By Kimaya Singh
For thousands of years, sages have taught that meditation increases positive emotions and decreases negative ones. In our chaotic modern world, we use the word “depression” to describe a wide gamut of conditions ranging from temporary blues to disabling illnesses. Because it means so many things to so many different people, statistics dealing with diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments can be confusing or even misleading. While mild forms of depression often respond well to healthy diets, exercise, and meditation, others are more resistant to treatment and less likely to go away on their own.
Clinical depression can cause feelings of hopelessness, despair, sadness, even suicidal thinking. Although the proper medication can save lives, antidepressants often have side effects and may be dangerous, especially for pregnant women and children. Relapses are common when patients stop taking the pills, and healthy alternatives are the focus of continuing research.
Recent studies show that, in some cases, meditation may be a good alternative. When scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario explored the use of MBCT, or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, as a replacement for prescription drugs, they found it helped participants regulate emotions; recognize triggers and signs of relapse; and balance their lifestyles and moods.
According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, doctors treated all 84 participants in the study with antidepressants until their depression went into remission. Then they divided them into three groups:
• One group took placebos.
• One group stayed on antidepressants.
• One group stopped taking medication and practiced MBCT.
After 18 months, they made the following discovery:
• Those on placebos had a 70% rate of relapse.
• Those who stayed on antidepressants and those who practiced meditation experienced a relapse rate of around 30%.
Other studies examined the use of Transcendental Meditation in the treatment of veterans suffering from PTSD-related symptoms. Findings published in the June 2011 issue of “Military Medicine” show that TM increases the activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, the area involved in the regulation of emotions – an indication that meditation helps to reduce the “fight or flight” response and triggers the release of endorphins.
While mindfulness and mantras appear to minimize depressive states, it may be best to avoid styles that are too challenging or those than encourage rumination. Practices that agitate the mind or cause frustration may actually increases feelings of helplessness and failure. A state of awareness and the use of proper breathing techniques, however, restore vitality, reduce anxiety, and balance emotions.
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