Episode 10: Get Your Zen On To Balance Your Gut
What if in 15 minutes a day you could reduce your stress and anxiety, get deeper sleep, improve your immune function, increase productivity, and better your microbiome?
Our guest today says that it’s possible and that her specialized meditation technique can take you from a basket of nerves to calm, cool, and collected. Emily Fletcher is the creator of the Ziva technique and the author of the new book, “Stress Less, Accomplish More.”
She joins Andrea on the show to talk about how meditation can decrease inflammation in the body, which we know from the research is a critical component of good gut health.
Emily tells us about her story, starting as a stressed out actress on Broadway before discovering a form of meditation that allowed her to finally relax. She also sheds light on the different kinds of meditation available, how her own gut health changed when she started her practice, and how even those who’ve tried and failed at meditation find success with her technique.
To check out The Ziva Technique, visit the website at https://zivameditation.com/. The book drops February 19 and is available for pre-order and bonuses now by clicking here.
On this show, you’ll learn:
- The different types of meditation that exist (5:41)
- The effect of stress on the microbiome (10:40)
- The power of choice (14:14)
- How Emily’s gut health changed (15:53)
- The misconceptions surrounding meditation (18:53)
- The inspiration behind her book “Stress Less, Accomplish More” (23:07)
- How to find out/learn more about Ziva Meditation (26:16)
Andrea Wien: It's here, our last episode of the first season of The Microbiome Report, powered BIOHM Health. On today's show, I'm talking to Emily Fletcher, the creator of the Ziva technique and the author of the book Stress Less, Accomplish More, which is due out in just a few weeks on February 19th, but you can pre-order it now, which I highly, highly recommend you do. Ziva technique is a mindfulness, meditation, and manifestation trifecta that helps decrease stress and anxiety, promotes deeper sleep, improves immune function, and increases productivity and a high level of performance. It sounds too good to be true, but I can assure you that it really works.
Emily is also Dr. Mark Hyman's personal meditation coach which, let's be honest, if it's good enough for Mark, you know it's got to be good enough for the rest of us. In addition to Mark, she has more than 15,000 students around the world and was named one of the top 100 women in wellness to watch. Everyone from The New York Times to Vogue and The Today Show have featured her work, and today, she's right here on The Microbiome Report, talking about how stress is screwing up your microbiome and how meditation can help get you on the right track.
It's not just about being mindful and having less stress, but actually about reducing inflammation in the body, which we know from the research is a critical component of good gut health. We talk about a whole host of things like why meditation apps might be more like a fast-food meal rather than a nourishing Thanksgiving dinner and how you can start to meditate even if you've tried and failed before. Let's jump in. Emily, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Emily Fletcher: I am thrilled to be here.
Andrea Wien: So to start, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in meditation.
Emily Fletcher: Sure. So I have a pretty unlikely journey from Broadway showgirl to meditation teacher. So I used to be on Broadway for 10 years. My last show was A Chorus Line where I was understudying three of the lead roles, which means you show up to the theater with no idea which character you're going to play. I thought it was my dream, but it did quickly become my nightmare. Sometimes I would just be hanging out in my dressing room and someone would get on a loudspeaker and say, "Emily Fletcher, we need you on stage," and I would start panicking, throwing myself into a full fight or flight stress reaction, run down seven flights of stairs. Someone would throw me in a costume, and sometimes I would be on stage before I knew which character I was playing. I was just like, "What's happening right now?"
So basically, my whole life was this fight or flight, and even though I was doing the thing I wanted to do since I was a child, I found myself miserable because that anxiety during the day is leading to insomnia. I started getting sick and injured, and it was very confusing to me why my life was not sunshine and roses. So I was like, "This is not my dream." So thankfully, this amazing woman was sitting next to me in the dressing room. She was understudying five of the lead roles, including Cassie, so people who know the show. It's a really hard job, and this woman was crushing it. Every song, every dance, every bite of food was a celebration. I asked her, "What do you know that I don't know?" She said, "I meditate." I was like, "Oh God, one of you." I rolled my eyes and didn't believe her.
