Good news: There are some excellent types of meditation for bipolar disorder that science suggests could help cure bipolar disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Bipolar, formerly called “Manic Depressive”, is a mental health condition with psychological, sociological, and biological aspects. Episodes of mood swings (mania or ‘hypomania” and  depression) can make it seem impossible to live a normal life. However,  according to research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, meditative practices can help alleviate the symptoms of the condition and control mood swings. Meditation is best combined with psychological counseling. 

There are different kids of meditation for bipolar disorders of different types. The exact benefit you will gain from meditation depends on which of the types of bipolar disorder you suffer from. (Mayo Clinic states that the types are Bipolar I Disorder, Dipolar II Disorder, or Cyclothymic Disorder). Your doctor will help you determine where you fall on the Bipolar Spectrum.  

As a meditation teacher, many people have asked me: can meditation cure bipolar disorder? So I researched science and discovered that year on year, more people with bipolar disorder are turning to mindful practices for help.

One of the most recent breakthroughs in medical science has been the use of mindfulness for the manic-depressive disorder. Research has unearthed some encouraging benefits of meditation for bipolar disorder, as I will reveal in this article. 

What Are Meditation And Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depressive) is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People with the condition often fluctuate between mania and depression [READ: Meditation For Depression].

Meditation is a health practice that involves focusing the mind on specific things. This includes breathing techniques, physical exercises, and ways of thinking. There are man different forms of meditation, including Buddhist methods, Daoist methods, contemplation, mantras, mudras, breathing techniques, and guided meditation for bipolar disorder. 

Statistics show that 2.6% of the population are manic-depressive. WebMD notes that it is a much more common problem than most people realise. [2]

Symptoms 

Can meditation cure bipolar disorder?

effects of meditation on dipolar disorder
effects of meditation on dipolar disorder

Many people ask me: Can meditation cure bipolar disorder?

I am not a medical healthcare professional, rather a meditation teacher, so it is not my place to answer this question directly. However, there is significant scientific evidence indicating that meditation can help with bipolar disorder and certainly with the symptoms of the condition.

For the majority of people, there are certainly plenty of reasons to try some meditative exercises. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that there are some health risks of meditation, so if you start to feel uncomfortable or unwell when practising, stop. It is best to consult a healthcare professional before you attempt the exercises.

That said, science has proven the efficacy of certain types of meditation for bipolar disorder. These meditative practices can alleviate the symptoms of the condition, such as by increasing mood stability and reducing episodes and levels of mania and depression.  While meditation cant cure bipolar disorder, it can certainly make it much easier to cope with bipolar disorder.

Studies show that one particularly good exercise for manic depression is to use mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy.

Research suggests that practising mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy can lead to an increase in self-control and executive functioning, and reduce the behavioural symptoms of the condition. [3]  The study showed that mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy increases awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations, and thereby helped decrease decrease depression and increase cognitive functioning.

 Benefits of Meditation for Bipolar Disorder

Meditation can help improve mood swings in many ways, such as by reducing stress, increasing concentration, and increasing sleep. But there are some truly important ways in which meditation helps with bipolar disorder:

1: Meditation and the bipolar brain

We can use meditation to regulate emotions and moods. Specifically, meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex, which is the emotional control centre of the brain controlling depression, mania, and other emotions. The prefrontal cortex is underactive in people with bipolar disorder, but meditation increases this activity. The brains of experienced meditators exhibit more thickness, density, and activity in the prefrontal cortex [University of Massachusetts, 2005]. This has the added benefit of reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Bipolar disorder also causes highs and lows of amygdala reactivity, which is part of the reason for the euphoria, irritability, insomnia, inattention, and distractibility. Research [Andressa A. Magalhaes et al. Frontiers in Neuroscience] shows that meditation balances amygdala activity to help stabilize mood.

The Amygdala is the number one brain region associated with bipolar disorder. However, research from Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar shows that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation reduces amygdala activity to help reduces stress and reduce the “fight or flight” response.

Meditation also stimulates your whole nervous system, which causes it to reorganise at a higher rate. It also increases neurogenesis to create new neuron in the brain, which helps to fortify neural pathways and synchronize the right brain and left brain, creating “whole brain synchronization.”

Yes, the benefits of meditation for the bipolar-disorder brain are extraordinary.

 In The Tao Of Bipolar,  C. Alexander Simpkins PhD says : “The mental training that comes from practising meditation increases activation in the parts of the brain that manage emotions and moods.” Patients who use mindfulness as a part of their daily practice show increased levels of inner-peace and fewer episodes of mood swings for many hours after the practice session. [3]

Some of the best types of meditation for bipolar disorder include calming exercises like mindful breathing, which can help to decrease mood swings and improve emotional control. These exercises also increase awareness, which can help manic depressives to avoid the highs and lows while maintaining a healthy, balanced mental state.

In other words, with meditation you will experience less of the unnaturally upbeat, euphoria moments, and also less of the feelings of hopelessness, sadness, fatigue and restlessness.

 

2: Improving neurotransmitters

Bipolar medications work by boosting certain neurotransmitters according to Dennis Thompson Jr,. [4]

Mood is significantly affected by lacks of dopamine, GABA, serotonin, endorphins and other brain chemicals. Research [including Harte et al – Biological Psychology Journal] has found that meditation balances brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins to help bipolar sufferers balance their mood. Essentially, this creates a more balanced brain.

Many bipolar disorder medications (SSRIs) are used to increases levels of serotonin according to the University of Montreal.  Serotonin is a signal relayer that is regarded as one of the most pivotal neurotransmitters in bipolar disorder. Serotonin is needs for healthy growth of new brains cells. A decline in the growth rate of new brain cells can lead to depression, according to leading Princeton University neuroscientist Dr. Barry Jacobs.  Hence the need for medication. However, meditation increases serotonin naturally according to the article ‘Meditation: The Future Medication’ by Dr. Avdesh Sharma.

 

3: Awareness of the mind

When we meditate, we learn to observe thoughts and moods in a calm way, and we learn to detach from those moods so we are less reactive.

This is true for everyone, not just people with bipolar disorder. As we go throughout the day and encounter various stressors we start to response by releasing brain chemicals associate with bipolar disorder, like cortisol, and our heart rate increases.  The key to overcoming this is general mindfulness and awareness, such that we are less reactive to stressors and to states of mind.

When we meditate, we increase awareness of the various processes of the mind, such as thoughts and emotions. We come to understand that it is normal for our emotions to fluctuate to some degree. Once we understand these mental processes, we become less reactive to them. Then, we can take a step back from the emotional rollercoaster and take more control of our moods. This also means  less reactivity to suicidal thoughts. 

 

4: Strengthens prefrontal cortex:

The prefrontal cortex is essentially the control terminal of your brain. Its functions include knowing good from bad, right from wrong, and understanding the consequences of actions. It also organises the structure of thoughts. We can strengthen the prefrontal cortex by practising mindfulness.

NewScientist says” Mindfulness meditation increases thickness in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes, both linked to attention control. In contrast, compassion-based meditation produces increases in the limbic system, which processes emotions, and the anterior insula, which helps bring feelings into conscious awareness.”

This is why two of the best meditations for bipolar disorder are mindfulness and compassion-based methods like the Buddhist methods Loving Kindness and Karuna.

 

5: Helps people with bipolar disorder to live normal lives:

Manic depressives who practice meditation have been scientifically observed to have more control of their mind compared to those with the condition who do not meditate. This is largely because of the decrease in episodes of extreme emotions.

 

4 Best Types Of Meditation For Bipolar Disorder

 Always consult a healthcare professional before beginning. This information is for educational purposes only. Meditation should not replace the treatment provided by your mental health professional.

If you are a parent trying to help your kid or teen with bipolar disorder, it is worth working with a meditation teacher to find the ideal meditation for them. Some teens and children many struggle to perform the meditation listed below.

Here are some of the best meditations for bipolar disorder. As well as these techniques, mood journals have been shown to be beneficial.

1.Mindful Breathing 

 Seated breathing techniques are usually the best place for beginners to start. This is one of the most natural methods to learn. Essentially you sit and focus your mind on your breathing. This slows your mind down and helps to create internal balance and harmony (thereby helping to regulate the lows and highs of manic depression).

One of the common symptoms of bipolar disorder is that it makes it hard to control your breathing according to BipolarCareGivers.[5] By using breathing exercises, you can take control of your breathing, which will help you to relax when you have experience mania.

2: Mindful Cognitive Therapy (MCT)

Mindfulness is one of the most important of all techniques and one of the easiest. In mindfulness, you focus the mind on the present moment in a non-judgemental fashion. This helps your mind to relax and helps you to control your mood, which is very beneficial for manic depressives.

Scientific research shows that Mindfulness cognitive therapy, a practice created by Jon Kabat Zinn at  is particularly helpful. It can help to slow-down racing thoughts, reduce the effects of anxious or depressive thoughts, and decrease impulsivity.

3: Zazen

One of the best types of meditation for bipolar disorder is Zazen, the meditative practice used by the Zen sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Zen methods are similar to breathing techniques. What makes Zen different is that it uses specific body postures that are said to make you relax more easily. Zen is also one of the most famous of all techniques, which is why it’s often the first one people try.

Zen meditation helps with bipolar disorder because it trains you to focus and to create inner balance. It completely closes you off to external stimuli, which is invaluable for people whose conditions are triggered by external stimuli, such as noises.

4: Zen walking

This is a gentle, slow technique which is excellent for general relaxation. It is advocated by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Think about the last time you went for a long walk and how relaxing that felt. Multiply that by ten and you’ll be somewhere near how relaxing twenty minutes of zen walking is. Mindful walking is a fantastic way to silence your thoughts. And that’s very helpful for manic depressives. The condition can be triggered by racing thoughts [6] so by slowing your thoughts down, you can begin to take control.

Always make sure that you are comfortable and that it is safe to practice meditative exercises. I urge you to speak to a doctor or mental health professional before trying these techniques. Meditation is not meant to replace your regular treatment, psychotherapy, or medication.

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SOURCES:  

1: National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

2Bipolar Disorder Myths and Facts, WebMD https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-myths-facts#1
3: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Bipolar Disorder: Effects on Cognitive Functioning, Journal of Psychiatric Practitioners, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277324/

3: Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific PerspectiveWorld Institute for Scientific Exploration https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4769029/
4: Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety, Dennis Thompson Jr, Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH https://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety-disorder/bipolar-disorder-and-anxiety.aspx
5: Common bipolar triggers, BipolarCareGivers, https://bipolarcaregivers.org/treatment-and-management/common-bipolar-triggers
6: Racing Thoughts and Bipolar Disorder, Marcia Purse,   Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-racing-thoughts-378823

meditation for bipolar disorder (1)

 

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Written by Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.