The problem: a hidden disease
Dealing with depression can be, and often is, absolutely horrendous. The loss of pleasure and inspiration that so often accompanies it is extremely bleak and debilitating, and it can seem almost impossible to find a way to break out of it.
Positive emotions can feel like a long lost memory, as negative thoughts and inclinations consume you. There is a great sense of grief at what life has become. There are often accompanying feelings of guilt that you are somehow responsible for your situation and there is an overriding sensation of despair and hopelessness.
Sadly, the feelings of heaviness are so strong and unrelenting that you can sometimes feel defeated even before you’ve tried to resolve it.
All forms of depression are linked to an unhealthy production of, or receptivity to, neurotransmitters and hormones, which are vital to psychological wellbeing. In that sense, it is just as real a disease as diabetes.
I learned 5 weeks ago and my experience has been super positive. My anxiety and depression is lifting, I'm sleeping like a log, I have waves of energy, am super productive at work and less reactive to potentially stressful situations. My friends and colleagues have noticed how much calmer, balanced and happier I seem. I treasure the glimpses of bliss and tranquility I get to experience when I do this. Thank you!
Helen, Fine Art Restorer, London
What are the causes of depression?
According to eminent biologist Robert M Sapolsky “It is impossible to understand either the biology or psychology of major depressions without recognising the critical role played by stress.”
There may be many “apparent” reasons for the onset of depression. It may seemingly come as a result of lifestyle, life events, a physical or psychological disorder, a side effect of medications prescribed for other conditions or some other external factor.
However, the principal underlying cause is the chain reaction of physiological and hormonal responses we experience when the stress response is regularly activated.
Heavy secretion of a class of stress steroid hormones called glucocorticoids is typical of most cases of depression. And these glucocorticoids are released in abundance when there is intermittent or constant background stress in our lives.
When we experience frequent levels of stress, our brain begins to lose its ability to shut down the secretion of glucocorticoids. If this becomes a permanent feature we run a much higher risk of depression.
These steroid hormones cause problems with all three of the main neurochemicals involved in preventing depressive symptoms – dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin – all of which are essential to feeling happy, healthy and balanced.
High levels of glucocorticoids will deplete dopamine levels in the pleasure pathways, inhibit the synthesis of noradrenaline in the brain, and affects the synthesis, release, effectiveness and eventual disposal of serotonin. They also cause atrophy of the cortex in all of us primates, which creates further challenges to the effective functioning of our brain.
Why is coping with depression so difficult?
One of the many harmful results is that our sleep becomes disturbed by arrhythmic patterning, which just makes the problem worse.
And if that isn’t bad enough, the internal battle that often accompanies depression is so intense, and so stressful in and of itself that a vicious cycle is created where the stress of the condition intensifies the symptoms, making it even harder to find a way out.
People experiencing major depression are often fighting for their lives.
At the same time, when we experience such imbalance, there is elevated activity in the right PFC (pre-frontal cortex) of the brain, which corresponds with feelings of great negativity, and under-activation of the left PFC, which is much more positive.
Chronic stress steroid release also results in a smaller hippocampus (the area of the brain that processes memory), meaning that our cognitive abilities become impaired and our ability to remember information is compromised.
Likewise our cortex – responsible for our motor skills and abstract thinking – tends to be much less activated, meaning any apathy we may feel under these circumstances is not our fault. It is down to our brain not functioning in its most natural way. There are also serious implications for cardiovascular function.
There is a common delusion that so often accompanies depression. During a depression, the level of activation of the ‘fight or flight’ branch of the nervous system means that everything gets filtered through the lens of half-glass emptiness.
Our brain has been hijacked by this autonomic nervous system response and the result is we become overwhelmed by doom. No matter what we survey, everything is coloured with gloom and all of our internal signals are telling us ‘what’s the point, we may as well give up’.
The amygdala, the dreaded mediator of fear and anxiety, also displays a unique type of activation. Whenever it perceives sadness it becomes highly stimulated and induces a wallowing sensation of empathetic sadness, which feels strangely compelling.
