Meditation may conjure up images of robed and whiskered sages sitting on top of a mountain, eyes closed, light breeze blowing, a look of peace on their faces. A recent study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, however, found that the small look of peace may really be a large smile.

Researchers reviewed 47 clinical trials involving 3,515 participants and found that 30 minutes of “mindfulness meditation” daily eased symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

“Mindfulness meditation” is the Buddhist practice of focusing on the moment that is occurring and nothing else. Participants who practiced daily showed as much relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety as those taking antidepressants, even when controlled for the placebo effect (in this case, participants feeling better just because they felt they were being treated for their condition).

Participants who meditated in this way generally focused on accepting thoughts and feelings and being non-judgmental of themselves and where they were with regard to their lives. Average time spent daily on this was between 30 and 40 minutes, and participants who participated in an eight-week training program that used mindfulness meditation saw improvement in their anxiety, depression, and pain symptoms.

“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” Madhav Goyal, lead researcher on the study, said. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

Benefits of meditation seemed to increase the longer meditation was practiced.

Goyal cautioned that some of the literature reviewed seemed to have some problems, but that overall it was clear that meditation provided benefits for anxiety, depression, and pain relief that were not related to the placebo affect.

Tell us: would you try this “alternative therapy” as a treatment for pain, anxiety, or depression?

Image by Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr

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