Meditation – is it for you?

How are you doing?   

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s okay for your answer to be “not so good.” Dealing with the spread of the novel COVID-19 can be stressful. You may now be working from home while also caring for and homeschooling children or worried about the health of a loved one. 

People are well-equipped to handle stress, but chronic stress that endures over weeks or months can negatively impact the human body, from the immune system to the heart. Stress is also linked with anxiety or depression. 

But there are certain activities that can be done to reduce these negative emotions, such as mindfulness through meditation.  

What is mindfulness? 

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, mindfulness is defined as “moment-to-moment nonjudgment awareness.” 

So it’s being fully present in the moment and paying attention on purpose,” said Dr. Susan Evans, a professor of psychology and clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, during the 92nd Street Y’s MIND Your Health Summit, which took place this past fall. “In other words, training our minds and brains to be right here and right now.” 

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? 

Mindfulness is achieved through the practice of meditation. Meditation is a skill that requires practice.  

“It’s just like playing the piano. You wouldn’t expect yourself to sit down if you’ve never played before and play a Beethoven concert,” said Emily Herzlin, a mind body instructor at Weill Cornell Medicine. 

At first, people may find themselves falling asleep during meditation. Dr. Evans suggests sitting in a chair as opposed to lying down, to stay awake. But Herzlin doesn’t necessarily view falling asleep as a bad thing. 

“I would just say, ‘Oh my body's in this process of learning that it can be awake and at ease at the same time.’ And it's okay that you’re tired,” Herzlin said.  

As a discipline, mindfulness requires time and effort. And at times, it can be challenging. “In the practice, you're just being with everything. And sometimes that could be the good, the bad and the ugly,” Dr. Evans said.  

Can mindfulness help you sleep? 

Yes! There are a few mindfulness techniques that can be utilized to better fall asleep. Herzlin recommends doing a breathing meditation or a “body scan,” which is a meditation that involves paying attention to various parts of the body, from head to toe in a gradual sequence.  

Is there an app for that? 

More than one, actually. Herzlin recommends the following meditation apps: 

“Remember that mindfulness is just one piece of the puzzle,” Herzlin said. “Nutrition, staying active, sleep, staying connected. All of those things are the rest.” 

All of us at Weill Cornell Medicine understand that this is a difficult time for all New Yorkers. As experts in immunology, pulmonary medicine, and critical care medicine, we are working diligently to provide the greatest possible care to patients in need.  

We are available to all New Yorkers who have questions or concerns. Please call our hotline at (646) 697-4000 for information about COVID-19 or read our patient guide