Depression : Stress Reduction Through Meditation

Aliki Nassoufis, dpa

Berlin (dpa) - Sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, murmuring a protracted "om" is what many people picture when they think of meditation. But meditation is more than that - it is an effective way to relax.

"Meditation is a general term for a variety of mental techniques," said Bjoern Husmann, a psychotherapist and chairman of the German Society for Relaxation Techniques. The techniques involve different forms of concentration and reflection, and "in many cultures there's a religious element as well," Husmann said.

Many people use meditation to reduce stress and the stream of thoughts.

"We've never learned to manage our mind and thoughts," said Maren Schneider, a non-medical practitioner of psychotherapy and author of books on meditation. "Our thoughts usually compel us to act." For example: Don't forget the bank transfer. Be sure to call the new client tomorrow. "But you can learn to gain autonomy over your thoughts and decide whether you want to heed them or not."

Meditation is well suited for this purpose, she said. One way is to concentrate, while either sitting or lying down, on your breathing, for example in your abdomen. You should be able to feel your belly expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale.

"It's not easy to hold your attention on your breathing alone, though. Especially in the beginning, your thoughts keep wandering," Schneider said. But this is no problem - you just have to concentrate on your breathing again. "It's like a workout for your mind and as time goes on you'll learn to be less distracted."

Visualization is another kind of meditation. "Instead of focusing on your breathing, you focus on a certain picture in your mind's eye" that conveys tranquility or peace of mind, Husmann explained.

People interested in learning how to meditate can consult books or look for a teacher.

Meditation is suitable for many people, but not all. "Someone in severe pain or with severe depression will hardly be able to relax," Husmann said.

Lutz Hertel, a psychologist and chairman of the German Wellness Association, warned, "There are risks for people who are very anxious and inclined towards brooding and frightful thoughts. Meditation could intensify their feelings of anxiety." Meditation is no substitute for psychotherapy, he added.

Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH