Meditation for Depression

Meditation is a technique that can be used to alleviate symptoms of depression. Often it is used in conjunction with conventional allopathic treatments such as the prescription of antidepressants and psychoanalysis. Recent research done by medical specialists has found that meditation works to alter brain activity. These findings are largely documented from the use of brain scans that map brain activity. Western practitioners are also collaborating with Eastern experts in meditation to figure out how meditation eases depression. One such information exchange took place at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where medical researchers presented their data and exchanged ideas about meditation with his Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Such pursuit of holistic treatment is promising for people suffering from depression and offers tangible solutions to the condition.

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious condition that affects how a person is able to function in his or her everyday life. It is characterized by the persistence of frustration, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and feelings of having no control over life situations. The two most common types of depression are major depression and dysthymia (chronic depression). Less common are postpartum depression, psychotic depression, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Depression is a complex illness that is caused by multiple factors. Some environmental causes are emotional distress, a traumatic event, grief, and drug, physical, or sexual abuse. There can also be biological causes such as chemical imbalances of the brain, another medical condition, and genetics. Stress can exacerbate depression.

How Does Meditation Relieve Depression?

Meditation calms the mind, allowing the person to shift attention from self-focus to outward focus. Part of what is debilitating about depression is the inability to get beyond feelings of hopelessness and despair in one’s own life. Meditation physically encourages one to realize the lack of control one has over many thoughts and to ease each thought or emotion out of one’s mind through quiet contemplation. The practice of meditation causes the mind to become still long enough to evaluate feelings and behaviors that have a direct effect on depression. It allows the person to obtain a sense of greater perspective.

Depression is fueled by negative thoughts. Meditation focuses on dissipating those negative thoughts by refocusing the mind. As the body and mind relax due to meditation, negativity looses its hold. In effect, meditation lessens the urgency of the overwhelming negative thoughts by calming the emotions, slowing the body, and focusing the mind.

A research study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison showed a link between biological changes and meditation. After two weeks of daily 30-minute meditation on compassion, volunteers in the study were not only more willing to be helpful to others but also showed greater wellbeing. Brain scans of these individuals illustrated more activity of the insula, an area of the brain that relates to compassion and that sends messages to the body relating to emotional distress.

What is the Best Way to Meditate?

There are many ways to practice meditation, and there is no right or wrong way to meditate. It is important not to worry whether or not meditation is being performed correctly, because doing so might cause more stress or not allow proper relaxation. A person should make adjustments in the mediation practice to achieve the most calming feeling.

Practicing meditation can be as simple as making a quiet time in the daily routine and reading a quote, a scripture, or inspirational passage, then thinking about it. It can be practiced by taking a class in yoga, t’ai chi, guided meditation, or qi gong. It can be done alone or with a group. It can be done while using specified postures or when lying down, sitting, standing, or walking.

The most important component of meditation is to calm the mind and concentrate for a period of time. A person can use that time to count his or her blessings, chant a mantra, or simply allow the worries of the day to dissipate, depending on what feels best to him or her.

All meditation focuses on relaxing the body and reducing stress. Its purpose is to still the mind, relax the body, and allow the participant to think more clearly. Meditation can cause one to accept life with happiness or clear the mind to become more alert. Both are methods that can alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Methods of Meditation

Two common methods of meditation are called mindful meditation and concentration meditation.

  • Mindful meditation is an open meditation that focuses on the breath, a mantra-like sound, or a riddle to answer. It brings the mind to rest on what is being experienced in the present. Its purpose is to help a person experience thoughts and emotions of daily life with balance and acceptance.
  • Concentration meditation is attached to a specific object or a repetitive prayer. Its purpose is to form a deeper appreciation of one’s self and others by causing clear and orderly thinking and an expanded consciousness. It emphasizes the positive areas of one’s life rather than the negative.

Helpful Tips for Meditation Practice

Although practitioners of meditation say that it can be done anywhere, in any position, and at any time, there are a few suggestions that most agree will enhance the experience.

  • Find a quiet place: This is especially important for people just beginning meditation. Take a walk, lie in bed, soak in the bathtub, even ride a bus. Find a place where you can be quiet even if the rest of the world isn’t.
  • Assume a comfortable posture: This can be sitting cross-legged in a standard yoga pose, sitting in a favorite easy chair, lying on the bed, or walking. Just be comfortable.
  • Focus attention: Read a passage from a text, hold prayer beads, concentrate on breathing, or chant a mantra. Simply concentrate on something.
  • Have an open attitude: There will be noises, people, and thoughts that cause distraction. Let them go. Don’t concentrate on the distractions. Re-direct the mind back to the main focus.

Precautions for Meditation and Depression

Meditation is not a replacement for professional medical treatment. If a person is experiencing acute depression, concentration needed for meditation may not be possible and/or meditation may increase negative feelings. A person experiencing depression should seek medical treatment from a physician.

Meditation is best used in conjunction with other medical treatment and psychotherapy.

Additional Resources

Learning Meditation offers advice and products to help you start a meditation practice.

How to Meditate offers practical information about Buddhist meditation.

Meditation Center is a worldwide online meditation center offering guidance on your meditation practice.


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Clark, Rosemary. The Everything Meditation Book: Learn to Relax, Eliminate Stress, and Bring Inner Peace into Your Life. Avon, Mass.: Adams Media Corp., 2003.

Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “The Dalai Lama and Depression: Inner peace is gift—nurtured through meditation, empathy, and compassion.” [cited October 1, 2008].

Epstein, Mark, MD. “Sitting with DepressionYoga Journal [cited October 1, 2008].

Levy, Jodi. The Healing Handbook: A Beginner’s Guide and Journal to Meditation. New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1999.

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