Health checkup: Demystifying meditation

Dr. Brian O’Donnell

Dr. Brian O’Donnell, a pediatrician at Mountain Area Pediatrics, shares his thoughts on meditation, staying active and maintaining positive relationships.

What are some techniques you use for maintaining your mental health?

I hope to surround myself with people that I wish to emulate, amplifying their positivity and learning resiliency. In this manner I have found meditation to be fruitful to calm the internal negativity that abounds with my naturally pessimistic personality. Ten minutes of meditation in the morning, mostly on the days when I am not struggling at the gym, and the day inevitably flows better. I also believe that our mind is similar to our body in that it needs to be challenged and worked out — learning new concepts, working on artistic/creative projects and engaging in stressful public endeavors all can help me find and push the limits of my mind.

What is your favorite way to approach your own physical health?

My approach to maintaining physical health over the last 50 years has varied widely but is based upon a foundation of nutrition, sleep and exercise. My family tries to eat well with mostly home-cooked food, lower in fat and progressively more vegetarian as we age. Sleep rituals and hygiene have been in slow transition as well, now regularly at a comfortable seven hours of sleep per night with an early waking. I find my memory, exercise recovery and immune function to be the main benefactors of a good night of sleep. Lastly, my exercise regimen is meant to combat my naturally weak ectomorph/slow-twitch muscle genetics. I humbly attend a 6 a.m. CrossFit class three days per week, which then allows time later in the day and on weekends to mountain bike, hike and play with my family.

What is one book, podcast, documentary or article related to mental or physical health that you’d recommend, and why?

Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” app on my phone has really demystified the art of meditation. This guided meditation has been helpful for me as a beginner and allows for a quick (10 or 20 minutes) reflection at lunch, while waiting at soccer practice or first thing in the morning. He also has a wealth of talks, interviews and lessons in conjunction with other leaders in mindfulness. For physical health, my coffee table has Kelly Starrett’s Becoming a Supple Leopard, a recommended read for preventive maintenance and overall physical humility.


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