Meditation as medicine: Vanessa Kettering at TEDxClaremontColleges

Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’d like to begin with an aspiration. “May you hear something today
that ignites a spark in your consciousness and enables you to live a life
that is in alignment with your highest ideals
and deepest values.” Easier said than done, right? We live in a world
that’s addicted and afflicted. So, either it’s food, angry birds (Laughter) or something more immediately
and obviously destructive, like drugs or alcohol, the process is essentially the same: anything that takes us out of the moment, creates a distraction
or an illusion of comfort, can be extremely seductive. So, what’s the solution? Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to ask your doctor
if X, Y, or Z medication is right for you. But I want to propose
something much simpler that can be practiced
by people of all ages. Possible side effects may include: lower blood pressure, improved immune functioning, better sleep, more adaptive emotional responses, improved ability to focus, and a general increase
in sense of well-being. It’s one letter different than medication
and it rhymes with accreditation, sort of. Meditation, yoga, another ancient traditions
of focusing the mind and the body have been practiced
around the world for centuries. And science has only recently
began to scratch the surface, in terms of understanding
the impact of these powerful habits. Still, why meditate? Well, like it or not, our minds are programmed to function
essentially like an iPod shuffle. For those of you in the audience
who still have Walkman at home, an iPod shuffle
is this colorful little device that has all our pre-downloaded
programs and music, and randomly shuffles through the tracks. Similarly, the untrained monkey mind is automatically
and unconsciously switching between familiar scripts
and patterns of behavior, and driving our thoughts
and actions most of the time. So, how do we get
the monkey off our minds? To borrow an analogy from a best-selling author
and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, we train the mind essentially
in the same way we would train a puppy. Be patient, be consistent, and hopefully, you’ll have
some fun along the way. And eventually, we may develop
the ability to pay attention and begin to see the beauty
that’s inherent in each moment. Beauty that is more often than not missed, missed because there’s something
more important happening five years from now,
or this weekend, or last year. Yes, but … I can’t turn my mind off, I don’t have time, I can’t do a full lotus yet. You name it, I’ve made the excuse. But finally, I decided to stop
making excuses and just start sitting, and my life got different. I’m still an imperfect perfectionista
with unrealistic expectations, but somehow, life
feels lighter, more fluid. And it’s never enough,
and I’ll always want more, but I’m learning
to take a timeout every day, and take responsibility
for my own quality of life. Because there’s a million and one
new apps, programs, devices, and gadgets all promising greater health
and happiness. And I’m here to say
that all we really need is our breath, now available for 3,99. (Laughter) But with that being said, if you can find something that helps you commit to a more regular practice
or a healthier lifestyle, and it’s not overly distracting, then, by all means, go for it. But in the words of Sharon Saltzberg,
meditation is the ultimate mobile device. You can use it anytime,
anywhere, unobtrusively. Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Let’s try out for ourselves. So I invite you to sit comfortably
with both feet on the floor, or run out of the room screaming – that’s fine, too;
we all have free will here. (Laughter) But if you’re still with me, let’s go into the experience
of focusing on the breath. (Meditation gong sound) You can start by dropping
the awareness into the body. Gently focus on the rising and falling
of the in and out breath. You are likely to have thoughts
competing for your attention. When you notice this is happening, gently bring your awareness
back to the sensation of the breath. (Meditation gong sound) Thank you for joining me
for that experience. And hopefully, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be
complicated or mystical. It can be as simple as setting aside
some time in the morning or before you go to bed at night, and stopping throughout the day
to take a few mindful breaths. You’re worth it. (Applause)


  1. Great talk. Amazing how hard the concept of this is to approach on modern times when it is so simple and has great benefits

  2. Loved this talk Vanessa! More power to you! I just helped roll out a company-wide meditation program at our offices around the country. It's called The Pause. The whole trick now is finding GREAT RESOURCES (like your talk) to reinforce the behavior change of taking 15 minutes… Loved finding this. Thank you. -kc

  3. Mindfulness meditation is proving to be immensely beneficial for both psychological and physical health.

  4. What Mindfulness Research Neglects

    Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental or choice-less awareness. Choices in turn may be divided into non-perseverative choices (what to have for breakfast, what route to take to go home, or choices with no dilemmas) and perseverative choices (worries, distractions, and rumination, or mental dilemmas wherein every alternative is bad). All meditative procedures, including mindfulness, avoid both.

    The consistent avoidance of perseverative choice alone represents resting protocols, wherein the neuro-muscular activity is sharply reduced. In other words, when we want to be relaxed we isolate ourselves from distractive and worrisome events and thoughts. These states in turn correlate with increased levels of endogenous opioids or ‘endorphins’ in the brain. The benefits of this are manifest, as the sustained increase of endogenous opioids down regulates opioid receptors, and thus inhibits the salience or reward value of other substances (food, alcohol, drugs) that otherwise increase opioid levels, and therefore reduces cravings, as well as mitigating our sensitivity to pain. Profound relaxation also inhibits muscular tension and its concomitant discomfort. In this way, relaxation causes pleasure, enhances self-control, counteracts and inhibits stress, reduces pain, and provides for a feeling of satisfaction and equanimity that is the hallmark of the so-called meditative state.

    It may be deduced therefore that meditative states are primarily resting states, and that meditative procedures over-prescribe the cognitive operations that may be altered to provide its salutary benefits (that is, you just need to avoid perseverative choices, not all choices), and that meditation as a concept must be redefined.

    Finally, the objective measurement of neuro-muscular activity and its neuro-chemical correlates (long established in the academic literature on resting states) is in general ignored by the academic literature on mindfulness, which is primarily based upon self-reports and neurological measures (fMRI) that cannot account for these facts. The problem with mindfulness research is therefore not theoretical, but empirical, and until it clearly accounts for all relevant observables for brain and body, the concept will never be fully explained.

    More of this argument, including references, below including a link to the first study (published last year) that has discovered the presence of opioid activity due to mindfulness practice, as well as the 1988 Holmes paper which provided the most extensive argument to date that meditation was rest.

  5. Sanathana Dharma one of oldest 'Way of Life' has contributed and still contributing for humanity in many forms ( Yoga, Ayurveda, Astrology, ZERO,. etc) Practice, enrich and explore Sanathana Dharma !

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