has been practiced for thousands of years by cultures across the globe. It is only
recently that Western medicine has discovered that the practice actually has
physical and mental benefits, aside from just making you feel less stressed.
on meditation have shown that, physically, it can:
your quality of sleep
you better cope with the emotional effects of chronic pain
reduce age-related memory loss
or reduce symptoms of high blood pressure, heart disease, irritable bowel
syndrome, and tension headaches, among other things.
In fact, a 2014
meta-analysis done by Goyal, MD, et al., looked at over 18,000 meditation
studies, eventually finding 47 that met their criteria for studies that were
well designed, had good controls, and were not based solely on participants who already
felt that meditation had a positive benefit.
of this meta-analysis showed that the 3,515 participants experienced
improvement in anxiety, depression, and pain, especially in those who practiced
daily mindfulness meditation.
Meditation is also great for an individual’s well being and emotional intelligence. In fact, studies are showing that this ancient practice can have a positive impact on your mental health by actually changing the structure of your brain.
Meditation Change The Brain?
In the brain, the amygdala controls the “fear centers” and
triggers the body’s fight or flight response.
To find out if meditation changes the brain or if it only
affects a person while they are meditating, a 2012 study by
Debordes, et al, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to look at the brains
of study participants. The researchers wanted to see “how 8 weeks of training in meditation affects amygdala
responses to emotional stimuli in subjects when in a non-meditative state.”
The subjects underwent an MRI at the start of the study, so
the researchers had a baseline to compare to. They then took part in an 8 week
session of “either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based
Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion
meditation practices), or an active control intervention.”
At the completion of the study, the participants underwent
another MRI to look at their amygdala responses. While there was no effect in
the control group, the researchers found:
- A reduction in right amygdala activation when viewing
positive images for those in the MAT sessions.
- An increase in right amygdala response to
negative images in the CBCT participants, which is associated with a decrease
The researchers stated that, “This finding suggests that the effects of meditation training
on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states. This is
consistent with the hypothesis that meditation training may induce learning
that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may
result in enduring changes in mental function.”
Help With Anxiety?
Anxiety begins with our fears about
the future or our worries about our relationships and our daily lives.
One way that meditation can help with
anxiety is by allowing you to stop focusing on the past or the future and permitting
you to concentrate on the immediate present. In fact, being present in the here
and now is the basis of mindfulness
By being mindful,
we can learn to calm the emotion behind our worries and fearful thoughts and
begin to stop reacting to them.
- To begin a
mindfulness meditation, focus on your breathing.
- Take notice
of the sensations you feel. Be aware of your breath flowing through your
nose and into your lungs as you inhale and exhale. Feel your chest expand
and contract as you breathe.
- Take note of
the room’s temperature, listen to the sounds humming around you, notice
the smells or fragrances in the room, and your physical reactions
(sweating, pulse rate, etc).
- If you have
an anxious thought, give it a name, but don’t focus on it. Instead, think
“that is a fearful thought” or “that is a sad thought,” then take three deep
- After releasing
the last breath, try to gain perspective about the anxious thought. Was the
worry or fear valid or was it actually something you might be making more
of than it deserves? Could you possibly be jumping to conclusions with
- As you gain
perspective, you’ll have a few seconds of calm that will allow you to
release the anxious thought, so simply let it go and focus on your next
- Don’t judge
yourself for having anxious thoughts. Once you notice them, gently return
your attention to your breathing and repeat these mindfulness steps.
Each time you
focus solely on the present, your mind gets a chance to relax so you can see things
from a new perspective.
likely that you won’t experience a total release of anxiety the first time you
try mindfulness, you should get some relief from your worries. If you keep
practicing, you will improve over time.
Good For Depression?
Depression is triggered by stress and
anxiety and how we react to them, so anything that can help reduce these
conditions should also help ward off depression.
Since even a short meditation can help
prepare you to face a stressful situation (example: by closing your eyes and
taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself before going into a business meeting),
it can also be helpful for tamping down the anxiety and stress that can lead to
In an article from Harvard Men’s Health Watch, published by
Harvard Medical School, Dr. John W. Denninger,
director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at
Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital said, “Meditation trains
the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative
thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when
you feel stressed and anxious.”
He added that, “When
you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress
and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate.”
As with anxiety, you
won’t get total relief from depression after just one meditation session. “But
with practice, meditation can help many people control how they react to the
stress and anxiety that often leads to depression,” Dr. Denninger noted.
Meditation Isn’t Enough
Although meditation can be helpful for keeping stress, anxiety,
and depression at bay, if you find that your anxiety or depression are
impacting your life on a daily basis it’s time to seek help. For more
The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida
or call us today at 561-496-1094.