Meditating for just half an hour a day can offer people with depression as much relief as popping a pill, researchers have claimed.
A review of previous studies found that regular meditation could relieve anxiety, pain and stress – and alleviate symptoms of depression just as well as conventional anti-depressants.
Meditation, which has a long history in Eastern traditions, is one of many ‘mindfulness’ techniques that have grown in popularity in the West over the past 30 years. It is typically practised for 30 to 40 minutes a day with the aim of encouraging acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment, and relaxing body and mind.
The study focused on 47 clinical trials performed up until June 2013 looking at a total of 3 515 participants.
These assessed the effect of meditation on various mental and physical health issues - including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance abuse, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic pain.
The report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found an eight-week training programme in mindfulness meditation reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress and pain as well as improving the participants’ quality of life.
Lead researcher Dr Madhav Goyal, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said: ‘A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness but it’s not considered part of mainstream medical therapy.’
He added: ‘Meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as other studies found from anti-depressants.
‘Clinicians should talk with patients about the role a meditation programme could have in addressing psychological stress.’