For the healthcare provider, the focus of treatment for their patients is often directly related to their training. That training may or may not include how to use meditation within your practice.If there is training, it may be limited or overshadowed by other "hardcore" courses. Or, relegated to quickly asking if your patient meditates and then a recommendation to meditate without further explanation or follow through. No matter what field of healthcare, meditation is sure to have a positive effect on many levels for both the practitioner and their patients.
Meditation can take on many forms with different outcomes. When recommending meditation, it is important to have an understanding of what it does and a working knowledge of a few of its many forms. A few questions to ask include:
- When do I recommend meditation?
- Why do I tell my patients to meditate?
- What form do I recommend?
- How do I instruct meditation?
- How do I modify the meditation, if needed?
- How do I ensure or check compliance with my patients?
- Am I able to answer questions with specific or general answers?
Chances are that vague answers to the above questions will translate to vague results and low compliance. Yet, for certain health conditions and certainly for general health, meditation is one of the easiest and most cost effective tools we have to offer.
Meditation is a broad term with various names and perhaps slightly different meanings - all of which can be correct. When I speak here of meditation, my meaning is simply: a practice that induces stillness and quiet in the body and mind. This practice may be performed while sitting, lying, standing, or moving, while in quiet or not, by oneself or with others. Meditation may result in better health, relaxation, greater happiness or contentment, or confusion and frustration (usually temporary) and possibly a "spiritual" transformation. With meditation, the end result may surprise you, a little like that proverbial box of chocolates. Your initial intent may be to decrease back pain (there are wonderful moving qi gong meditations for this) and you end up with a spiritual transformation that changes your life.
More research is taking place today that shows the positive effects of meditation. Improvements have been shown with sleep, blood pressure, diabetes, perceived mental well-being, stress, pain, and anxiety. The National Institute of Health is a wonderful resource of studies on the effects of meditation. The best "research" for me though is through personal experience and feedback from my patients.
After deciding you want to recommend meditation to your patients, the next question is; which meditation? Do you blindly say, "I want you to meditate?" and trust that your patient will pick the appropriate form? Often, leaving this decision to your patients, results in zero compliance.
With so many meditations to choose from, which one do you recommend? Although it is not necessary to know all of the hundreds if not thousands of ways to meditate, as a healthcare practitioner it is good to have knowledge of a few different styles under your belt so you can more easily select for your patient. This knowledge is best if it comes from experience, so homework for you would be to try different styles and techniques yourself. Additionally, if a patient doesn't like meditation or if compliance is low, you then have choices to help overcome their objections.
Though there can be a cross-over effect with meditation, I base my recommendations on whether the condition I want to help is physical, mental, or emotional. For example, if a patient has back pain, I recommend Wise Owl Gazes Backward from Baduanjin, a moving qi gong exercise. Performed in a slow meditative way to move qi without aggravation can help ease back pain. The same move performed in a more vigorous way can increase qi flow and decrease mental sluggishness.
After recommending a meditation to your patient, the next part is to show them how to do it. Because I break longer meditations into manageable pieces, this takes little time. It is also the way the ancient masters taught - learn one piece before you move on to the next. To save time when you are with patients, have at hand instructions for how to do the meditations you recommend. In the same way you give instructions when you prescribe an herbal formula, you want to give instructions for meditation.
To simplify this task, I diagrammed various meditations to copy and hand, along with a "Meditation Prescription," to my patients. I created a "Meditation Prescription" form listing different meditations, where I check what I want them to do, along with a space to denote how many times a week/day. This simple visual clarifies exactly what I want and has increased compliance.
Beginning to meditate is often the hardest part. By starting your patients with shorter meditations, your patients will find they can fit meditation into their busy schedule and they are more apt to continue and even try new styles. Baduanjin, also known as Eight Piece Brocade, is one moving qi gong meditation I recommend all health practitioners have in their repertoire. It is divided into eight sections so one section can be learned at a time. Once each piece is learned, it can then be performed together as a whole. Performed slowly it can be extremely meditative and relaxing while gently stretching every muscle of the body. More vigorous executions of the same move can move qi and result in feelings of vitality - a great substitution for that afternoon caffeine jolt.
I often hear that children cannot meditate. This is why I keep a collection of meditations from which to select. For parents who have children who are moody, I recommend a Laughing Meditation or one I call Angel Wings of Light. These are easy to learn and can be effective with a few minutes of practice - great for kids as well as adults.
As healthcare practitioners, practicing meditation helps keep us centered, decreases stress, recharges our "giving-side," and allows us to offer first-hand experience of the meditations we recommend to our patients. It can also be a foundation for the practice of external qi gong, the healthcare practice of using qi inside or outside of us to help balance the qi inside of the patient, a fascinating topic for another article.
Recommending meditation to our patients is one more protocol we have to help them with their health. Making meditation convenient for them by offering specifics in what to do and how to do it increases compliance and elevates the practice to the level it deserves within the healthcare system.
Patricia Bates, MSAOM, LAc. is a graduate of Bastyr University and has been practicing meditation for more than 30 years. She teaches meditation and is the author of Qi Gong Meditations for the Healthcare Provider, Their Patients, and EveryBODY and Toolbag for Life, Living, and Love. She is a contributing writer for Happiness and Wellbeing and is scheduled to appear on PBS where she will talk about meditation.