"I don't exercise to get fit or be healthier; I do it to enjoy being alive." -- Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Monk
As many of us know from experience, depression is characterised in part by an inability to stop dwelling on gloomy thoughts and unhappy memories from the past. What happens when depression is untreated? Study says untreated depression increases the chance of drug or alcohol addiction. It can also ruin relationships, cause problems both at work and in personal life, and make it difficult to overcome serious illnesses. At its worst, depression carries a very high risk of suicide. One study says 30%-70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression.
Meditation and exercise have proven beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. While running as an exercise is a known phenomenon for us, the process of meditation is unclear to many.
From the outside, meditation can look passive and boring. To many, it's just sitting silently, breathing in and breathing out. But those of us who meditate know how active, sensational, intentional and blissful an experience it can be. Just sitting still and following your breathing pattern can: slow your heart rate, levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, increase sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhance your brain's use of glucose and increase the availability of substances that repair tissues. Regular practice of meditation can help with anxiety, sleep disorder, chronic pain and depression. It's a cleansing process -- but for your mind. But how to get started?
Set Up a Time
First, pick a time of day and a place to meditate. Maintain the time and make it a routine. For beginners, 20-30 minutes of daily practice is a good start.
Create Your Space
In a corner of your home, set up an area dedicated to meditation. You can decorate the area with mats, plants, rocks and candles. If that's how you want to decorate, go full steam ahead. But if not, just pick a place in your home that is quiet and makes you feel calm. Don't let the external decoration take your focus away. Soon, you will start your journey for inner transformation.
"You don't need a fancy place. All you need is a comfortable place for yourself," said Rumana Akter, co-founder and instructor of Prana Wellness
What comes to your mind when you think of meditation? A lotus position, a yoga mat, a room full of silence, a group of people sitting still? If that's what you feel most comfortable in, you can begin and keep experiencing. You may prefer to lie flat on your back or choose to sit on a chair. The key is to find a position where your body can feel relaxed and neutral.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Breathe in and breathe out, slowly, rhythmically and silently. Do not force yourself. You will enjoy the meditation when you can create a silent rhythm. And in that rhythm, you will gradually feel relaxed.
When you are doing something, the energy moves out. Doing is a way of moving out. Non-doing is a way of moving in. If you are occupied, you cling outside of your being. The key to meditation is to disconnect so that you can connect to your centre. When you can do it -- meditation happens spontaneously. Just ask yourself to remain unoccupied, that's all.
Watch the Breath
Watch your inhalation and exhalation. When you breathe in, move with the breath. And when you breathe out, equally move with the breath. Now you can start following the movement. If you can observe your breath, it will gradually become silent, deep and rhythmic. Try to become a watcher. You just watch whatever the mind is doing. Don't repress it; don't do anything at all on your part. You just be a watcher, and the miracle of watching is meditation. As you watch, your mind slowly becomes empty of thoughts and judgements; but you are not falling asleep, you are becoming more alert, more aware, more sensitive.
At this point, you may wonder who has the time to do all these things when you are already burdened with the city's traffic and hassles of daily life? The idea of sitting in a quiet room and doing nothing for 20-30 minutes each day might sound absurd -- unless you understand how meditation works and why it is in dire need today.
There is a beautiful Haiku by the incomparable Zen master Basho: "Sitting silently, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself." Certainly "doing nothing" is a most derogatory term in modern lifestyle. This is hard to believe in or to achieve in the days of workaholism and the fast pace of life.
But your right to live a happy and blessed life cannot be denied. A growing body of evidence suggests regular meditation is linked with a lot of benefits including lower stress and better focus. A study of close to 3,000 people found that mindfulness meditation was linked with the lessening of feelings of depression, anxiety, emotional turmoil and even physical pain. Regular meditators' brains appear to have well-developed regions that may be connected to things like awareness and emotional control, which allows someone to respond positively with energy and vigour.
To end, I am not regressing into ancient beliefs and traditions. Neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Mass General and Harvard Medical School and her team started studying meditation by accident. Their study shows that 50-year-olds can have the brains of 25-year-olds if they sit quietly and do nothing for 15 minutes a day.
So, what are you waiting for? Start today, beat the depression and lead a vibrant life.
The writer is practitioner, Yoga and Meditation