Could mindfulness meditation be a viable treatment for bipolar disorder?
What are the aims of modern-day meditation? Transcendence? Inner peace? Maybe a sort of vague, on-and-off tingling around your body where you think your chakras should be?
With mindfulness meditation, there really aren’t any guarantees. In fact, just having any expectations, or the experience of “anticipation,” runs counter to the ideas of acceptance and non-judgment at the core of mindfulness meditation. As a practice, it can include focus on breath and bodily sensations, and non-judgmental observation of one’s own body or thoughts during the meditation.
Meditation affects our minds in two ways. The first is more immediate, during the actual practice, when thoughts slow down and perceptions of the outside world become enhanced. You might experience feelings of serenity or calm. The second effect is determined by frequency and duration of your practice over time, and is what we might experience as an accrual of meditation’s benefits: shifts in how we think, feel, and internalize experience, which can lead to even greater awareness, heightened senses and well-being, and calm, that occur even outside of meditation.
In Australia, a new study by Black Dog Institute and the University of New South Wales examined how different amounts of mindfulness meditation affected the symptoms of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Participants underwent Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program (MBSR), originally developed by Kabat-Zinn in the 1990s.
Participants in the study completed a number of questionnaires and ratings scales, administered by clinicians and on their own, to measure symptoms: anxiety and stress levels, hypo/mania and depression; and, additionally, their degree of mindfulness. Some participants meditated once a day for 3 days a week or more, others once a day for 2 days a week or less.
Individuals measured their symptoms pre- and post-treatment, as well as during a 12-month follow-up. “Meditation homework” was also assigned, advising participants to meditate for 30 – 40 minutes at a time, and then confirm if they had indeed completed their formal meditation for a given day.
Researchers found that the more days an individual meditated during his or her 8-week long MBCT program, the lower his or her levels of depression would be at the 12-month follow-up. Study results also suggested that minimum amounts of meditation—3 or more times weekly over the 8-week period—could lead to improvements in depression and anxiety-related symptoms.
But, with or without a bipolar disorder diagnosis, is there a way for you to harness the benefits of mindfulness meditation?
Although the effects of quality and type of meditation warrant further research, the results of this study suggest that regularity (and some baseline quantity) in meditation practice is a route to stress reduction.
Some mindfulness meditation techniques include Body Scan Technique (the non-judgmental observations of bodily sensation), Sitting Meditation (observing one’s breathing centered around the abdomen and any feelings that arise), and 3-min breathing space (a 3-minute long technique that focuses on non-judgmental observation of physical sensation, your breath and body).
Meditation techniques, such as Zen, Yoga, Mantra and many other forms, can appeal differently to different people, too, and may be worth trying. Transcendental Meditation is a form of Mantra meditation that uses repetition of a mantra and is practiced twice daily, for 20 minutes each time.
What’s easiest about meditating, beside there being no “right” way? Well, you don’t need much. Just a degree of presence, effort of focus, and the right space or surface to maintain it. You can practice from almost anywhere, as long as you feel safe and comfortable. So find some time today, at home or outside, upright in bed or seated in a chair, and close your eyes. Start with 10 minutes. And begin to notice your breath.
Tania Perich. Black Dog Institute, Hospital Rd, Randwick, NSW, Australia; School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, Australia
Philip B. Mitchell Black Dog Institute, Hospital Rd, Randwick, NSW, Australia; School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, Australia
Jillian R. Ball School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, Australia
A good resource for more on the topic is the website from William Marchand, MD who is also the author of the just published book – Mindfulness for Bipolar