Meditation

Background:

Meditation is the act of focusing over and over again on the breath, phrases or a feeling in the body. There are many different types of meditation. Some have religious backgrounds and others do not.

I started learning about the effects of meditation on improving mental health a few years ago. I have seen the occasional group meditative practice take place in the psychiatric ward, but it really isn’t that common. Meditation seems like it starts to fall into the “out there” treatments and I haven’t heard many prescribes recommend it. I think the easiest way to convince someone with a scientific mind of the benefits is to simply look at the numbers in the trials.

From a scientific side, meditation attempts to reduce reactivity and delete negative recurring thought patterns. Productive meditation can help with both depression and anxiety. It seems like 10 minutes daily is the absolute minimum needed to start to cause changes to occur in the brain.

Effectiveness:

(1) A small study in India examined the effects of meditation in the treatment of adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. 30 patients were included in the trial. 15 patients received no additional treatment while 15 patients received Yoga meditation (stretching for 10 minutes, relaxation for 10 minutes, breathing practices for 10 minutes, and then meditation for 30 minutes). The first 4 weeks had daily sessions and then weekly sessions from week 5 onward. The results were taken at 28 weeks. The Beck Depression Inventory scores were similar to start. The average score was 32.4 in the experiment group and 32 in the control group. The average score at the end of the 28 weeks was 12.4 in the meditation group and 29.93 in the control group. That is the difference between minimal depression and severe depression! Anxiety scores and overall function was significantly improved in the treatment group as well.

(2) A meta-analysis assessed the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on depression in young patients age 12-25 years. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction involves meditation, body scanning and yoga poses. 2,042 patients were included in the review.  Moderate effects were found in reducing depression in young people.

(3) An interesting trial out of Australia looked at the effects of Meditation on work stress, anxiety, and depression in full-time workers. 178 people were split into 3 different treatment arms. The first treatment arm practiced mental silence meditation. These patients had 1-hour evening sessions twice-weekly and practiced twice-daily at home for 10-20 minutes. The second group was instructed to relax and reflect on the day’s events. The third group received no treatment. This study found significant improvement in the meditation group compared to no improvement in both the relaxation and no treatment group. The most interesting part of this trial was the inclusion of the relaxation group.

My experience:

I first became interested in meditation when I lived in Kansas City in 2016-2017. I can’t remember specifically what sparked my interest, but I was looking for a way to decrease feelings of anxiety. I began by browsing the internet for a class or a retreat. I was finding what I was looking for, but unfortunately, they were paired with a hefty price tag. I didn’t know if this would work at all, or be something that I was interested in. I was not ready to invest a lot of money. I also explored watching videos online, but this felt too unauthentic. I found that Temple Buddhist Center held a free, once a week meditation course. Additionally, the description stated that the class was open to all, regardless of religion.

I learned how to belly breathe at these classes. This is different from the breaths you take when a doctor is holding a stethoscope to you. The chest doesn’t rise or fall very much, but the belly does rise and fall. I found intently focusing on my “in” and “out” breaths to be doable for a beginner. 

I currently use an app on my phone called Insight Timer. There are guided meditations and it can be used just as a timer to keep track of how long I meditated. I also have a comfy couch and routine that I do when I meditate. I only do 10 minutes a day and it helps to clear my head.

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Boco
Boca do Inferno, Azores (I took this photo!)

Sources:

1. Srivastava M, Talukdar U, Lahan V. Meditation for the management of adjustment disorder anxiety and depression. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Nov;17(4):241-5.

2. Chi X, Bo A, Tingting L, et al. Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Psychol. 2018; 9: 1034.

3. Manocha R, Black D, Sarris J, et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Meditation for Work Stress, Anxiety and Depressed Mood in Full-Time Workers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 2011: 960583.

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