In this guide, we will look at the best meditation for depression, and discuss the science.
The good news is that yes, meditation can help you with depression. This is something I have witnessed myself in my private online meditation lessons. Methods like guided meditation, Anapansati, and Vipassana can have a wonderful effect on the mind and can strengthen your brain to the point of helping you reclaim your happiness.
In this guide, I will cover all the best options. I recommend you try the various methods and choose the one that works best for you. Once you know which method is best for you, use it daily.
For best results, contact me for an online meditation lesson.
Best Meditation For Depression
Listen to our guided meditation, or try the methods below
1. Easy breathing meditation
- Find somewhere quiet and peaceful where you will not be disturbed.
- Sit with good posture. Make sure your back is straight but relaxed. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart (if you are doing seated meditation). Roll your shoulders back then let them relax. Slightly lower your chin to lengthen your spine.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
- With each inhalation, imagine bringing new energy into your body.
- With each exhalation, imagine breathing out any harmful and depressive thoughts.
- Take 108 breaths in this fashion.
This is a straightforward exercise. It’s the type of mindfulness exercise advocated by Deepak Chopra and Doctor Oz. It reduces the symptoms of depression by offering you a few precious minutes to relax and unwind. Plus, it can help to release emotions and to start the healing process, such as by helping with grief.
Studies show that this type of meditation can reduce sympathetic nervous system activity and amygdala activity while increasing hippocampal volume (2011, Sara Lazar, Harvard). This means meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety and improves emotional control [READ: Meditation for Anxiety].
Above we looked at a basic breathing meditation for depression. Now I’d like to discuss some Buddhist options.
Many of the best ways to meditate come from Buddhism. When we use Buddhist meditations for depression, we are working on understanding the mind.
Buddhist methods provide insight. They help you to understand your own mind and once you understand your mind it becomes easier to control it.
The first method I recommend is called Anapanasati.
“Anapanasati” is the proper term used to describe mindful breathing. It is an easy type of breathwork, and it is unquestionably one of the best types of meditation for depression.
- Perform the simple breathing exercises that we looked at above (#1 on this list). Focus on your breathing for a minimum of ten minutes.
- As you continue to focus on your breathing, notice when your mind comes and goes. When it switches from being mindful to being preoccupied with thoughts, label these movements. For instance, if the mind gets lost in thoughts, say “thinking”. This trains you to be more aware of your state of mind. Plus, it improves self-control.
- Once you feel peaceful, meditate on the feeling of peace for ten minutes.
The International Yoga Journal produced scientific evidence of the benefits of this method, which you can read about here.
2: Smiling Buddha
The Smiling Buddha method is a moderately advanced technique that is best for people who have some experience meditating.
It is a technique specifically designed to create happiness. It involves a combination of mudras (hand positions) and mantras (repeated words) to create deep relaxation and happiness.
Why is arguably the best meditation for depression? Simple: It cultivates positive emotions like joy and happiness.
To do this technique, you meditate and then start smiling. Then you focus the mind on the energy of your smile. This produces positive emotions like joy and happiness.
3: Zen Walking
When you’re feeling down, a pleasant walk helps.
A walk gives you the chance to escape and allows you to clear your mind, especially if you go for a walk in a beautiful natural environment.
Harvard Medical School states that just five minutes of walking is enough for mental health. But what might be even better is a Zen walk, a method advocated by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
In Zen walking, you walk up and down a path while meditating on the sensation of movement. This allows you to get some fresh air (which by itself helps to alleviate many of the symptoms of the condition). Plus, it clears the mind, bringing calmness and relaxation.
4: Loving Kindness (Metta)
Scientific research suggests that Loving Kindness is perhaps the best meditation for depression because it helps to cultivate feelings of happiness, interconnectedness, and love. The Journal Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine published a report on the benefits of this method.
Here is how to do it.
- Close your eyes and think about someone (begin either by thinking of yourself or someone you’re close to).
- See this person happy and smiling
- Remember five compassionate things they have done for you in the past, things that made you feel supported.