I just kept sucking at my job, and going gray, and having insomnia. Finally, I felt so embarrassed about my performance that I thought I need to try something different. So I went along to this intro to meditation talk, and I liked what I heard. It made sense to me. It rang true to me. So I signed up for this course. On the first day of the first course, I was meditating. To be honest, I had no idea what that meant. Then, that night, I slept through the night for the first time in 18 months, and I have every night since, and that was 11 years ago. Then, I stopped getting sick. I didn't get sick for eight and a half years. I stopped going gray. I'm going to be 40 in March, and I have like one gray hair. I was legitimately going gray in my twenties. I thought, "Why does everyone not do this? It's so good. It feels so good when you're doing it. Your life is so much better afterwards."
So I left Broadway, and I went to India, and I started what became a three-year training process to teach. Because I was an actress for so long, I started teaching actors, and singers, and dancers. Anyway, I quickly learned that high-performers have very unique needs when it comes to meditation, and I was frustrated by how many ex-meditators I saw in the world, how many people who had tried it and then quit because maybe they couldn't stop their minds from thinking or they thought they were too busy to meditate. So that is how I developed the Ziva technique, which is a trifecta of mindfulness, meditation, and manifesting. That's what we teach now at our studio in SoHo in New York and online with zivaONLINE. It's been the most rewarding, beautiful journey I've ever been on. I've gotten to teach so far 15,000 people, and that feels like a real honor and a joy.
Andrea Wien: That's so amazing and so inspiring to know that you came from this place that was really so fraught with fear, and disappointment, and stress, and you've moved now into this place where you could see what was driving that. It's very inspiring to people who maybe feel that way now, who are waking up every day and having a panic attack about going to work, having those Sunday Scaries before Monday work starts. You alluded to this a little bit when you talked about the three... mindfulness, manifestation. Can you get into a bit of the different types of meditation that exists? Because I think sometimes people hear meditation and they immediately picture that very stoic monk sitting cross-legged on a rock in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, he's not thinking, right? So there's very different views on meditation in the meditation world, and so I'd love to just hear the different types that are available.
Emily Fletcher: So I think that Instagram is not doing us any favors in the meditation department because what I teach does not look good on Instagram. It feels amazing, and it makes you so much better at your job and at your life, but it looks like you're taking a nap sitting up or that maybe you have a heroin problem. It just not really look beautiful on Instagram. There's no fancy fingers. There's no erect spine. You don't have to do it on a cliff. You certainly don't have to be a monk. So what we teach is very much for people with busy minds and busy lives, and it's designed to be integrated into your life versus... A lot of styles of meditation that people are practicing these days are adapted from things that were originally designed for monks. So there are hundreds of different styles, but I would say if we want to get really simple with the delineation, you could say there are monastic types of meditation, and then there are types for people with busy minds and busy lives or what we call householder meditation.
Where this gets tricky is that mindfulness, which is a relatively new term. It was coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the '60s, '70s, and he was actually studying Buddhism. He was studying more monastic practices and took out the perhaps off-putting words that sounded like a religion or that weren't quite palatable to an American audience in that decade and developed a mindfulness-based stress reduction technique, which is awesome. He's done such a great... Not just him, but now, so many people have this whole movement in modern culture where we're stopping to take mindful breaks, and we're taking mindful breaths, and people are being more conscious about what they're eating.
To me, the word mindfulness has become a little bit of a catch-all for just saying, "I'm being present. I'm going to go take a mindful walk or mindfulness at work." It's really saying, "I'm going to be present. I'm going to be conscious of where I am in that moment," which is awesome. I would define mindfulness as the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment, which we all needed right now because we've all become bulimic of the brain. We're all ingesting information so quickly with our phones, and technology, and social media that it's really powerful to take a pause. But the big delineation here is that mindfulness is very good at dealing with your stress in the now. So your boss yells at you, you get on Headspace, do an app, and you listen to it for 10 minutes, and you feel better in the now. Very good at creating a state change.
