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People who don’t suffer from depression experience sadness in temporary bursts if they are presented with a difficult situation, such as the loss of a loved one. Afterwards, they are able to return to their happy state of mind. However, when a person is depressed, they dwell on sad moments. Releasing them becomes increasingly difficult, and this can lead to major episodes of depression. Research has also proven that high levels of stress can lead to depression as well. It doesn’t matter if the stress is from a positive or negative situation either. For instance, an engaged woman might experience depression from the stress of planning a wedding that she is looking forward to. The overwhelming list of things to do piles on too much pressure, and it just becomes too much to bare. Some people have chemical imbalances in their bodies that can lead to depression too.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of sustained voluntary attention. The keywords here are sustained and voluntary. In meditation we are training our attention to be sustained, as opposed to constantly jumping from one object to the next. And this sustained attention is voluntary, as opposed to the involuntary attention that can occur during vivid experiences such as intense pain, pleasure or danger. Such experiences can capture our attention for extended periods of time, but because this attention is not fully voluntary or under our control, we are not able to easily replicate or apply this ability in other situations. The attention cultivated in meditation, on the other hand, can allow us to direct our awareness to any object we chose and sustain it for as long as we like.

Research on Benefits of Meditation

  • In his book Meditation as Medicine Dr. Khalsa stated that meditation is the only activity that reduced blood lactate, a marker of stress and anxiety. The calming hormones melatonin and serotonin are increased by meditation and the stress hormone cortisol is decreased. Meditation creates a unique state, in which the metabolism is in an even deeper state of rest than during sleep.
  • Meditating 45-year-old women and men had on average, respectively, 47% and 23% more DHEA (the youth related hormone) than non-meditators – this helps decrease stress, heighten memory, preserve sexual function and control weight.
  • Research suggests that by meditating regularly, the brain is reoriented from a stressful fight-or-flight mode to one of acceptance, a shift that increases contentment. Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude synchrony during mental practice.
  • People who meditate can cultivate compassion for example, specifically concentrating on the loving kindness one feels toward one’s family and expanding that to include strangers, show a measurable physical changes in the brain regions that play a role in empathy.
  • Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Program, found that by combining meditation with psychotherapy, one can simultaneously develop ego strength as well as meaningful experiences of egolessness, even for trauma survivors.

There are many types of meditation, all of which have their benefits. In regards to depression, it depends on the sufferer, and most importantly there should be expert assistance when guiding through meditation techniques. This article is meant to be informative, instead of instructional. With that in mind, below is a short introduction to one of the more popular types of meditation used for depression; mindfulness.

Other meditations to research are self-compassion, loving-kindness, mantra meditation and courses such as MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and MBSC (Mindfulness Based Self-Compassion).

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a type of meditation where the object of attention is the experience of the present moment, and where that experience is simply observed, without trying to resist, grasp, analyze or alter it in any way. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the greatest proponents of mindfulness in the field of modern medical science:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Because mindfulness is simply awareness of the present, it can be practiced in any moment of our lives and in the midst of any activity: walking the dog, cooking dinner, engaging in a conversation. Any time we let go of our obsessive thinking and return to awareness of our experiences in the present, we are practicing mindfulness.

Although mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere, when training in mindfulness it is best to do so in a structured meditation session where there are fewer distractions. Meditation sessions can be done sitting, walking, stretching, or laying down.

With regular mindfulness meditation practice it becomes easier to consciously shift into nonjudgmental attention in the midst of the various activities of our day. Over time, mindfulness begins to arise naturally and spontaneously, and the abundance of the present moment becomes a richly rewarding way of life.

(Lutz, A., Greischar, L., Rawlings, N.B., Richard, M., Davidson, R.J. (2004)
(Meditation as Medicine – D.S. Khalsa, MD and C. Stauth – Pocket Books, 2001)
(Antoine Lutz, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Scientific American, March 2008)
(Journal of Clinical Psychology 45: 957-974, 1989)