Meet The Man Teaching Congress How to Meditate

January sucks. It’s full of change. Full of the new.

Everyone makes promises to shed their “holiday cookie weight” by signing up for gym memberships and making declarations for the new year. In the political world, change will be far more enormous than it has been in recent years. Folks are revving up for the new administration in Washington D.C., which will begin in the next few days. People will be appointed, transitions will occur, and a whole new government will take control.

New beginnings sometimes cause a lot of stress. When change occurs, waves of stress affect the entire country. No matter the party affiliation, people in the political process, like Congressmen and Senators lead especially busy and stressful lives.

Ryan Soave, a meditation instructor, is trying to change the stress brought on by politics. He has taught members of Congress and their staffers breathing techniques for focus and mindfulness. So why is this happening every week in Capitol Hill, of all places?

Ryan Soave. Image Credit: Heaven Long, used with permission.

Soave told Independent Journal Review:

When the mind feels like it’s running out of time, like ‘I can’t get things done’ it’s really a way to declutter for a moment and say ‘okay this is what I’m doing right now so I can focus and be successful.’ The cluttered mind is what stops people from being successful.

He explained that practicing mindfulness has proven medical results and psychological benefits:

It can increase the secretion of melatonin, which helps you sleep. It increases the level of serotonin, which makes you feel good. It decreases the level of cortisol, which is the stress hormone.

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So why does this help politicians? According to Soave, it not only reduces the stress in the daily life of a congressman but also creates space for collaboration in a transitioning government. Not only that, but it helps remove stress as a barrier to the tough decision-making they face everyday.

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Bob Roth, the Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation, a wellness nonprofit focused on meditation, said stress literally breaks neurological connections in the mind:

[It rips] apart the connection between the frontal lobes (decision makers) and the amygdala (fear center). Practices in mindfulness and meditation claims to strengthen those connections. In this way, the brain is optimized.

Ohio Representative Tim Ryan frequents meditation sessions on the Hill. He wrote A Mindful Nation, discussing the practicality of mindfulness and meditation in politics and schools. According to an interview conducted by Hay House, he said that mediation gives kids “a technique and a skill set on how to mobilize their attention.” Moreover, he added that “[m]indfulness is a great opportunity for us as a country…to develop this skill in some way to improve our own performance.”

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What, then, is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? Dave Trachtenberg, the director of Minds, pressed that mindfulness is a bipartisan activity and actually has nothing to do with belief or philosophy:

I think there’s confusion about meditation and mindfulness…meditation is an enormous field of many different styles from cultures all over the world that oftentimes combines a sense of inward focus. When we’re specifically talking about mindfulness, it’s one type of many meditations. It really doesn’t have anything to do with anyone’s background, beliefs, culture, or race. It’s really talking about training our awareness: how we are coming across to others.

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But does it actually work?

According to information provided by Transcendental Meditation (TM) in Washington, D.C., there are over 380 studies that have been conducted on TM in over 160 scientific journals (Think: Harvard Medical School and Stanford Medical School). Some of the studies have shown positive benefits:

  • Physiological indicators of rest
  • Reduced mortality rate
  • Inner calm
  • Reduced high blood pressure
  • Broad comprehension and ability to focus
  • Increased creativity

According to the David Lynch Foundation TM “decreased PTSD and insomnia up to 55%” among veterans, and showed a dramatic reduction in substance abuse and alcoholism.

Based on the results, could people in the political process find peace amongst conflict and disagreement by practicing meditation? Soave seems to think it will help:

When it comes to politics, people are like, ‘I don’t want you to disagree with me,’ when actually, really successful leaders would surround themselves with people who disagree with them. Because then we could see more openly. Meditation is a tool which can take the stress out of decisions and allow us to see other possibilities. It can allow us to work together.

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At the end of the day, meditation seems to create space and allows people to collaborate in ways that might not have been thought possible. If people could reduce the amount of stress in their lives by simply taking five minutes each day to sit in silence and strengthen focus, health, and creativity, why not try it?

“Serenity is not finding calmer seas, serenity is building a better boat,” Soave claimed. “Meditation is a tool that helps you build a better boat, and you can navigate rough seas.”

Maybe with the New Year of 2017, politicians will find a way to breathe, focus, and communicate without the stress of the political system. It begs the question, what effect would it have on both sides of the political spectrum?

What do you think?

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