Now, where this is different than what we teach at Ziva is all about getting rid of your stress from the past. So all of the breakups, Jack Daniels, Taco Bell, all-nighters, firing, and so what we do at Ziva is that we teach a meditation technique that's quite different than what most people think of when they think of meditation. Like I said, it feels like a nap sitting up, and in it, you're giving your body rest that is about five times deeper than sleep. That's not an insignificant point because when you give your body the rest that it needs, it knows how to heal itself.
The beautiful thing about meditation as I would define it is that we're not just dealing with stress in the now or dealing with the stress in the past. Ultimately, it's all that stored stress, that old stress in our cellular memory that slows down and bogs down our brain and body. It's that old stress that is keeping us from performing at the top of our game, and what we really focus on at Ziva is meditation for extraordinary performance. We do this thing to get better at life, not to get good at meditation.
So if people sit down in a meditation with the goal of trying to clear their minds, it's an impossible goal because the mind thinks involuntarily just like the heart beats involuntarily, and then it's like people miss the point. It's like they start meditating for the sake of meditation and chasing this unattainable goal instead of, "You know what? I'm going to sit down for 20 minutes, and I might hate it. This meditation might suck, but I know I'm going to feel better and perform better on the other side because I'm doing this to be better at my life."
Andrea Wien: Absolutely, and I've been meditating myself for about seven years. I would say that there's not been one time where I've sat down and had a completely thought-free meditation. It just doesn't exist and...
Emily Fletcher: Well, congratulations. You're not dead.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. But I think when you start to meditate, even though someone has told you you're supposed to have thoughts, and it should be effortless, and all of these things, it does take... There is a period of time where you're adjusting to what that means, right, because we are so full of effort all the time. I think a lot of us are walking around in hyper-aware, type A personality type states where we want to be doing. We want to be doing something, and so the idea of sitting and being effortless doesn't really make sense. When we start to talk about the microbiome and stress in the microbiome, it's something that we're hearing a lot with chronic stress, acute stress. It really starts to impact what's going on with our bacterial colonies, how our bacteria is working with the rest of our body. Can you elaborate a bit on why there's that connection?
Emily Fletcher: So when the body gets stressed, it basically is preparing you for a predatory attack. So this really has evolved out of 10,000 years of humans and predators. So let's say it's 10,000 years ago. You're in the woods, hunting and gathering, and a saber-toothed tiger jumps out at you with the intent to kill. The very first thing that your body is going to do is it's going to flood your digestion with acid. It's going to dump a bunch of cortisol and adrenaline, which are acidic in nature to shut down digestion because you need all hands on deck to fight or flee this tiger.
You can't afford to waste that energy on digesting your food, and that same acid seeps onto your skin so that you don't taste very good if you get bitten into by that tiger, which is what causes premature aging when we're stressed. Your bladder and bowels will evacuate to be light on your feet. Your immune system goes to the back burner because who cares if you're going to get cancer if you're about to be killed by a tiger? Your vision narrows, and so this series of chemical reactions is very useful, very good for you if your demands are in fact predators.
But if your demands are kids, or deadlines, or breakups, or changing jobs, or moving, then fight or flight stress reaction has become maladaptive, and because most of us are not eating food that God created, food that nature created, we're eating food that man created, and because most of us are not ever engaging in that fight or flee. Back in the day, if you got stressed, if you launched into fight or flight, chances are you either had to fight the tiger or run away from the tiger. So that surge of stress chemistry in your body got burned off almost immediately.
So with our current modern day demands, we launch into fight or flight, and then we never have the chance to burn it off. So this leads to chronic stress, and our digestion has been dampened for so long because the body thinks that there's an imaginary tiger around. So basically, it's this combination of body not digesting food as effectively as it is designed and this buildup of acidity over time can really wreak havoc on the microbiome because all of that gut bacteria, all those microorganisms, they need a beautiful pH balance. If it gets too acidic, they die.