- Remember five beautiful things you have done for this person.
- Imagine extending love and kindness to this person
- Say the words “May [name of person] have love and kindness. May they be happy, healthy and successful. May they also have the strength to overcome troubles in life. I love [name of person]. I am one with [name of person]”
- Imagine the person sending loving-kindness back to you.
- Repeat the process with a second person, third person and so on.
- The first time, aim for ten people.
Loving-kindness cultivates compassion, which is important because research shows that self-compassion helps relieve depression [Journal of Affective Disorders]. That’s why this is one of the best meditation techniques for depression.
Numerous scientific studies have shown the big benefits of mindfulness meditation for depression.
Mindfulness isn’t so much a technique as an attitude that encompasses a wide variety of exercises and habits.
Richard J. Davidson, PhD [a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin] says that mindfulness is a broad term, a “family of activity, not a single thing.” It means living in the moment.
When you practise mindfulness, you train yourself to let go of thoughts and to focus on now. This is helpful for emotions like sadness because it helps you to escape the perpetual cycle of painful thoughts that can make you feel depressed. I especially recommend mindfulness if you are suffering from negative-thought depression.
The NHS tells us: “When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted.”
6: Guided Imagery
An alternative solution is to use guided imagery. In other words, to lead the mind through different imaginings. For instance, imagining that you are on a relaxing beach in the sunshine.
Here’s how to do it:
- Imagine standing on the beach beside the ocean
- See the waves lapping at your feet
- Hear the swoosh of the waves
- See the horizon
- Feel the warm sand at your feet
- Taste the crisp air
- Say to yourself, “I am relaxed and calm. It is a good day”.
7: Body Scan
When you are depressed, you lose touch with the present moment. The condition causes the mind to become consumed by ruminating negative thoughts. Comparatively, when we are happy, we live in the moment.
Living in the moment means focusing on reality instead of psychological phenomena (like thoughts and feelings).
Body Scan, a method created by Jon Kabat Zinn [creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction], gets you in touch with your body and puts you back in the present moment.
To do a body scan, you move your focus around your body. You can also consciously relax your body as you go. This is similar to the technique called “Progressive muscle relaxation”.
- Close your eyes and take a minimum of twenty deep breaths to relax.
- Begin with your feet. Focus your mind on your feet.
- Notice any sensations in your feet.
- If there is tension, ask your feet to relax.
- Imagine breathing air into your feet and asking them to relax.
- Continuing this process, move your focus progressively up your body, from feet to ankles to legs to pelvis to stomach, chest, arms, hands, neck, face and head.
- Reverse the process from head to toe.
A mantra is a sacred sound we focus on when meditating. There are two effective types of mantras for depression. The first is a sound mantra. For instance, the mantra “Om”
- Close your eyes
- Focus on your breathing
- Recite the mantra OM (pronounced “AUM”)
- Feel the sound reverberating in your body
- Focus 100% on the sound.
- Chant “Om” 108 times.
The other type of mantra is affirmation.
You can use any affirmation you like. For instance, you may use the affirmation “I am feeling calm and relaxed.” You then recite this mantra repeatedly while focusing on the words.
Affirmations help you to create the reality of the words. For instance, saying “I am calm and relaxed” will make you calm and relaxed.
9: Guided Meditation For Depression
I find that guided meditations are very easy and they do offer some momentary relaxation. However, they so not lead to long term changes and so I recommend that you do traditional meditations instead.
10: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is massively helpful when you’re feeling depressed. It is a form of therapy that combines mindfulness with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In my experience, it works wonders.
CBT is about challenging and changing harmful thoughts. And as you have seen, mindfulness is about being in the present moment.
Therefore, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is about focusing on the present moment in a way that changes harmful thoughts.
I love this method because it offers the best of both meditation and CBT. The former slows down your mind and makes you feel more relaxed and peaceful. The CBT aspect changes the way you think so you can stop depressive thoughts. This method has made an enormous difference in my life. I seriously recommend that you try it.
