Which Type of Meditation is Right for Your Depression?
The evidence shows meditation can relieve depression and anxiety symptoms. But did you know that different types of meditation activate different parts of the brain and different types of brain waves? Here are three kinds of meditation and some basic information on how your brain responds to them.
- Mindfulness meditation
- Transcendental meditation (TM)
- Loving-Kindness meditation (“Metta”)
Mindfulness Meditation Practices Observation
Thanks to well-known proponents like Oprah and Jon Kabat-Zin, “mindfulness” could be what most people in the West think of when they hear the word “meditation”. Mindfulness meditation as a practice takes observation and awareness to deeper and more intentional levels. It most often involves concentrating on the breath and the sensation of breathing, or sometimes an external object. One allows thoughts to float by without attaching to or judging them. Instead, one focuses on what is happening in the body while sitting upright (though it can also be done while walking outside, or sometimes lying down.)
Mindfulness meditation increases awareness of the body — the parts of the brain that process hearing and touch are more activated. Reconnecting with the body often makes this type of meditation extremely healing for people who have experienced physical trauma.
Mindfulness is also linked to greater empathy and self-awareness. Because of increased activity in the right prefrontal cortex, it is thought to be helpful in relieving depression, as this part of the brain tends to be underactive in people with depression.
With practice, it gets easier and easier to be “in the moment” and to not get caught up in racing thoughts, anxiety or fear. And we all know that pervasive thoughts of anxiety and fear lead to depression.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) Focuses on Relaxation
Unlike mindfulness meditation, which is practiced in a wide variety of methods, TM has a specific format that is almost identical across instruction. Because of its consistency in practice, TM has been easier to document research findings. TM has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and even reduce the effects of aging. (In one study, long-term practitioners who were 50 years old showed a biological age 12 years younger than their chronological age!) Activity increases in both frontal lobes, indicating both increased focus and advanced cognitive function.
TM involves sitting in a comfortable position while reciting a mantra that is provided by a certified TM teacher. The recitation of the mantra allows you to easily enter into a relaxed, yet alert state — it does not require concentration or observation as experienced in mindfulness meditation.
One effect unique to TM is the coherence of Alpha brain waves. This simply means that Alpha brain waves are being transmitted across both left and right hemispheres of the brain, which improves neural communication. Alpha brain waves are present in deeply restful states and are linked to mental clarity, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration, and learning. Repeated feelings of clarity and calmness lead to depression relief and freedom from anxiety.
Loving-Kindness Meditation (“Metta”) Utilizes Concentration
Dr. Richard Davidson’s studies of Tibetan monks show the powerful positive neurological effects of the long-term practice of Buddhist meditation. In this practice, one sits in a relaxed position, and focus on one’s heart region. The practice starts with intentionally cultivating self-love (sometimes with a mantra) — then moves out and out until that loving-kindness is directed at all living things.
Metta meditation, as with mindfulness, increases activity in the left prefrontal cortex. This activity is associated with positive emotions and self-control. Metta also uniquely produces increased gamma waves in the brain, which contributes to better focus, mental clarity, and feelings of connection and bliss. Longtime practitioners of Metta (like the Tibetan monks) display an unusual capacity to control their minds, including being able to raise and lower their body temperature significantly just by concentrating on it.
The above explanations are, of course, simplified explanations of these rich practices, and are in no way intended to be comprehensive. It’s most important to notice that different types of meditations affect the brain in different ways. You may be better suited for one type over another based on your specific challenges or needs, and that’s okay! For example, some people with processing disorders find mindfulness to be overwhelming but find deeper relaxation and release from anxiety through other forms of meditation.
What we do know is that all types of meditation have been shown to have a wide range of physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits (see 76 of them at this link). Meditation has helped millions of people reduce anxiety and depression, increase peace and connectedness, improve health, sleep better, and experience a more relaxed state of being.
If you’re looking to learn how the addition of meditation can assist in improving your existing talk therapy and ketamine therapy success, contact Source Code Meditation at http://www.sourcecodemeditation.com/connect/.
We at Actify highly encourage one to not rely solely on meditation to manage one’s depression. Meditation, coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy may extend the success of ketamine treatment.
Dr. Giron is a Master-Level Higher Brain Living Facilitator at Higher Brain Living, helping people achieve fulfillment and self-actualization through stimulation of the brain.