I find that when people start a meditation practice, so many other healthy habits start to follow behind it because you're no longer making rash reactions out of a fight-or-flight mentality. You instead are moving yourself into something that I call stay and play. When you're in the stay and play, then you actually have access to the executive function of your brain, and you're not just making involuntary reactive responses to things. Basically, when we get stressed, body gets acidic and you're preparing for a tiger attack. This can over time really create an inhospitable environment for all that beautiful bacteria that we need to keep us healthy.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. When you were just talking through that, I'd never heard it put in that exact way, I thought about the coral reefs, right, and how they need such the right temperature, and acidity of the water, and pH. All of those things are so critical to the health of coral. So if we think about our gut in that same way, it's a living organism. So if we're messing with that balance at all, then it's throwing that whole ecosystem out of whack.
Emily Fletcher: That's a really beautiful analogy. I love that. Can I use that?
Andrea Wien: Yeah, of course. You heard it here first.
Emily Fletcher: Just to elaborate a little bit on that. Choosing how we want to live our lives, choosing what we want to eat, choosing if we're going to take our supplements, choosing to exercise. When a lot of us are so chronically stressed, we're not really choosing our lives at all. We start to feel like victims because we feel overwhelmed. If our microbiome gets out of balance, and if our pH balance is off, and if we're constantly in fight or flight, then our body is going to do whatever it can to survive. If we're in overwhelm, if we're exhausted, if we're angry, if we're sad, then we're basically constantly looking for relief or a way out. Instead of consciously creating a life and a body that we love, instead of consciously creating our health, we're just like, "Ugh, I'm so overwhelmed. Let me drink the wine and feel better," or, "Ugh, I'm so stressed. Let me smoke the pot and feel better," or, "I can't even deal with the day. Let me just watch TV instead of going to the gym."
So when you start to insert a daily meditation practice into your life, you get out of that overwhelm. You get out of that nervousness. You get out of that anxiety. You get out of that fatigue, and you start accessing the executive function, the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which puts you back in the driver's seat of your life. So it has this cascade effect if you commit to this one habit, and it starts to impact all of your other decisions, what you eat, if you go to the gym, how much you're drinking, how much socializing you're doing. I find that the ripple effect of this can be really powerful.
Andrea Wien: It's almost like the secondary gut brain access when we talk about it that way.
Emily Fletcher: Mm, I love that. Yes.
Andrea Wien: So how, if any way, has your gut health improved since you've started to meditate?
Emily Fletcher: I never had gut health issues that I was specifically aware of, but you should know that before I started meditating, I was a Broadway performer in my 20s living in New York city and touring. So I was living my best life, just really living my dreams, drinking a lot of alcohol, and eating a lot of French fries, and going out and dancing until very late hours of the night. It was super fun, but not really sustainable. So the combination of the partying with that constant fight or flight that I was in at work really led to adrenal fatigue.
So my adrenals were shot. I was on adrenal supplements, and I think that that was a combination of the stress, but also, just my whole body being out of whack. It's funny to even think back to what that felt like and what that head space was like. But now, it's almost as if I can have a gentle or a subtle intention for things in my life, and then they happen. Same for my body. I feel like I don't have to work out as hard, or if I'm sick, I can visualize being well and really flip my immune system around.
I just feel like everything is so much easier now, and certainly, my digestion has gotten better. I would say that 80% to 90% of my food intake is very... from the earth, organic, farm-fresh, from the farmer's market, local when possible. I try to eat really well, and I do eat very well. So I think because I've been doing that, because I've been making these healthy decisions, because I've not been so stressed, it allows me to be able to veer off course when I need to, and then just come back into balance. So if I'd go to a party or a baby shower, or want to drink one night, or want to have cake, I just do it, and I don't have any guilt about it. But because my whole system is stronger, it's able to come back into balance really quickly and more effortlessly.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, I found that as well. I have celiac disease, and so I've had it for... I found out 20 years ago. Since I've started meditating, I do feel like you're right. It's just easier to get back into the flow if we mess up or if I accidentally get gluten. I've noticed too. I haven't been 100% faithful all those seven years. So when I am not meditating as frequently, it's the more subtle shifts. Right? I start to get more annoyed at the line at the airport, and I start to take a couple days longer if I accidentally get gluten to feel good again.
