in the brain and when we ask patients about what is your pain on a scale of one to ten, the exact same entry can be very different in one person from another and a lot of it has to do with their perception of that pain and the fear surrounding that pain. Even when I do for example like a local anesthetic injection on a patient I tell them “Okay you’re going to feel a pinch. However there’s local anesthetic that’s going in and so if you feel a pinch one spot or another, if you just count to ten, by the time you get to two or three that pain will be gone” and I think that they actually have much lower pain when it’s explain that way just because they know what to expect. It alleviates a lot of the fear. But when we get injured and don’t know what to expect that fear can kind of run wild and then it can make the pain worse.
One thing I have noticed is that many runners sit around and they get injured and they’re focusing on the fact that they’re not running. And they seem to be locked in and focused on the fact that they’re injured and I think that focus is highly counter-productive. One of the simplest explanations ever heard about the power focus is that what you look at gets bigger and if you focus on the problem, the problem gets bigger and if you focus on the solution, the solution gets bigger. So what can you say about that in terms of not just how meditation has helped you but also how to help your students to really focus more on the positive and really keep things in perspective?
Jason Stephenson: Well I went through a really tough time, ten years ago now and was actually diagnosed as HIV positive and it was a really really tough time mentally for me and back then I had just began to get into meditation. Although it was just on the tip of getting into it and I can honestly say that meditation helped me in so many different ways and but also not any meditations but the use of affirmations to changing my mindset. As I was using a combination of that affirmations and meditations and affirmations just that positive statement set in the present tense and so what I did basically was I used meditation and the affirmation to change my thought process about all of this and as we know HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and I thought about and I thought well I’m not going to live with that. I’m not going to live with the fact with this tag of living a life of deficiency. Now sure I can’t change the medical outcome. I accept that but I can change my mental way around these and so what I ended up doing was changing the letters of HIV to living here in vitality.
The whole perception began to change for me. So every time I hear HIV I’ve no longer related it to human immunodeficiency virus but relate it to living here in vitality and I would meditate on that. It brought up something amazing inside me, some joy and some strength that I could call on and I will tell you within a year of doing this of meditating on a regular basis and sometimes meditating with the affirmation playing in my mind. I guess using the affirmation is a mantra during my meditation. I’m living here in vitality, living here in vitality.
It had a most positive outcome for me because it literally transformed my life within one year. I was living a life of for one year of fear and doubt and shame and guilt and just the list goes on and on. But something happened inside and I now began to come out of my shell and filled me with love and also wanting to give back to the world rather than take from the world because I’m thinking my earlier days I was involved in a lot of drinking, drugs. It was a messy part of my life. So I decided, no, this is no longer me. This is where I want to go and this is what I want to do and in fact this is what got me into creating my first guided meditation for children called the album “I believe in me” because I wanted children to begin to believe in themselves from a young age so they don’t go off course or off track. So meditation has been gift, absolute gift.
Dr. Segler: Yes that’s fantastic and why did you start choosing to do your meditation in the evening? Is it just something that helps you get some sleep more?
Jason Stephenson: Yes, for me, sometimes I do it in the morning as well to kick stop my day but my main routine is definitely night times and also because I think there’s more of a peaceful time at night and I just shut out the light and sit and there’s no phone calls coming in, yes that’s my time.
Dr. Segler: Right, that makes sense. Obviously meditation routine in the evening can help you get to sleep easier because it’s a sort of racing thoughts and those sort of things that can disrupt our sleep patterns and we all know that sleep is one of the most important ingredients to healing. Whether you have HIV or the flu or broken arm or whether you’re just trying to heal the tissue damage that happened as a consequence of a hard training run, you need to sleep. Now when I exercise I definitely sleep better. When I have rest days where I’m actually tapering my exercise in preparation for a race, I don’t sleep as well and I know that exercise, running in particular, really helps facilitate a healthy sleep pattern.
But a huge problem for injured runners is that they become more anxious and they seem to get a lot of anxiety and they have a variety different sleep disturbances when they stop exercising. And that’s true whether or not it’s been a doctor who told them to stop running or if they just stopped on their own. Many of these runners tell me that they lay up in bed at night and they’re picturing their fitness dwindling away, their sort of doing the opposite of what you just spoke about. About how you picture yourself of living here in vitality. They see the opposite that. They see themselves withering away. They think about and focus on these races that they don’t think they’re going to get to compete in and those thoughts keep them awake at night. What can you tell us about the sleep guided meditation for sleep that you created? Can you tell us more about that?
