Meditation and Mental Health
14 May 2018
I must admit, when it comes to meditation, I am a convert.
It began with a recommendation from my GP. I was suffering anxiety attacks, and she suggested I try a meditation app on my phone. I think it may have been called Smiling Mind, but I may be wrong.
So I started meditating. At first, I used the app to guide me on a short meditation, focused on breath and relaxation. As I became more comfortable with the app I tried different tracks for guidance, and started to test myself with longer meditations.
Already, at this stage, I felt some benefit from meditation. I felt it could calm me down, help me relax. A good meditation, I would say to my mum, was like taking a Valium, but without the chemical baggage.
I gradually explored the app more. I found some guidance I enjoyed, others I enjoyed less. As my experience grew, so did my hunger for new meditative experience. At the time, I was also exploring certain aspects of Eastern spirituality; more specifically, the principles and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. And I came across a fantastic book. It was titled “How to Meditate”; written by Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist teacher.
I really cannot say how much I recommend this book. It sets out clearly and practically how to develop a daily meditative practice, centred around “mindfulness” – concentrated and curious awareness – of the breath.
My interest grew. I read about other meditative techniques .I downloaded more apps. Soon a colourful garden of approaches beckoned. I realised that there are a huge diversity of meditative practices. Some focused solely on the breath, some on being mindful of thoughts, some on maintaining a clear but effortless mental state of attention. Some have mantras (repeated phrases or sounds you can say silently). There are even visualised meditations that can help make you a more compassionate person. I also discovered that Western doctors and teachers and therapists have adopted many spiritual techniques from Eastern religions towards a more secular Western audience. In no way do I purport to be a master of these various methods!
As my interest grew, so too did my awareness of the benefits meditation can bring. Meditation can have a highly significant impact on one’s day-to-day mental state, bringing calm and focus. In particular, it may be a highly effective tool when dealing with anxiety and depression.
Don’t take my word on it though. There is voluminous academic literature about the mental health benefits meditation can have; from the earliest beginner to the seasoned master. (Note, however, it is not suggested for people suffering or recovering from psychosis).
If I could summarise my message about meditation, it would be this: Give it a try. Maybe you can only fit 10 minutes in your busy day; that’s fine. Just try. If you don’t know where to start with techniques for meditation I could recommend attending a yoga session, or a class about Buddhist or Hindu spiritual practice. Alternatively you could read the Chodron book I mentioned. There are also a wealth of apps for your phone. I would strongly recommend one called “Insight Timer”, which presents you with a huge wealth of guided meditations.
May I conclude with this simple exhortation: Good luck on your meditation journey!
Dr Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health firstname.lastname@example.org.