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Exercise + Meditation = Less Depression

A combination of meditation and aerobic exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression, a new study suggests. Researchers at Rutgers University have reported that twice-weekly sessions of exercise and practicing meditation for eight weeks cut symptoms of depression among a group of students by 40 percent. The investigators recruited 22 students diagnosed with depression and 30 mentally healthy students for the study. All agreed to perform 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week. They were instructed to focus on their breathing if their thoughts drifted to the past or future. The goal was to enable students with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.  The researchers reported that the program helped students with major depressive disorder avoid being overwhelmed by problems or negative thoughts. The same combination of meditation and exercise also benefitted a group of formerly homeless young mothers with severe symptoms of depression and high levels of anxiety. The women, who were living in a residential treatment center when the study began, reported  that their depression and anxiety had eased and they felt more motivated and better able to focus more positively on their lives after completing the eight-week program.  This study was the first to combine meditation and exercise to address depression.

My take? These study results are welcome news. I have long recommended physical activity as the most reliable method for immediate, symptomatic treatment of depression. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self-confidence. I recommend 30 minutes of continuous activity, at least five days a week for best results. I’m also a strong advocate of meditation, as well as breathing exercises, as part of an integrative approach to addressing mild to moderate depression. 

Meditation Eases Breast Biopsy Anxiety And Pain

Guided meditation can help women undergoing breast biopsies experience less anxiety and pain. In addition, researchers from the Duke Cancer Institute report that providing meditation can improve the effectiveness of the biopsy procedure, which can be compromised if women move during the procedure. The researchers enrolled 121 women scheduled for a stereotactic and ultrasound guided (needle) breast biopsy and randomly assigned them to a recorded meditation, music or the usual care with a technologist offering support. The meditation, described as a guided “loving/kindness” script, focused on building positive emotions and releasing negative ones. Patients assigned to listen to music could choose from several types available. Before and after the biopsy the women completed questionnaires measuring their nervousness and anxiety and ranking their pain on a scale of zero (low) to 10 (high). “Both meditation and music reduced patient anxiety and fatigue," said study leader Mary Scott Soo, M.D. in a press release accompanying publication of the study. However, the women in the meditation group reported significantly less pain than those in the music group.


Yoga: The Cobra Pose

Yoga can invigorate your immune system, release stress and enrich your life overall. The Cobra Pose is especially powerful: It is said to promote flexibility in the spine and encourage the chest to open. It can also:


  • Strengthen the spine
  • Stretch chest and lungs, shoulders and abdomen
  • Firm the buttocks
  • Stimulate abdominal organs
  • Relieve stress and fatigue


Plus, it soothes sciatica and may even help to relieve asthma. See how to do the Cobra Pose!

How Meditation and Spirituality May Protect Against Depression

Regular meditation, as well as other spiritual or religious practices, has been shown to help shield against depression. New research from Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute suggests that these activities may have the effect of thickening the brain’s cortex. A study involving 103 adults, some of whom had a family history that put them at risk of depression, found that participants who placed a high value on religion or spirituality had thicker cortices as seen on brain MRIs. The researchers noted that the thickened brain regions seen in this study are the same cortical areas shown to thin in earlier studies of people at high risk of depression. The team wrote that while more study is needed, these new results suggest that spirituality or religion may protect against major depression by thickening the brain cortex and counteracting the cortical thinning that normally occurs with major depression. This change was particularly evident in study participants predisposed to depression because of a family history, the researchers reported. Earlier studies by this same team showed a 90 percent risk reduction in major depression in adults who said they highly valued spirituality or religiosity and whose parents suffered from the disease.

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Lisa Miller et al, “Neuroanatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality: A Study in Adults at High and Low Familial Risk for Depression,” JAMA Psychiatry doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.3067

Reprogramming Inflammation with Meditation

We know that over time chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation can contribute to serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. A new study from the University of Wisconsin shows that meditation can actually affect the genes that cause inflammation. Researchers measured the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness meditation in a group of experienced mediators and compared them with those of quiet, non-meditative activities by a group of untrained volunteers. After eight hours of meditation, the researchers found altered levels of gene-regulating compounds and reduced activity levels of the pro-inflammatory genes in the experienced meditators. These changes were correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation, the investigators explained. They reported that these findings are the first to show that mediation can inhibit production of proteins by some genes that cause inflammation and noted that at the study’s outset there were no differences in the genes tested in both groups. They also reported that the positive changes were seen in genes that are the targets of anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs.

Perla Kaliman et al, “Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators”. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 40, 96–107

Tai Chi – Upward and Downward Movement (Video)

Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates the Upward and Downward movement. After entering the Meditative State, you begin this tai chi movement by lifting your arms from your belly outward and up. When your arms reach shoulder height, bring them toward your body and lower them. Then repeat, imagining you are spinning a ball of energy with your arms in a steady, fluid motion.

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Tai Chi – Meditative Movement (Video)

Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates the Meditative Movement and how to enter the meditative state. This is often the first tai chi movement a practitioner will make before transitioning into other movements or postures. Learn how to enter the meditative state for practicing tai chi and continue on with other tai chi movements.

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Tai Chi – How to Enter the Meditative State (Video)

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates how to prepare for this practice by entering the meditative state. Follow along and see how the practice of tai chi is based around this vital preparatory step.

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Tough Lessons From Thích Nhat Hanh

By Cameron Conaway The pain started just a few minutes into what I thought would be a calming five-day retreat. I’d been living in Bangkok for two years, and shortly after I arrived I began to hear of a man named Thích Nhất Hạnh. He was a Zen Master from Vietnam and, in many circles,

Why Breathwork Matters (Video)

Breathwork is a free and easy practice that can significantly benefit your health. Dr. Weil discusses why this practice is important and how one simple exercise should become part of your daily life.

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