Can Meditation Cure Anxiety and Depression?
Millions of people every day meditate. Some of those may be Buddhist monks sitting cross legged in a monastery in India, while others may be sitting on a straight backed chair in their one bedroom apartment in New York.
Why do they do it?
Well, invariably they would say that they get something out of it, and that they have a goal in mind. That goal may be as lofty as enlightenment, or as straightforward as it makes me feel good during my day.
Now, there’s a lot of misconceptions and myths about meditation, and lots of people look at it the wrong way, so the intention of this article is to dispel many of those myths, give you a clear understanding of what meditation is, how it can be used, the different types of meditation available, and what kind of results you can expect.
And where appropriate I’ll link out to great relevant resources so you can find out more, because even though it is one option you don’t need a teacher to learn meditation, there’s great free courses for learning it online.
What is meditation?
Well, an oversimplified answer to that is: sitting quietly and focusing on one thing, to the exclusion of all others.
But that’s not strictly accurate, since there’s also walking meditation, and meditation styles that don’t force you to focus on one thing in particular in a harsh way, but that instead use simple techniques so that your thoughts quieten all by themselves.
One form of Buddhist meditation simply asks you to sit quietly, breath normally through your nose, and simply to pay attention to the sensations of your breath entering and leaving your body, to the exclusion of all other thoughts. But if your mind wanders, gently guide it back to focusing on your breath. Read More
And through this simple practice, your concentration will continue to improve, and your meditation sessions will fill with more and more calmness and internal quietness. And over time this internal quietness may start seeping into, and even filling your every day life, even when you’re not meditating.
Another very common form is Transcendental Meditation that uses a mantra (a word repeated again and again internally) to let other thoughts fall away.
But some teachers and websites that cover meditation do try to be overly secretive about the process, or overly regimented in the approach. TM is one such overly structured and secretive approach I feel since two 20 minute sessions a day, at the same time every day, is not particularly realistic for many if not most people with busy lives, and the fees for learning what is in fact quite a straightforward practice can be rather steep.
That said, consistent practice is important, daily if possible, as benefits from meditation are accumulative and you may not even notice them at first, unless you perhaps take quarterly reviews regarding how you feel and how different situations affect you.
So the practice of meditation can be as simple as focusing on your breath. There’s no great secret, it’s just an acquired skill. Think of it as an exercise routine for the mind. A regular fitness routine makes your body stronger and fitter. Meditation can do the same for your mind.
How will meditation benefit you?
Well, there’s many documented benefits including increased health. That said, of course every one is different, some people respond quickly to meditation, for others results can come slowly, even over months or years, and during that time (especially if during that time mental health issues continue or even seem to get worse) it may appear that it isn’t helping at all, and one may be tempted to stop the practice entirely.
One way to look at it again is like exercise. If you’re new to exercise, the day after you may feel decidedly worse, with an aching body and lack of energy. But then as your body gets used to the new routine its fitness will increase and physical activity will get easier and easier. A similar frame of mind can be considered with meditation – results may not come overnight, but consistency of effort can bring significant results, if you take a long term view.
That said, flip-flopping from one meditation practice to another is not helpful. At the beginning, maybe try a few different techniques to see what you resonate with, but once you’ve chosen one, stick with it for at least a few months, since like all things it’s an experiential process, and takes time to actually fully understand and master the process. Meditation at its core is very simple, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s incredibly easy. Just like running a marathon is a simple concept, but not an easy one to accomplish.
So how fast can you expect results?
As touched on above, patience is a virtue when it comes to meditation. And consistent (and if possible daily) practice is more important than meditating five hours at the weekend, then doing nothing all week. Again – just like exercise, results are accumulative and come through consistent action.
And just like exercise, you don’t stop when you’re feeling fit, as that fitness may not then last. It’s something you continue to do, to continue to feel better. In this day and age of quick fixes, meditation isn’t a quick fix, and that may be one of the deciding factors that means it’s always a minority that will practice it, even though the long term benefits can be substantial.
What are the different types of meditation, and where can you learn?
Well, if you prefer to learn meditation in person, I’m sure you’ll easily find a teacher who can walk you through the process. And it can actually be very inexpensive, and even just take a session or two for you to feel comfortable with the process, perhaps with occasional follow up sessions if you have questions.
There’s many great resources online for learning meditation, one in particular is Audio Dharma which focuses on Buddhist teachings, but also has many audio meditation tutorials and even guided meditations, including:
Other types of meditation include:
Common misconceptions about meditation
If I just sit quietly and do something I enjoy like reading, or petting my cat, isn’t that the same as meditation?
It’s as close to meditation as walking down the stairs is to doing exercise. In other words, not really close at all.
Meditation trains your mind to strengthen and become calmer, and in time that strength and calmness can permeate your life. Reading a book doesn’t achieve that.
Can I meditate while I’m on the train?
You can try, but I would be surprised if you reach any considerable level of calmness with that amount of distractions around you. There’s a reason Buddhist monks sit quietly to meditate.
Can I just meditate as and when I feel like it?
Yes, but you won’t if you actually want tangible and long lasting results from the practice.
Can I meditate if I’m on anti-anxiety or other mental health medication?
I would consult a doctor regarding this, but you can expect the best results from meditation to come if you’re not on medication.
Is meditation complicated or difficult?
Meditation is actually very simple in concept, but just like walking did it may take a little while until you master the craft. Everyone has to start somewhere. It comes with consistent practice, and I would be surprised if you didn’t come across obstacles, but over time the process will become easier and more powerful for you and even become an essential part of your day.
Do I have to be religious to meditate? What if I’m not Buddhist?
Not at all. Meditation is a very simple practice which is not attached to any religion. Think of it like exercise for the mind. It doesn’t require any beliefs, except a belief that the process will be beneficial for you (otherwise you wouldn’t do it in the first place).
Do I need to sit cross legged?
No. You want your back to be straight and to be in a comfortable position, but those are the two main requirements. A stable straight backed chair would be perfect. Or a Meditation Bench may also be an option for you.
Can meditation make me feel worse?
Over time, meditation relaxes you as a person and makes you more open to your feelings. This can actually mean that you feel things more, but at the same time are able to deal with them better than before.
Then means that as your previous mental blocks start dissolving, long suppressed emotions and thoughts can be stirred up. And quite quickly these can then pass through (it may be minutes, hours, days or weeks, depending on you and what’s being stirred up) but while this is happening it may be a little difficult to deal with and may even make you reconsider meditating at all.
All this is a good sign. But because of this it’s a very good idea to start small (perhaps 20 to 30 minutes a day) and expand from there if you choose. People who don’t meditate regularly and then go on a week long meditation retreat where that’s all you do all day have experienced very negative effects, which isn’t really surprising. It’s the same as running a marathon with no training and then expecting to feel fine the next day.
I feel this is an important point that isn’t discussed enough. That said it doesn’t affect everyone, perhaps even just a minority, but it’s something to be aware of, and may be one thing that tests your resolve to really get long term gains through meditation.