Some people may roll their eyes when they hear the word ‘meditation’ – but ABC News anchor Dan Harris is aiming to convert skeptics with his new book, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story.”
Meditation has many benefits including improving focus and memory, thickening the brain’s grey matter and lowering blood pressure. Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing editor of FoxNews.com, sat down with Harris to find out more about how he used the ancient practice to change his life.
In June 2004, Harris had a panic attack while anchoring the news on Good Morning America.
“I was just overtaken by fear and I had to quit right in the middle of my little news cast, and I later learned from my doctor that the reason for that panic attack was some very, very stupid behavior in my personal life,” Harris said.
The incident made him realize he needed to make changes in his life. After spending time in warzones, Harris became depressed and had started using drugs. To turn around his life, Harris turned to meditation
“If you try to meditate, the first thing you’re going to notice is that your mind is a zoo. You’re going to have a real, upfront experience with the truth of your life, which is that your mind is out of control, and mediation gives you a way to control it better,” Harris said.
While many think meditation requires a person to completely clear his or her mind, Harris says to get rid of that notion. Meditation is about focusing on one thing at a time, such as your breath. When you get lost in your thoughts, simply catch yourself and bring your attention back to breathing.
“Every time you do that, you break, really, what is a lifetime of habit for us— walking around in this daydream of anticipation about the future and memory about the past and actually focusing on what’s happening right now, where we don’t really live our lives,” he said.
Meditation has long been associated with a ‘hippie’ subculture, but Harris said many high-powered executives, scientists, doctors, lawyers, soldiers and students meditate in order to gain focus and emotional stability. For Harris, the practice allows him to achieve better focus when he’s writing a story, or when he’s anchoring Good Morning America on the weekends.
“I’ve got five people who are on a set and everybody saying a million things. Instead of racing into fears about, ‘Are we going to hit the commercial break? Am I going to be able to reign everybody back in?” I can just listen to what people are saying and have a fun reaction. I’m enjoying myself more and I’m doing a better job,” he said.
Harris predicts that meditation will be the next big public health revolution, especially because science shows it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and “rewires” the brain’s reaction to stress.
“This is going to join in the pantheon of no-brainers that includes brushing your teeth, taking the meds that your doctor's prescribed for you, and exercise. This is going to happen, it's happening in schools right now, get ready for it, and I think it's a great thing because, unlike just impacting dental health or cardiovascular health, this will change behavior could change society,” he said.
Harris said meditation is supposed to be challenging— like exercise for the brain— but practicing for just five minutes a day can be useful.
“I believe that if you start doing five minutes a day, you will change the relationship to the clamor that is your life, your mental life, and if it doesn't work for you after a couple weeks, send me a note on Twitter and tell me I'm a moron, but I don't think you're going to be sending that note,” he said.