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    The Dalai Lama's Advice on Depression

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

    Compassion Training Transforms the Mind continued...

    Compassion training can generate a state in which loving and compassion envelops the whole brain, he says. When people meditate on compassion, the signals to the insula and other brain regions involved in empathy and understanding are changed. The change is more dramatic among advanced practitioners, compared with novice practitioners, he adds.

    His studies have shown that with even a little compassion training, people can reap a physical benefit.

    Volunteers who received compassion training online -- and practiced it for 30 minutes a day for two weeks -- showed significantly greater propensity to want to help people who were suffering. They also reported a higher level of well-being, confidence, and positive feelings. MRI brain scans of these volunteers showed greater activation in the insula, Davidson reports.

    Raison has studied the effects of compassion training in Emory freshmen -- examining the body's stress response system, specifically inflammation that links stress with depression. These same inflammatory processes are risk factors for other diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

    In one of his studies, freshmen who got six weeks of compassion training had less physiological stress response in a test -- heart rates, blood pressure, stress hormone levels, and other stress-related markers -- compared with students who participated in a discussion group instead.

    Not only that, students in the "compassion group" who actually practiced the meditation -- rather than just taking the training classes -- fared the best in the stress test. They had the least stress reaction, he reports.

    "They came in the door a little different than the other kids who didn't practice it," Raison says. "These types of meditations help people reduce their reaction to stress."

    Meditation: No Magic Depression Treatment

    While meditation can help many who are depressed, it's not a sure-fire cure, Raison tells WebMD. "In fact, many people with mood disorders find they can't do meditation when they're depressed." Their thoughts are too overwhelming. They are anxious, nervous, and can't sit -- and likely they need antidepressants, he says.

    "For people who are seriously depressed -- or whose depression involves too much internal focus and rumination -- meditation can make their depression worse," he tells WebMD. "Early on, they begin to realize things about themselves they are uncomfortable with."

    Meditation provides true insight into why we behave as we do, Raison says. "There can be a shocking realization when you start watching your thoughts. You see the junk that's in there, and it can be very distressing. Every individual case is different. With depression, which can be so disabling and overwhelming, we need to use wisely all treatment modalities to give people the best outcomes."

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    Reviewed on December 18, 2007

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