1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN, FPCP
  2. Editor-in-Chief

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Emptying, cleansing, and replenishing are processes applied to many devices to keep them in good working condition. We drain and replace the oil in our cars and have regular inspections to ensure good working order. Some have suggested that we take better care of our cars than our bodies. With respect to the body, some believe that periodic fasting enhances health and healing, giving the body a rest from the processes of digestion and, at least theoretically, eliminating toxins.

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Inspired by the health beliefs of the Seven Day Adventists, the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a health spa founded by Kellogg in the late 1800s, emphasized the importance of regularly emptying and cleansing the gastrointestinal system. W. K. Kellogg developed the Toasted Corn Flake Company of Battle Creek, now the Kellogg cereal company, where products purported to empty and cleanse the gastrointestinal system continue to be created and sold to this day.


What of the emptying of the mind? Meditation is the process of "emptying and replenishing" the mind to enhance mental health and reduce stress. I have been a regular meditator for at least 30 years. My practice is to sit in the same, overstuffed chair in the corner of my bedroom and let the thoughts just flow through my head without paying attention to their content or directing them in any way. I listen to my own breathing, which over the years has become more and more diaphragmatic in character with my lower abdomen expanding during inspiration and contracting during expiration. For me, 15 or 20 minutes of meditation is like a couple hours of sleep. The constant patter of thoughts slows, drifts, and eventually disappears as a sense of calm and relaxation envelops me and remains for some time after the meditation has ended. Benson,1 a physician who studied the physiology of meditation in the 1970s, referred to the meditative state as the relaxation response.


Daniel Bor, neuroscientist and author of The Ravenous Brain, defines meditation as the attempt to "be as aware as you can of as little as possible."2(p4752) He cites research demonstrating the effectiveness of meditation in helping any person dealing with a psychiatric condition or just managing the everyday stresses and strains of life. Changes in the brain as a function of meditation are the exact opposite of brain changes caused by mental illness and stress, increasing activity in the prefrontal parietal network and the prefrontal cortex. After years of practicing meditation, I resonate with Bor's assertion that long-term meditation improves memory, spatial processing, alertness, and performance on tasks that require focus and attention.


There are hundreds of types of meditation, and many health care institutions are providing training to staff in the processes of mindfulness meditation. This surprisingly simple and elegant modality is akin to building the mind's immunity since it helps stave off depression and anxiety and can also be an effective tool in pain management. Try this-the next time you are having a bad day, slip away to a private place for just 10 minutes, 20 minutes if at all possible. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and let the thoughts drift through your mind, but pay as little attention to them as possible, and focus on the sound of your breadth and the movement of your abdomen. Emptying your mind is just as important as emptying and replenishing other body systems or even your car and the benefits will bring a new calm and enhanced awareness of life and living.


-Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, FPCP






1. Benson H. The Relaxation Response. New York, NY: HarperTorch Books; 1975. [Context Link]


2. Bor D. The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2012. [Context Link]