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    The Dalai Lama's Advice on Depression

    Inner peace is a gift -- nurtured through meditation, empathy, and compassion.

    Meditation in Depression Therapy continued...

    Meditation has gained millions of converts, helping them ease anxiety, stress, and chronic pain, improve heart health, boost mood and immunity, and resolve pregnancy problems.

    By learning the Tibetan practice of "mindfulness meditation," it is possible to break the cycle of negative thinking that feeds depression, says John D. Dunne, PhD, co-director of Emory's Contemplative Practices and Studies programs.

    "Negative thoughts are very real to depressed people," says Dunne. "They interpret their own actions in a very negative way ... have a very negative sense of self. They hold onto these thoughts very, very strongly."

    Because a depressed person is so self-focused, it's difficult to convince them that their negative thoughts are not reality, he adds. "The goal of mindfulness meditation and compassion is to end this self-focus, this negative tone."

    Learning to Be Compassionate

    A secularized version of the practice called compassion training is a step-by-step method for developing compassion. It is being used in Emory's research studies to examine the health benefits of meditation and compassion, says Geshe Lobsang.

    At its essence, compassion requires that we develop a sense of connectedness to others, which will give us empathy for them, he explains. "If we are genuinely able to feel empathy for others, then compassion is the natural outcome."

    In compassion training, students focus on developing that sense of deep connection with all beings, he says. "We develop a way of seeing how others are kind to us, even if it's unintentional kindness. Whether they intended to be kind to us or not, we can choose to perceive it as kindness."

    Compassion Training Transforms the Mind

    Using MRI brain scans, scientists have begun tracking the effects of compassion training.

    "We are finding that we can transform the brain by changing the mind," says Richard J. Davidson, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The brain region related to compassion, the insula, "is quite special," he explains. "It is the only brain area that monitors the body and provides the brain with information on what is going on in the body. It sends signals to the body that might change during emotional distress."

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