Researchers Meagan MacKenzie and Nancy L Kocovski at the Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto tell us that there is good evidence suggesting that MCBT is effective at treating depression. However, they do state that further research is required.
Benefits of Meditation for Depression
Above we looked at the best types of meditation for depression. You might wonder just how meditation helps with depression. To answer that question, you must consider what causes depression in the first place.
There are many potential causes of depression. They include everything from family history to childhood trauma and certain events in life. These circumstances can lead to mental health problems, including low self-esteem, self-criticism, sadness, and depression.
According to research by Princeton, depression is caused when fewer new brain cells are produced. And one of the main ways meditation helps is that it increases the production of new brain cells.
Plus, it balances neurochemicals.
How meditation balanced brain chemicals
Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical and often plays a pivotal role in depression.
Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, which is why many people with depression are given SRI’s (serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
Most brain cells are affected by serotonin. The chemical aids in communication between parts of the brain and has a major influence on mood. Research by the University of Montreal shows that mindfulness and meditation help by bathing neurons in feel-good chemicals that reduce stress, which is one of the leading causes of low serotonin levels. For best results, use the above-mentioned depression meditation scripts.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that increases arousal and alertness levels. Too much secretion of norepinephrine can cause anxiety. Too little norepinephrine can lead to depression.
Meditation does not have an acute effect on the production of norepinephrine. However, it does block the hormone’s effect according to research from Dr Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School. Because of this, hormone levels are not decreased, but we still get the calming effect.
Cortisol is produced during stress. Too much cortisol destroys healthy tissues and prevents “good hormones” from being built, including serotonin.
Meditation balances cortisol to prevent this from happening.
- Helps with mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Reduces negative thoughts
- Helps us let go
- Promotes inner peace
- Prevents and relieves anger
- Increases communication between parts of the brain.
- Reduces painful emotions
- Reduces sadness and grief
- Prevents loss of appetite
- Offers relief from agitation
- Stops restlessness
- Helps control thoughts
- Relieves insomnia
- Helps with bipolar disorder
Studies on meditation and depression
There have been many scientific studies that show that meditation helps with depression. One of the most authoritative studies was produced by The Lancet medical journal.
The Lancet studied 424 British adults. The group was divided into two. Half the test group were allotted pills and the other half were given lessons in mindfulness. The latter group stopped taking their medication entirely after a winding-down period. The results were impressive.
“The relapse rates in the two groups were similar, with 44% in the mindfulness group and 47% for those on the drugs,” reports British newspaper The Guardian. Lead author Willem Kuyken, professor of psychology at the University of Oxford, said, “Our hypothesis was that [therapy would be more effective than pills].”
The results showed that meditation is equally as good as medication and does offer an alternative therapy. It also revealed that one of the best types of daily meditation for depression is mindfulness.
Nigel Reed, who has been suffering from depression and who took part in the study, says, “Mindfulness gives me a set of skills, which I use to keep well in the long term.”
Research by M Farias et. al 2020 published in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica shows that in some rare instances meditation can make symptoms worse. This is unlikely but is worth bearing in mind.
It is clear from the evidence that there are plenty of benefits of meditation techniques for depression. Try using one method from the list above each day. And for best results, contact me for an online meditation lesson.
1: Roderik J. S, Gerritsen. and Guido P. H. Band, 2019, Institute of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Leiden University
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison
Thanks for sharing all of these great ways to help deal with depression! I have found that gratitude meditation, focusing on any and all the things that you feel grateful for, and also self love meditations to be quite helpful in dealing with depression. I’m glad to see that you put that last paragraph in there about how there are times that you should not use meditation. Sometimes when we become more aware of a less then enjoyable experience going on within us, like depression, it gets much worse. There are a million and one ways to deal with this and there is no one “right” approach for all people. It will vary greatly. I like to call these the growing pains of meditation. They get called the dark night if meditation as well. They can happen with many different things in the practice as well. Not just depression.
i found your article very useful as myself was also into the state of depression but somehow i recovered myself and started reading so many inspirational articles just to attain the knowledge about these things.