Posted by: manjitsandhu | January 1, 2011

The Brain, Depression, and Meditation

Meditation, often used as a form of relaxation, alters the mind and body in unique and noticeable ways. Because of its positive effects on the brain and chemicals in the body, the use of meditation to treat disorders such as depression is on the rise. Understanding the brain’s processes as well as understanding meditation’s effects can help ease anxiety and sadness associated with depression.

What is Depression?
Depression is a chemical disorder in the brain. If left untreated, it causes listlessness, inactivity, sadness, and even suicidal thoughts in those it affects. Depression alters the brain and causes the chemicals to become imbalanced, which in turn affects the thought processes and body as a whole.

How Meditation Affects the Brain
Mindfulness meditation is grounded in the principal of the individual having full awareness of the present. Since its purpose intends to provide the patient with insight and understanding, meditation improves the attention span and demeanor of the individual. The left prefrontal cortex of the brain, where centers for creativity are housed, is directly aroused by meditation. Even after meditation is finished, self-awareness is increased and individuals report an increased ability to make decisions, deal with conflict, or understand one’s own feelings. When engaging in this type of meditation, the brain is positively affected because brain waves are altered.

More Scientifically Speaking

In short, here is how meditation affects the brain’s responses:
The amygdala, parts of the limbic system, are nuclei that control the brain’s “relaxation response.” The amygdala allows the body to feel relaxed and cause reactive brain waves to be altered across the brain. Beta waves, which are linked to stress and thinking, are reduced, and more Alpha, Theta, and Gamma waves take place. Positive feedback messages are communicated between the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus and amygdala, and patients view this new state of mind as “mental training” for daily life circumstances.

In addition, decreasing respiration that occurs during relaxation reduces electrical firing of neurons in the brain. Alterations of rhythms in the body allow the meditating individual to “take a step back” and observe situations in a slower, more central state of mind.

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Manjit Sandhu

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