Can Meditation heal Depression, Anxiety, and the ills of stress?
According to Peter Wehrwein, Editor of Harvard Health Blog, posted October 20, 2011,
“in a report released in October of 2011, by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults (aged 12 +) increased by almost 400% between 1988-1994 and 2005-2008. The federal government’s health statisticians figure that about one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant. And, by their rechoning, antidepressants were the third most common prescription medication taken by Americans in 2005-2008, the latest period during which the National Health and Nutrition examination survey collected dtat on prescription drug use.”
A 400% increase? Which begs the question in all researchers minds, “Was depression so neglected in the past as a diagnosis that this is a real number or are the pharmaceutical companies marketing or “pushing” their wares? Or is it a combination of both?
What we DO know without doubt, is that being human presents great challenges, stresses, trials and tribulations and the way most of us live, does not provide a platform for relaxation, nourishment of the body/mind and satiation for the Soul. Without proper nourishment, nurturing and relaxation, there is no room for genuine peace, contentment and happiness.
If you are reading this, chances are, you are already on your way to creating more peace and stillness in your life. So let’s jump right into the thick of this. And the answer is YES, yes, meditation has been proven to provide stellar results for
- improved brain functioning thus clearer thinking and less neurosis
- higher states of consciousness thus increased feelings of connection and less loneliness
- increased awareness thus resulting in refined behaviors and lifestyle choices
- improved physical health and well being or neural integration
- emotional releases thus providing greater life satisfaction and less reliving the past and pain
- improved immune system functioning
- increased activation of the left frontal regions associated with positive moods
- increased intensity and spread of fast, gamma waves in experienced meditators
- decreased release of cortisol (major stress chemical), holds less body fat
Meditation Calms the Brain: thus, Body and Mind by:
- turning OFF the Hypothalamic Pituitary (HPA)
- turning down the amygdala or turning on the hippocampus (regulating center)
- activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
Dr. Sara W. Lazar of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues at Mass General, Mass. Institute of Technology, McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center, in 2005 found unequivocally that “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.”
According to their study:
Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. They hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight Meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.
(NeuroReport, Ageing, August 26, 2005)
Buddhist Monks in a study with scientists in Wisconsin, showed astounding changes in brain chemistry, long lasting changes in cognition and emotion. Due to their long term meditations, self induced high amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice resulted in the understanding that, “mental training involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short term and long term neural changes.” (PINAS, Vovember 16, 2004, Vol. 101, no. 46.)
What does this mean to you right now?
It means that by simply applying the basic format of meditation to your daily life, you will be able to reap the benefits immediately and with a daily practice, long term benefits are available to you. Find a class or group that meets and learn how to meditate. Attend at least once a week these group meditations, as the group energy is very supportive.
The science shows us that 11-15 minutes a day, 30 minutes ideally at least once, if not twice a day, will bring a myriad of BENEFITS to you, without negative side effects. There will be a release of old emotions, realizations and memories at times during your sessions, however, with a steady practice, your inner resolve, strength and stamina grows proportionately to what is releasing and your group practice under the guidance of a compassionate and wise teacher will provide you with the direction you may need at times.
If you think that you just don’t have the time to commit to a daily practice or if any other reasons appear to stop you from carving out a space in your life for a daily spiritual communion with your Heart and Soul, consider the options of not doing it. Relying on long term medication or other outside tools will not heal us, only suspend the reality of what we may be suppressing.
Wrap your life around your Sadhana (personal daily practice), instead of trying to fit your Sadhana into your life. . . watch what happens.
Nourish your Body
Nurture your Soul
Relax your Mind
Enjoy the journey into your Self.