So it's true. Sometimes it's not these big, huge things that we're noticing in our day-to-day life. Sometimes it is. Right? When people first start meditating, I think you see a lot of those very big shifts because suddenly you're in a completely different mind space, but there are a lot of people who have some misconceptions around it, who think they're too busy, who think that it will take the edge away from them. So what are some of the biggest misconceptions that you hear, and how do you counteract those?
Emily Fletcher: Yes. Well, you hit the nail on the head with the first one about busyness. This is probably the biggest excuse, barrier to entry, and so I really like to lay this out for folks. This is really why I've spent the last three years of my life working on my first book. It's called Stress Less, Accomplish More. Basically, the whole point of the book is to lay down the science behind why meditation actually saves you time. I think that it's like, "Yeah, yeah. I know meditation is good for me, but I don't have time to sit there." That argument only works if the style of meditation that you've tried is not giving you a return on your investment. Right?
So our most valuable resource that we have is our time. It's the only thing we can't get back in life. You can spend money. You can make more money. You cannot make more time, and so you want to make sure that if you're going to invest your most valuable resource in something that you're getting a return on that investment. I think where this gets tricky is that a lot of people have downloaded a free app. They did it for 10, 20 minutes. Maybe they did it three or four days. But because they never invested any real time in getting any training and they were doing a technique that was maybe originally designed for monks and not for them, then it feels like a waste of time, and none of us have time to waste.
So either we can believe that stress makes us stupid, which it does. Stress makes us stupid, sick, and slow because when we get stressed, our brain and body are burning so many cylinders, preparing for that imaginary tiger attack. So either we can believe that stress makes us stupid or we can believe that we don't have time to meditate, but we cannot believe both of those things in the same argument, right, because if meditation is the most powerful stress-relieving tool that we have, and if when we use it, we actually become faster mentally and physically, and we start to become better at our jobs, more efficient in our lives, then this argument of, "I don't have time to meditate," doesn't really hold water anymore.
But where this gets confusing for people is that what most people are calling meditation, like the free apps, the YouTube videos, the drop-in studios, I would actually call that mindfulness, which is again, the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment, which is quite different than what we teach at Ziva, which is where you're giving your body that deep healing rest. So basically, for a 15-minute meditation, it's like the equivalent of an hour-long nap, but you don't have a sleep hangover on the other side.
So imagine if you're getting tired at work, your eyes are starting to cross. You really want the coffee, but you don't have time to leave and go to the Starbucks. You certainly can't lay under your desk and take a nap, but you're really tired. Imagine being able to close your eyes for 15 minutes just right there at your desk, and then when you open them, you feel refreshed, energized, focused, happier, more creative, more in the flow, and your to-do list that would have taken you three hours of bleary-eyed, mistake-making work, you get done in one hour.
This is, in no uncertain terms, what meditation can do for you. But because most people haven't actually taken the time to learn how to meditate, they're just winging it and trying to clear their minds or listening to free apps, then it just feels like a luxury item that we'll get around to when we have more time like, "Oh, it's like a pedicure." But my mission is to rebrand meditation as the single most important piece of mental hygiene that we need to be practicing every day. The cool thing is that once you invest that time, once you do it and you see how much more productive you are, then it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy like, "Well, I don't... I'm so busy today. So I must make sure that I meditate instead of skip it."
Andrea Wien: Yeah. My meditation teacher always used to say too the free apps and things that you could just listen to and download were like the fast-food meals of meditation. Whereas really learning and putting in the time... and really, it's not that much time to learn. Maybe a few days of an hour class.
Emily Fletcher: Yeah.
Andrea Wien: But putting in that time is really like cooking that home-cooked meal, and sitting down with the family, and having that nourishing conversation. So that's the difference. They're both food, right? But it's just one of them is going to fill you in more ways than one. So you mentioned the book. What inspired you to really write it? Who's this book for?
Emily Fletcher: It's called Stress Less, Accomplish More: Meditation for Extraordinary Performance. At this point, everyone knows they should be meditating. No one is meditating. Not no one, but millions more people are doing it now, but I want everybody meditating. So every time I give a talk at a conference, right, I get invited to speak at a corporation, I ask the room. I say, "How many people here have tried meditation?" 100% of the hands go up or 99% of the hands go up. I say, "All right. Hands down. How many of you guys have a daily practice?" About 10% of the hands go up.
