Benefits of Meditation for Depression
Depression is one of the most common (if not the most common) mental illness challenges westerners face. More than a brief mood of sadness or loneliness, depression is a set of symptoms that can take away happiness or even interrupt daily activities and functioning. People struggling with depression should always seek medical and professional help to diagnose and treat their symptoms. Along the path to recovery from depression, meditation is a useful tool to change the body and brain as well as to assist with managing stress triggers.
In this post, we’ll cover the benefits of various meditations for depression and look at where it comes from.
What is depression
Depression symptoms can range from feelings of low motivation, sadness, low self-esteem, or self-loathing, all the way to fatigue and changes in appetite. Essentially, the brain and body respond to stress or trauma with sadness or repressed anger, and the continued repression leads to stasis of emotion or motivation.
Depression can be triggered by challenging events in life, like breakups, divorce, broken relationships, the death of a loved one or pet, or an injury that limits or changes the body’s functionality. Depression may not always be associated with a trigger but may be correlated to genetic brain chemical imbalances that go undiagnosed.
People with depression either experience it in waves or as one continuous state of being. For those who experience depression in waves, such as bipolar or manic depression, the sensations of sadness and reclusive behaviors will last for weeks or months before the person swings into a manic state. The manic state can include impulsive behavior, emotional outbursts or reactions, or a seeming change in personality. Once the manic phase is over, the person will spiral back into a reclusive and sad or angry state.
Unipolar depression consists of the sad, repressed, reclusive, or self-loathing state continuously.
People can experience depression at many levels, from a slight but persistent boredom and melancholy to severe, even debilitating hopelessness and reclusion. It’s normal to feel a little depressed from time to time or after a challenging situation, but when the symptoms are severe or worsen instead of naturally improving over time, it’s time to seek help.
The cycle of depression
Our brains can learn thought habits that reflect in physiology. That means that when the body feels tired and listless, or stressed and anxious, the mind can respond with hopeless or fearful thoughts. When we repeat these patterns enough times, they are wired into our neural pathways and physiology– almost as if we’ve baked them into our personality.
Because of our brain’s neuroplasticity, it is possible to change those neural patterns and physiological responses. To do that, we have to remove the deeply embedded stress in our bodies and rebalance the brain chemicals responsible for depressive moods.
Meditation can assist in changing those neural pathways and breaking the cycle at the root of chronic depression. According to Harvard Health Publishing:
“Meditation has been found to change certain brain regions that are specifically linked with depression. For instance, scientists have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) becomes hyperactive in depressed people. The mPFC is often called the “me center” because this is where you process information about yourself, such as worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. When people get stressed about life, the mPFC goes into overdrive.
Another brain region associated with depression is the amygdala, or “fear center.” This is the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol in response to fear and perceived danger.
These two brain regions work off each other to cause depression. The ‘me center’ gets worked up reacting to stress and anxiety, and the fear center response leads to a spike in cortisol levels to fight a danger that’s only in your mind. Research has found that meditation helps break the connection between these two brain regions.”
How does meditation work for depression?
Though there are many kinds of meditation that work on the brain in different ways, studies have shown that there are many benefits of meditation for depression. “In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.” says Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Many kinds of meditation, including mindfulness meditation and guided meditations for depression, require the meditator to focus or concentrate on an idea or on their breath. While this style can help you practice letting go of thoughts and focusing on something else, it doesn’t allow the body to rest deeply enough to release deeply embedded stressors.
To address meditation at its root cause, which is the stress response triggered by decades of accumulated stress, you have to reach a hypo-metabolic state to release embedded stress from the body. This is where Vedic Meditation comes in.
The best meditation for depression is the one you practice consistently, whether you use a concentration-based meditation to stop dwelling on depressive thoughts or you try Vedic Meditation to remove the stress at the root of the condition.
Vedic Meditation for depression
With Vedic Meditation, there is no focus or concentration required. The meditator receives a personalized mantra, which is a meaningless sound assigned by a qualified Vedic Meditation instructor. The mantra slowly charms the mind beyond thought to a place of deep rest, where there are no thoughts. This place of thoughtlessness is pure Being, where Universal Consciousness meets our individual consciousness.