Finally, there is a sense of defeat and helplessness which so characterises depression. There is a perception that everything is outside of our control and, because we’ve been defeated previously by a tsunami of life circumstances, we may as well save our limited energy and give up trying to find a better way.
This cognitive distortion means we lack the clarity of perception to see that things are actually fine, and we lack the motivation to try and change the situation because we are now programmed to assume the worst.
The chronic lack of pleasure in our life only adds to the sense of hopelessness and despair.
This particular kind of meditation is very, very potent, and needs to be considered alongside, or maybe ahead of, some other interventions.
Norman Rosenthal, psychiatrist, author and pioneering researcher (discovered SAD and introduced the treatment of light therapy)
Vedic meditation and depression
Vedic meditation is widely regarded as the easiest to practise of all the alternative therapies for depression, and is commonly found to deliver the quickest results, making it a very powerful tool for dealing with depression and its symptoms.
It acts on a number of different levels to restore balance, harmony, rationality and positivity to our mind and body.
That means we can begin enjoying life again and getting involved in a meaningful way.
The individually selected mantras bring balance to the nervous system so that there is no more hijacking of our thought processes with irrationally negative perspectives.
There is greater activation of the cerebral cortex and left PFC, eliciting a greater sense of positivity and enhancing the motor coordination that so often goes off track when depression sets in. There are far fewer glucocorticoids inhibiting the functioning of many systems within the body.
As you practise, the vicious cycle of intensification of symptoms caused by stress unwinds and in its place comes a virtuous cycle whereby everything starts getting a little better.
The activity of the amygdala is normalised so that it stops becoming hyper-aroused every time we see something sad. There is also a blissful return to natural, rhythmic sleep patterning and our enhanced brain functioning allows our cognitive abilities to shine once more.
Most importantly of all, a correct balance of neurotransmitter production means we have more happy hormones lifting our mood, and fewer glucocorticoids inhibiting the functioning of our hippocampus, reducing our energy levels and generally wreaking havoc throughout our body.
In particular, the three main neurotransmitters associated with depression (noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine), all appear to find balance in their production, uptake and disposal. This may have something to do with the fact the glucocorticoid secretion has now been harmonised.
Meditation has also been shown to increase our DHEA 5 levels, an anti-depressant hormone which plays a role in offsetting glucocorticoid secretion by blocking their access to receptors.
The sense of defeat that characterises so much depression also tends to alleviate so that we feel more empowered once again. The overwhelming memories of lack of control, lack of ability and feelings of despair, which may have previously gripped our sub-conscious mind, begin to be cleared out of the system so that we are no longer trapped by the negative impressions of our past.
So meditation restores balance and provides an opportunity for people to lead themselves out of despair and win their greatest ever battle.
We have had numerous successes with depression, whether mild, major, postnatal or bipolar, and as far as we are aware, no failures.
If you have depressive symptoms and like what you hear but still feel unsure, please take heart. The fact is that any negative thoughts or feelings that arise in you are just a consequence of imbalanced brain functioning and the real you can still be set free from the bondage of sadness, lethargy and pessimism that otherwise ails you. If you can get yourself to a course, we will give you everything you need to enable you to overcome this.
By the end of this decade, depression is projected to be the second leading cause of disability in the world. Meditation can be the cure, and it will also act as a preventative tool. It is here to be utilised by anyone who wants it.
What's the proof?
Vedic meditation delivers greater hormonal balance, a major boost in dealing with depression.
It also reduces the frequency and intensity of the stress response, resulting in an average 33% reduction in the stress chemical cortisol.
This technique has also been shown to deliver a 42% reduction in sleep disorders, as well as improved quality of sleep.
Studies have also shown that after 8 weeks of practise, participants demonstrated a 40-55% reduction in symptoms of PTSD and depression.
Research has also revealed a 38-45% improvement in mood scores.