Jason Stephenson: Yes this is a great way to finish off the day. I realized when I was doing my YouTube that so many people have trouble sleeping because their minds begin to race. I wanted to create this meditation to help people before they go to sleep or to catch their breath to be in the present moment and in doing that we can almost clear the slate in a natural way because we are not thinking of what happened during the day and we’re not worried about tomorrow but we’re focusing on our breath and focusing on the visualization.
I guess what I specialize in is more of the sleep meditation, before sleep meditations and during this meditation I also accept that people’s minds will wander and that’s again a natural part of meditation. But all they need to do is simply if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to the visualization or to your breathing or to my voice so they can just continue to be put in the present moment. And sometimes in doing this we’re giving our mind and body the chance to unwind naturally and stop the mind from being round up over what’s going to happen tomorrow or what happened today and so we can naturally hopefully and begin to have a better chance to drift off to sleep.
Dr. Segler: Yes that’s that is interesting because a stressful lifestyle that we may set up for ourselves isn’t really productive in that sense and I think most people now recognize that a stressful lifestyle is a huge problem. But you really created this course that helps people begin to live a more stressed free lifestyle and I was looking that know you have hundreds of students enrolled in your course and even have an amazing four point five star rating. So what can you tell us about that mindfulness meditation thirty-day boot camp course that you created?
Jason Stephenson: I wanted to create a meditation course that is open to anyone and that people can use this course and develop the skills so this sitting meditation practice can be used in all areas of their lives. For instance we begin with sitting meditations and some guided visualizations that they can also use it anytime during the course. But I also focus on things like walking meditation and standing meditation and even beating meditation because some of the great times we can use meditation for instance can be like waiting in line at a bank and instead of being frustrated because I used to be there when I wait in line and get angry. But now I love those waiting in line moments whether it would be a shopping center or a bank because I just tune in to my breathing. And so basically this course is just for people to recognize that they can do meditation virtually anywhere, anytime and I even incorporate into this thirty-day boot camp a silent retreat if you like where people are encouraged to have a weekend where they don’t talk and don’t communicate with anyone just to experience this.
This is another way of quieting the mind. I really enjoyed making that boot camp. Then I continued to add more bonus meditations all the time. It’s actually a growing course.
Dr. Segler: I would imagine the people that make it all the way through the thirty-day course. By that time it really kind of becomes a habit and it gets to really solidified in one’s routine and becomes much more of a daily practice without so much effort. Does that seem to be true?
Jason Stephenson: Yes people that finished the course have said “Wow, I’m loved” because that’s exactly right. They’re putting it to practice and they’re they waking into their regular everyday life and so I’ve seen the changes. I’ve heard he changes taking place by some of my subscribers and it’s lovely to see that. It’s really lovely to see them more calm and not so round up. It’s really great to see.
Dr. Segler: That’s great! I am absolutely convinced of meditation can be such a huge benefit in so much help for any athlete whether they’re injured or not because as athletes were always healing. We go out and we train and we do tissue damage. So even if we don’t suffer “injury”, we don’t have a true over training injury we’re always healing and recovering and so our bodies are always rebuilding themselves on a daily basis and I know that meditation can help people do that. They can heal faster and they can do better because they reduce cortisol levels. All the things that we know sort of scientifically to go into healing, meditation can affect those in a positive way.
I mean I have certainly learned a lot from you here today and I’m really grateful that you’ve taken the time out of your schedule to record this interview all the way from Australia and I’m really grateful that we had you here to share your expertise on meditation with all our listeners today.
Jason Stephenson: Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s always good for me to talk about it too because it solidifies things for myself and what meditation has given me too.
Dr. Segler: Yes. What’s the best way for listeners to reach you if they need help in getting started because many of them just don’t know where to begin and they don’t know where to start? They don’t know how to really even begin a routine or they are looking to refine their practice of meditation. What’s the best way for listeners to find you and to get a hold of your resources and your course?
Jason Stephenson: My main website is http://www.jasonstephenson.net/ and you can get in contact with me on that website if you have any questions or but also it’s got all the links to my YouTube, into my Facebook, into my courses so you can virtually get everything at that website there.
Dr. Segler: Excellent! Well any other last-minute tips for all of our listeners?
Jason Stephenson: Look I just say to begin and remember to never beat yourself over thinking that you can’t do it because really we make it complicated for ourselves. As human beings we make it complex when it’s actually not even complex. It’s a matter of just being and accepting what is and that means accepting our thoughts that’s come into our minds. So even if you can do two minutes a day just begin. Just sit for two minutes and then the next time do another two minutes and you’ll be on your way.
Dr. Segler: All right Jason thank you again!
Jason Stephenson: Thank you so much.
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