Director of The Connection documentary, health journalist and author Shannon Harvey revealed her year-long journey at the Happiness and its Causes conference recently, exploring the idea of mindful living and meditating every day for a year.
After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease more than two years ago, Shannon realised the disease was not only creating debilitating pain and arthritis - especially during times of high stress – but also included insomnia.
“Being a health journalist and having written a book named, A Whole Health Life – which is essentially about all the evidence demonstrating that when it comes to good health our minds and body are inextricably connected – it was time to get back on track,” said Shannon.
Looking into the evidence, despite the mindfulness industry becoming a $1.1bn industry, Shannon said meditation was the simplest, drug-free, inexpensive, and flexible journey that was too good to pass up on for her year-long experiment.
Shannon was able to include leading scientists from around Australia to track everything, looking at her DNA, stress hormones, brain changes, immune function, cellular ageing and subjective wellbeing.
“While I was being a human guinea pig, I also travelled the world to hear the experiences of others,” she said.
“In the US, I met ABC news anchor Dan Harris, who turned to mindfulness after having a panic attack live on national television, in front of five million people. Dan describes mindfulness as having the ability to know what is happening in your head without getting carried away by it. And swears his daily meditation makes his depressive thoughts less sticky.”
Shannon admitted that in the early days of her experience, there was no way she would have stuck with the daily meditation if it hadn’t been for the team of scientists tracking her.
“Who really wants to sit with their uncomfortable thoughts and feelings for 45 minutes a day?”
At the end of her project – adding 365 days of her daily meditation – her subjective wellbeing score had leapt from 63 to 95, using set points developed by Robert Cummins of Deakin University.
“The surprising truth is that I don’t think meditation has made me any happier, I know this may be confusing but rather than making me happier, I think my meditation practice makes me less unhappy – that’s to say I’m learning to turn towards my painful thoughts and feelings and I’m learning to realise that the bad things that happen are just as much as part of this glorious thing we call life as all the good things that happen.”
By Ruth Griffin