Meditation May Help Alleviate Depression
> 5/23/2008 11:43:00 AM


Many probably do not believe that sitting silently for 30-45 minutes, measuring their breath and passively watching thoughts move through the mind, will be an acceptable method for managing depression. But disciplined meditation, when practiced on a regular basis, may have profoundly positive effects on one's mental health.

Some portion of the western fascination with meditation and yoga may be attributed to a sense of new-age exoticism, but the fact that the practices have endured long past their early historical inception lends credence to claims of efficiency made on their behalf. Repeated studies have noted neurological differences in longtime devotees of the "mindfulness meditation" practice, one based on the principle of observing and quieting the overactive mind. Researchers performing brain scans on longtime practitioners note that meditation " having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance," and, even though the subjects in their study were Tibetan monks who live in accordance with the strict guidelines of their religion, this general finding applies to all who take up the practice with some regularity. Persistent meditation essentially trains the brain, reforming its functions in keeping with the neuroplasticity phenomenon. This gradual molding of the brain can greatly affect the prefrontal cortex and the insula, little-known structures believed to be play a fundamental role in the regulation of social emotions and compulsive behaviors. The differences in brains of longtime meditators were not temporary, as they were clear to researchers before the actual experiment began.

Meditation's benefits are also very physical: good posture, lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health via stabilized heart rate, reduced stress, and a stronger immune system. As little as 30 minutes a day can produce noticeable results. Individuals who received instruction online and practiced for half an hour every day reported improved moods and increased confidence after only two weeks. A heightened sense of self-awareness and greater degree of control over one's emotions and compulsions is the ultimate goal of meditation.

An inability to relax and accept our circumstances is central to chronic, debilitating depression, and many individuals find themselves unable to retrain their focus and guide it away from an obsession with the negative. Meditation helps stabilize emotional reactivity in the brain, overcoming daily stressors not by providing a means of escape but by allowing an individual to accept them and move on, realizing that most daily worries equal wasted cognitive energy. Mindfulness is obviously not a miracle cure for depression. Many patients suffering from severe depression cannot effectively meditate due an inability to focus that is so common to the condition. Neither is mindfulness a substitute for antidepressant medications or personal therapy. But research demonstrates that it can grant a patient greater control over his or her mind and the moods contained therein.

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