I meditated with 72-year-old Ted Danson a few weeks ago, thanks to an invitation from Cigna, which might seem like an unusual call from a health insurance company. “We see ourselves as a partner in our customers’ healthcare journeys, focusing on their mental and emotional well being, as well as on their physical health issues,” explained a Cigna spokeswoman. By reducing stress and promoting emotional health, meditation can benefit the body.
Ted is an old hand at matters of the mind. Besides turning to Mary Steenburgen, his actress wife, Ted counts on his psychiatrist to help him let go of potentially disabling anger or fear, he revealed during the Cigna event. Meditation is another tool he uses to dispel confusing, conflicting and uncomfortable thoughts, and “to be more present in my body and less in my mind,” he said. “If I don’t meditate, I need a big cry. Something to cleanse myself, to let everything go, which allows me to be real with my wife, with my granddaughters. To be loving. To be present.”
Ted attended the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, and he’d start off every morning with yoga exercises, vocal exercises and meditation, he told us. “It felt very familiar when Mary introduced me to transcendental meditation around 1996. Having a mantra gets you out of your circular thinking, and it was something Mary and I could do together, so I enjoyed it,” Ted explained. Although he doesn’t find meditation as joyful and interesting today, and he doesn’t have the discipline to do it daily, Ted still relies on it often, “almost as a lifesaver.”
MERRY WITH MARY
After two divorces, Ted married Mary in 1995. “My marriage works because Mary doesn’t judge or indulge me when I’m in an angry, sad or anxious space. She helps me rise to my best self. The Big Ted. You want people who love you unconditionally. I trust that I can open up and share my stuff with her and she will share hers with me. Even when we fight, we can look at ourselves and what we bring to the problem. There’s something really magical about that,” Ted revealed.
Ted’s arthritis or hip acts up whenever he starts or ends a job, he said, and Mary gets him to recognize that it’s his fear. “It’s all this stuff in my head, and as soon as she starts laughing at me, I can start laughing at myself and it takes me out of my fear. When my back is really bad, Mary will point out that maybe I’m really angry at something. I don’t like being honest with my emotions, so I bury them. My body says, ‘you’re mad, so I’ll give you something to be mad about.’”
People in love are willing to sit with their partner and actually listen and hear them, Ted believes. “Get out of yourself and be more aware of them than of you. Listening is an amazing gift,” he counseled. And, when we’re in love “everything else works, including illness,” he added. “Mary insists we stay in love.”
Has his approach to handling stress changed over the years, as big changes rocked the entertainment industry, Ted was asked. “I don’t know if the industry has changed, but my age has certainly changed. When I need to come down to earth, I think, ‘And then you die.’ Somehow that lightens me up,” Ted said philosophically. “Your body and gravity necessitate you having a sense of humor and taking yourself a little less seriously.”
Don’t let stress turn a small problem into a bigger problem, advised Ted and Dr. Stuart Lustig, Senior Medical Director, Behavioral Health at Cigna. Don’t feel like a victim or be a victim. See a doctor and take care of your body and your mind. It will empower you. “Doctors really can help. They really do care about you’re doing, physically and mentally, about your body and your mind,” Dr. Lustig emphasized. Start by taking the Cigna stress test.