Mindfulness and Meditation: Can they cure depression?

Mindfulness and Meditation: Can they cure depression?

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Mindfulness and meditation are well known for curing stress and anxiety-related issues. But the recent studies have shown that they can worsen the symptoms as well.

As per some research, about 2 in 12 who practice or indulge in any kind of meditation or mindfulness practice experience an unwanted negative feeling, usually that worsens the individual’s depression or anxiety. Mindfulness and Meditation do work for the majority of people, but for some, it has been overhyped.

There are so many well-known practices under meditation and the most popular among them is called – “Mindfulness meditation”.

Mindfulness is often defined as – An act of paying attention to the present moment. In mindfulness, people often pay attention to their inner thoughts and feeling to know their true self, rather than focusing on external sensations.

The practice of mindfulness is often recommended by many health care professionals, for instance, it has also been recommended by several National Health Service bodies in the UK as a way of reducing individual depression relapses.

The art of practicing Mindfulness:

Enthusiasts who love to practice meditation and mindfulness therapies are people who go through every detail and process before indulging in any kind of meditation. But the people who start practicing meditation and mindfulness without any kind of professional help or training may get some undesired results at first (If practiced inappropriately).

Recent studies have found that about 8 percent of people who try meditation for the first time – experience an unwanted effect. “People have experienced anything from an increase in anxiety up to panic attacks,” says Farias. They also found instances of psychosis or thoughts of suicide while or after practicing mindfulness.

Katie Sparks, a professional psychologist and a member of the British Psychological Society, says “Meditation and mindfulness has been found to help people to relax and refocus and help them both mentally and physically,”.

But most of the time when individuals try to still their mind or negative thoughts, the mind can “rebel” against them, she says. “It’s like a backlash to the attempt to control the mind and soul, and this results in an episode of an anxiety attack or depression,” she says.

But this doesn’t mean people should stop trying the meditation techniques, she says, but instead should opt for guided and professional meditation sessions, led by a well-trained teacher or an app with a recorded narration by the professional practitioner, which she believes is way safer. “The recent study could stop people from participating in something which can be of benefit in the right context,” the expert says.

The basics of Mindfulness Meditation:

A 2011 Harvard university study shows that- Participating in any kind of mindfulness meditation practices or activities made admirable changes in the brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.

So the question is – how do we start practicing it?

The best way to understand mindfulness is through meditation. It’s a universal practice that has nothing to do with organized religion or dogma of any kind. Mindfulness meditation can be done by anyone, at any time, and in any place at people’s convenience.

So let’s get started:

For our first practice, we’ll do a breathing meditation- To concentrate the mind.

  1. Find a quiet place to sit, where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Sit with a straight back and a cushion or yoga mat, in a position that feels comfortable, and then close your eyes.
  3. Rest your hands gently on your knees, or cup them softly in your lap.
  4. Keep your upper body straight, tall like a mountain, the chest is soft, let there be a soft smile in the corner of your lips.
  5. And then bring your attention to the tip of your tongue, letting it fall, relax, let your body rest easily, and breathe gently.

As you allow your body to become still, become aware of your breath, as it comes into your body and as it left your body. Focus on the rise of your belly and inhale and then fall on the exhale.

If you find it easy to focus on your breath as it enters your nose, then pay attention to the breath that feels strongest as it is easiest to follow. Keep the rhythm of your breathing natural. If you need help studying your soul and mind, you can try counting rhythmically.

For instance:

Count 1 on the in-breath and 2 on the out-breath, and just follow your breath and it will guide you the way.

While practicing you will notice that your mind will wander off from time to time with worries, distractions, or thoughts of the past or future. When you noticed that you are no longer focused on your breathing without holding any judgment, gently bring your focus back to the breath.

Allow your thoughts to appear and let them float away like clouds crossing the sky. Just make sure to keep returning to the breath over and over. (Breathing in and breathing out)

It’s natural to find sitting in stillness difficult at first. It is natural to think about all kinds of things when your first start. The day ahead, aches and about the future, etc. You might also wonder if you are any good at this, don’t worry the mind loves to keep you busy, it’s just its nature.

(Related: Mindfulness and Expectations: Putting It All in Perspective)

Once you learn how to take it under control, practice becomes easier. So, continue breathing, in and out. And as the practice finishes, keep your eyes closed gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and bring your attention back to the real world. Notice how your mind and body feel? You’ll find as you continue to practice mindfulness meditation the state of still awareness will become more and more accessible to you.

There is just one catch- similar to exercise it requires regularity. Mindfulness takes continuous practice, it’s not enough to just watch it, or read about it, or think about it, you have to apply it in real life for it to work and give you the desired outcome. The longer you stick with it seriously the easier it will become.

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