“Have you considered meditating?” I asked innocently during a session with one of my clients. The blank stare on my client’s face held the answer to my question. I might as well had asked, “Have you considered driving up to Boulder and living in a yurt for a few weeks?” Despite all the research that has proven meditation is an effective treatment especially for depression and anxiety, most people hear the word “meditation” and immediately think of New Age philosophies and the hippie movement of the 1960s — and immediately write it off.

Meditation is actually one of the most researched methods for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. It has also been practiced for thousands of years — more than any other technique that I know of. Why is it, then, that some people claim it doesn’t work? There are a few reasons why meditation doesn’t work.

The perception that meditation will conflict with religion.
Many people who have a strong faith system feel somewhat apprehensive about beginning a meditation practice. This isn’t terribly uncommon, with the images that the media has used to portray people who meditate. There are many Eastern philosophies and religions that do incorporate meditation; however, most of them are not like the hippes of old chanting “Hare Krishna” and begging for spare change at the airport. Meditation is compatible with all spiritual belief systems, and does not involve worshipping a god or idol. The type of meditation that is recommended by licensed professional counselors, social workers, psychotherapists and psychologists today is called “Mindfulness meditation”. Being mindful simply means to pay attention in a particular way, without interpretation or judgment. Mindfulness meditation can include focusing on the breath, body sensations, or a repeated sound or word (mantra). Many Christian religions also embrace meditation as part of their practice, with Taize-inspired services or even an activity such as reciting the Catholic Rosary. Meditation can be as spiritual or non-spiritual as you want it to be.

Believing that thoughts are not welcome in meditation.
A friend of mine expressed an interest in learning to meditate, but he said he had tried it but could never shut off his brain to allow him to focus. Unfortunately, my friend had received some poor instruction about meditation. The goal in meditation isn’t to get rid of thoughts. On the contrary, it is simply to learn how to notice when a thought distracts from focusing on the meditative object (for example, breath or mantra). That’s all there is to do when meditating — notice. You don’t even have to attempt to re-focus away from your thoughts when this happens. Once you notice that your attention is no longer on the breath or mantra, you’ll naturally go back to it. It really is that easy.

Only meditating when you feel like it.
Some people will disagree with me on this one, but I believe that meditating only when we feel like it keeps us from receiving some of the benefits of meditating. When we set aside time each day to meditate, we are being proactive about our mental and psychological well-being. Chances are, if you feel the need to meditate, you’ve gone too long. The mindbody is very resillent and will try to take care of itself, by itself, for as long as possible. When we start to feel stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed, there’s a good chance that we’ve gone too long between meditation sessions. If we are proactive and develop a routine meditation practice, we will be less likely to be overwhelmed in stressful situations.
Mindfulness meditation isn’t a cure-all. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience unpleasant feelings after you’ve made it a routine practice. However, just like your muscles get stronger after going to the gym routinely, the brain also develops new neural pathways that make dealing with depression and anxiety easier. (If you’re feeling geeky and want to learn more about this phenomenon, you can Google neuroplasticity.)

There is a lot of promise that meditation combined with counseling, psychotherapy, and sometimes medication can produce long-lasting, effective results in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Even with all the indications that meditation will work, there’s one sure-fire way to make sure meditation will never work for you: And that’s not to try it at all.

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Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC

2727 Bryant St. #104
Denver, CO 80211

jeremy@jeremydavidsavage.com
303-834-7005



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