When our minds interact with this thoughtless state, we naturally produce more ‘happy chemicals’ in the brain. Feelings of contentment, joy, and ease naturally become more common the longer we practice our meditation twice each day for twenty minutes.
It also takes the body into a hypo-metabolic state, where the body is resting deeper in sleep even while the mind is conscious. In this place, the body is able to ‘clean out’ or release the deeply embedded stress memories that we accumulate in our day-to-day life.
In his podcast The Vedic Worldview, Thom Knoles explains how Vedic Meditation can interrupt and reverse the stress accumulation that can contribute to depression and anxiety:
“And we know one thing about depression, and that is that stress makes depression worse. The more stressed you become, the deeper your depression becomes…
When our body and brain continue to accumulate distorted memories of maladaptive reactions, then what happens is our threshold for becoming stressed gets ever lower. That means it takes ever-increasing or ever-diminishing levels of stimulus to cause us to feel stressed.
And so when people are getting stressed many times in a day, every time they get stressed and accumulate that effect in the distorted memory in the cells of the body, the next stimulus has to be a much smaller challenge in order to make the person have a full-blown stress reaction. Until eventually one is having stress reactivity frequently, far too frequently, perhaps several times in every day, perhaps, maybe many times.
So, to break the vicious cycle, we have to have a cycle of mutual enrichment. We practice our meditation technique, remove the stress from the body, and then the body fails to generate that depressive stress state to the mind. Instead, the body feeds back to the mind feelings of comfort, feelings of joy.
Then the mind is uplifted by the body report, and the mind, as a result of that, produces more of the bliss chemistry, which then feeds the body and has the body reflect back to the mind those tidings of comfort and joy.”
One of the experiences that come with depression is a sense of feeling lonely, lost, hopeless, or as if nothing good is happening or coming your way. In the Vedic Worldview, this is a blind spot in our consciousness or a knowledge gap. The more you experience yourself as an individual and as Universal Consciousness, the more you’ll feel expansive.
This perspective of the small self and the big Self is what gives us a constant sense of wonder, presence, and a fine-tuned sense of where evolution is going. Since the only inevitable thing in the universe is change, we can only fool ourselves into thinking that nothing good will happen or no change is coming.
The more we expand our consciousness, the more we will sense where evolution is going and what changes we need to make in our own lives. It becomes a joy to follow that inner sense of charm or pull toward growth in the direction of evolution, and we don’t worry so much about going into the unknown.
When we experience our universality regularly through meditation, we don’t feel so isolated. It’s more and more difficult to withdraw into ourselves to the exclusion of new experiences and meaningful relationships. Instead, our senses are sharper and our worries diminish with an ever-increasing reservoir of ‘adaptation energy,’ or, the energy we can use to adapt to changes in expectation in our daily lives.
Vedic Meditation and motivation, creativity, and hope
One of the other ways Vedic Meditation can assist with depression is by naturally increasing our creativity. This isn’t to say that every meditator will become visually creative, like an artist, writer, dancer, or filmmaker… but rather, that our ability to solve problems and come up with exciting new ideas increases.
When life presents us with a challenge, our minds will respond more naturally with creative ideas rather than with sensations of overwhelm, fear, or anger. Rather than shutting down into depression, our meditations can help us creatively brainstorm new options to move forward and even get excited about new possibilities.
Everyone’s mind, body, and emotions are different, and Vedic Meditation isn’t a quick fix for depression. It’s also not the only route to lean on when navigating a challenging mental health issue. Seeking help is important, as it’s essential to get out of a depressive state as quickly and efficiently as we can.
Depression dumps unnecessarily high levels of cortisol into the body, which only leads to inflammation and disease. It also saps the joy out of our lives, so we miss out on wonderful days and experiences. Whether through medications, supplements, therapy, or psychological support from a professional, it’s important to get professional help to mitigate depression as efficiently as we can.
Supporting Depression in a healthy way
Learning how to meditate for depression is the same as learning meditation for any other purpose, especially when it comes to Vedic Meditation. You can set up an intro talk with a qualified Vedic Meditation instructor to learn how it works and ask any questions, and then take the Learn to Meditate course to receive your own mantra and start your practice.