So bridging that gap from 100% of people who tried it and 10% of people who are actually meditating, that's who this book is for. The 90% of people who have tried and felt like a failure, the people who get frustrated because they can't "clear" their minds, the people who don't think they have time to meditate, the pragmatists, the realists, this is who this book is for. This is not something that you have to do and change your identity. You don't have to move to a cave. You don't have to change your diet or your drinking habits. It's basically just a tool to help you be the most amazing version of you, and it's the most effective, efficient tool or set of tools that I've ever come across. But really, I wrote the book for my students, who I taught face-to-face or my online students who wanted to share these practices with their friends and family, but their friends and family didn't have access to a teacher. So I really wanted to make these tools as accessible as possible.
So in the book, I teach a trifecta of mindfulness, meditation, and manifesting. Really, in part one, we start with all the selfish reasons that people come to meditation. So this is how it's going to help you make more money, why it's going to help you have better sex, how it improves your immune function, how it can decrease or reverse your body age, improve your sex life. I think I said sex twice. Then, in part two, I teach the technique. Then, in part three, we really look at the ripple effect of this. How does you improving yourself impact your family, your coworkers, your town, and ultimately, the world itself?
So I'd say there's two audiences. One are for the friends and family of my students so that my students have a tool to get to share with folks or for people like you. You already have a meditation practice. You've been doing it for seven years, which is amazing. You might not need the book, but you might need a tool to give to your family over the holidays or to give someone for their birthday when they're like, "I see you doing this weird meditation thing, but I just don't have time. I can't clear my mind. Is it really worth all the hype? I have kids. I have a job." It's a tool for you to give to someone that is generous and not judgy because it's rude to say to somebody, "Look, you need to meditate," but it's generous to give someone a gift. Then, they can educate themselves, and they can make their own decision as to whether or not it's worth their time investment.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. I already have quite a few people bookmarked in my mind about who's going to get the book when it comes out.
Emily Fletcher: Yay.
Andrea Wien: So talking about when it's going to come out, when is it available? How can people find it? How can people keep up with you guys and learn more about Ziva?
Emily Fletcher: So it's being published on February 19th, which is very exciting, and you can get it anywhere that books are sold. It's available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's called Stress Less, Accomplish More. Then, if you buy it before February 19th and you want to get some awesome bonuses and some complimentary material to go with the book, we have a bunch of bonuses at stresslessthebook.com. So stresslessthebook.com, and there are some beautiful audios and videos that are exercises from the end of each chapter. As a bonus, they get the first three days of my online meditation training, zivaONLINE. So that's a fun bonus as well.
Andrea Wien: So you have about a week left to get all of the fun bonuses. Emily, we thank you so much for coming on. This is such a hot topic, and we're so excited to be uncovering more of the research around the microbiome, and stress, and how meditation is going to play a role in that. So thank you so much for coming on and sharing about Ziva and yourself. We hope to have you back soon.
Emily Fletcher: Thank you so much for having me. It's such a joy to get to connect with you and to learn from another mediator.
Andrea Wien: Have a great day.
Emily Fletcher: You too.
Andrea Wien: Thanks for tuning in to this episode. As I mentioned at the top of the show, this is our final episode of our first season, but we'll be back after a short hiatus with more microbiome-packed episodes on season two. If you have any feedback on the show while we're on break, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. We read every single one, and they are so helpful to us. I'm Andrea Wien. This is The Microbiome Report. Thanks so much for listening.
Like what you hear, join us Thursdays here:
Thanks for listening!
Thanks so much for listening to our podcast! If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it using the social media buttons on this page.
Do you have some feedback or questions about this episode? Email us
Subscribe to the podcast
If you would like to get automatic updates of new podcast episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. You can also subscribe from the podcast app on your mobile device.
Leave us an iTunes review
Ratings and reviews from our listeners are extremely valuable to us and greatly appreciated. They help our podcast rank higher on iTunes, which exposes our show to more awesome listeners like you. If you have a minute, please leave an honest review on iTunes.