If we told you that closing your eyes for five minutes every day was all it would take for you to reach your weight loss goals, you would probably laugh in our face, then resume picking at your kale salad. Reality check: meditation (or rather, a focused clearing of the mind) has a number of scientifically proven health benefits—one of which happens to be assisting weight loss. In fact, a number of studies have shown that meditation can help with everything from stress to insomnia—both pitfalls that can lead to mindless binge-eating (read: not good news for your skinny jeans).
We spoke with Suze Yalof Schwartz—founder of Unplug Meditation in Los Angeles, the first guided meditation studio of its kind—and asked her to explain exactly how to meditate our way to a healthier, more mindful self.
Keep reading to find out exactly how meditation can help your fitness goals—it only takes a few minutes a day.
“All types of meditation are the exact same thing,” Schwartz says. “Everyone will try to tell you they’re different, but the bottom line is, they all require you to pick one thing to focus on—whether it’s the breath, a word, or mantra.” Doing this helps your brain do the one thing that will help you be more mindful: slow down. “Scientifically, when you go from wandering thoughts to focus, you’re building your pre-frontal cortex,” Schwartz says. “The gray matter in your brain literally gets larger; this allow you to overcome your emotions.” She says that your logical mind can be stronger than your emotional self—good news for your tendency to binge eat when you’re stressed.
Meditation, quite simply put, allows you to be more mindful, which in turn, allows you to be more present to everything in your life—including that box of Chips Ahoy you tend to reach for whenever you’re feeling the pressure from your boss. “I would say 80% of weight gain is based on stress or not being present,” Schwartz says. “We tend to eat thoughtlessly—meditation helps you avoid that.” Don’t believe us? This study proves it’s true.
Schwartz explains one simple way to practice mindful eating: “Stop and look at your plate, look at your food, think about where it came from, and how it ended up on your plate,” she says. “Then, pick up your fork, put some food on it, and put it in front of your mouth before eating it. You’ll feel saliva building up.” After you’re fully focused and aware of the bite in front of you, she says to take the bite and focus on your tongue and what your tongue does as you chew. “People never focus on their tongues like this,” she says. “Just experience one bite fully, completely. Swallow your food, put your fork down, and take a deep breath. That’s all it takes to eat more mindfully.” This is its own form of meditation, and you’ll start to notice yourself overeating less, with more feelings of satisfaction after each meal.
If it’s good enough for the Seahawks, it should be good enough for you—the 2014 Super Bowl champions meditated for weeks leading up to their big game to help them focus and increase their pain tolerance. Studies have shown that meditation can actually help you become more resilient and resistant to physical pain. “When you resist something, it gets bigger, bigger, bigger,” Schwartz says. “Let’s say you have a chocolate bar in front of you—the more you try to resist it, the more you’ll be tempted to eat it.” By using meditation and mindful thinking, instead, you see the chocolate bar, acknowledge that you want it, and through this acknowledgement, are able to walk away from it.
So let’s get down to meditation basics: how exactly are you supposed to do it? Schwartz says the simplest way is what she calls the 4-4-4 method. “Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then exhale for four counts,” she says. “Do this four times and breathe naturally—try to forget about it.” (She actually recommends doing 5-5-5, but notes that a lot of people may not be able to hold their breath for that long.)
If you find yourself thinking about all the things you have to do that day, just bring your thoughts back to 4-4-4. She recommends starting with one minute a day, then two minutes the next day, and so on. “Meditate one time, and you’ll feel the difference,” she promises. “Your heart rate will go down, you’ll feel less stressed. Doing it once will change your day; more will change your life.”
If you’re not the type to unplug and focus on your own, Schwartz says guided meditation, like the classes her studio offers, is an option. “You come to our space, and you’re away from your devices,” she says. “It’s totally decadent to be meditating guided live, meditating with a group, and feeling the energy of the group. There’s no place like this anywhere in the country.” (Click here to learn more about Unplug—and if you’re in the LA area, sign up for a class!)
If you’re not in the LA area, many universities will offer guided meditation classes, or you can download an app, like Headspace, which will coach you through a daily meditation exercise.
What do you think—have we piqued your interest in meditation? Have any of you tried meditating and felt the benefits? Tell us below!