Whenever I try to explain how yoga has helped me to overcome my depression, I always feel like my explanation isn’t adequate.
Partly, this is because I feel so far away from my depression that sometimes I have a hard time recalling how I felt. But mostly, it’s because I never thought to characterize my life shift with science. For me, anecdotal evidence was enough! But a couple weeks ago my supervisor at work sent me a link to this New York Times article: “How Meditation May Change the Brain.”
And then it dawned on me. Through a solid yoga practice and meditation, I have physically changed the make up of my brain. The article reports that according to new research published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (Jan 2011):
“Those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress…. M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.”
The technique used was Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. MBSR is an 8-week intensive program used as a complement to conventional medical management of a wide variety of types of illness, chronic pain and depression.
I’m grateful for studies such as these that give me the means to explain to others that, Yes! Meditation works! And you can repattern your thinking so you don’t have to be depressed anymore!
I don’t think science could ever tell the whole story about how I’ve been depression and med-free for two-plus years. And certainly meditation alone isn’t a cure all. (What is?) But for those who are unsure when I begin talking about meditation and depression, it’s nice to have some ammo that speaks to their skepticism.