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Science tells us what works against depression, and the list keeps growing.
Exercise, cognitive techniques, therapy, medication, and meditation to name a few.
In my own struggle against depression, I’ve used all of the above (except medication), and I believe a multi-layered approach to be the most effective in helping to beat the illness.
We who suffer from depression should try as many avenues as possible to treat our illness, and keep that which works the best for our own personal experience. For me, meditation is one of the alternative interventions at the top of my list.
There are hundreds of meditation methods out there, and any aspiring meditator has to choose a technique to start with.
I stumbled into meditation from a somewhat odd angle. I read a book written by the mystic Israel Regardie, which contained a meditation technique called the Middle Pillar meditation.
Many years later, I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, and was amazed at how similar Regardie’s method was to the Body Scan method recommended by Kabat-Zinn (and others). I guess it’s true that there is nothing new under the sun.
I love the simplicity of the Body Scan method, and I love how you can use it to build into whatever direction you may want. I usually use a Body Scan as a launch pad for the more advanced techniques I may want to delve into.
To readers who have no idea what the Body Scan method is, or how to meditate, you can summarize the technique as follows:
>> Lie down or sit in a relaxing posture.
>> Breathe deeply and slowly. It helps to count to four for each inhale, and to four for each exhale. Put a hand on your belly to feel how it expands on the inhale, and contracts on the exhale.
>> Scan through your body, part by part. I usually start with the legs, then the arms, torso, and finally the head. When you scan through the body, do it by the individual body parts, like your hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, arm, shoulder, etc.
>> When you scan through each separate body part, imagine either breathing through that body part, or that you are letting go of that body part before you go on to the next.
You can easily find a guided meditation recording to help. Just search “body scan meditation,” in your browser, or on YouTube.
With a little practice, you will feel how your body is relaxing as you employ the method, and how worries and hyperactive thoughts calm down. It feels great to meditate this way, although you may have to do it for a week or so before you start to really feel the positive benefits.
There are several reasons I believe meditation is great for those suffering from anxiety and depression:
Breathing deeply, in itself, reduces the level of stress hormones in the body, like adrenaline and cortisol. This will have a direct calming effect on both mind and body.
The second main reason is that focusing on your breath and body parts in this way will teach you to let go of automatic negative thoughts and worries.
It’s impossible to chase away bad thoughts, but what is possible is to focus on something else instead—like your breath. And when you do that, negative thoughts simply drift away. It’s like looking up at the sky and seeing how the clouds (your thoughts) simply drift away one by one. And if you pay attention to your breathing, they have no power over you. It’s an extremely liberating experience!
One of the biggest differences between those who suffer from anxiety and depression, and those who do not, is that the former tend to over-focus on negative thoughts, which in turn often becomes an automatic behavior. At least, this was the case for me before I was able to cast off the yoke of depression after a decade.
A key skill to learn in order to overcome the illness is the ability to choose what kind of thoughts you focus on. And meditation is the most effective means of learning that skill—a least that I know of.
I wish you all the best, and encourage you to try a little meditation tonight. Then the next night. Then, keep at it for a week, and see if this can be a help to you. It certainly was for me.