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The Pursuit of Happiness: Meditation as Medication

Written by Emily Peters / Posted February 18, 2015

It was May 2014 when I started research for an article on anxiety and depression. Specifically on the great possibilities of managing these debilitating conditions without pharmaceutical drugs. I contacted a few people to get personal opinions and stories, and I hit some very strong buttons. Some buttons were indignant, some buttons triggered excitement, and other buttons were scoffing at what they assumed was naïveté. 

I had to walk away from this article for many months to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. At that point I wasn’t even sure what the ‘right reasons’ were. I was confused by the indignant responses because I thought that I was doing something great to address Anxiety and Depression. And I was horrified by the possibility that I had offended some people who I care very much about. And my heart ached in empathy because I am not naïve to their situation; I have experienced depression and anxiety in my life. And I beat it without drugs.

I owe my own recovery and continued happy and contented state to the practice of meditation and yoga every day. Thanks to these incredible practices for holistic health and my intense desire to live a free and happy life, I live every moment with a vibrant flame of ecstatic joy and bliss in my heart, soul, and aura. That’s what works for me, and I think there is a very good chance that it works for many people. There are other ways too, and I know a few people who are managing their conditions in drug-free ways that work for them.

Here come some numbers on the subject:

18% of adults have Anxiety disorder, which frequently co-occurs with Depressive disorder. 26% of adults in the US have depressive disorder. According to Drugs.com, the Top selling drug in the fourth Quarter of 2013 was an antipsychotic medication called Abilify. This drug alone reached sales in excess of $1.5 billion. Abilify is used to treat the symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It is also used together with other medications to treat major depressive disorder in adults.

Why do Anxiety, Depression, and Major Depressive Disorder exist? How does our social paradigm influence its occurrence and its treatment?

These disorders are very personal things, they are very real, and that’s why my inquiry so many months ago elicited such strong responses on all sides. I can’t speak to anyone else’s personal struggle with depression and anxiety, so I’ll speak for myself, from my own experience.

When I was battling depression, I was hungry for healthy, loving interaction with the people around me. Even though I craved positive attention, I was overcome with anxiety in social situations. I felt very lonely. I felt a huge stabbing sensation of separation – from everyone around me and from myself. The more I felt this separation, the more I found ways to justify and validate keeping myself in that state. This was definitely not just a tendency to want to frown a lot, nor was it just teenage moodiness. It was all-consuming.

My social paradigm in the Midwest region of the United States was one that glorified a busy lifestyle filled with hard work, strong independence and not very much touching, hugging or acceptance of any kind of outward display of emotions. Seasonally, there wasn’t much sunlight, which added to my pre-existing condition. This is a pretty common description of a great deal of the social experience in the United States

Yoga and meditation found me at the age of 16. As I began to observe the thoughts, actions and habits that kept me in depression and social anxiety, I discovered that I have a choice every moment of every day - not just the waking moments, but the sleeping and subconscious moments too. So started choosing to be happy and take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings. My body and mind started to come into balance, an my world got brighter. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but it was just enough for me to get out of bed and stop feeling sorry for myself. Maybe that sounds easy enough for a healthy, balanced person, but those 2 things in themselves are a huge step for someone deep in a whirlpool of their own suffering.

Here come some more numbers:

In an article dated January 6, 2014 on JohnsHopkinsMedicine.org it is stated “Some 30 minutes of meditation daily may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression . . .” Hmm, that sounds rather uninspiring. And that’s exactly why I veer away from ‘hard science’. Not because the scientific studies sometimes don’t strongly support my viewpoint, and don’t show a holistic, inclusive view of the subject. And not because they are expressed in words that are often lack-lustre. Nope! It’s because they don’t understand how magic works.

Wait now! What? Magic??

Really I’m not nuts! (I may be having an imaginary conversation with you, my dear reader, but I am certainly in control of all of my faculties). A few years ago, a truly awesome friend handed me 2 books: Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain and You’ll See it When you Believe it by Dr. Wayne Dyer. This friend also happens to be squarely kicking anxiety in the rear end without medication. By then I was making really good daily strides with my meditation and yoga practices. But the golden nuggets in those books brought me one step closer to setting myself free from depression and anxiety. Thanks to my friend’s wish to see me well, my own determination to get better, and the knowledge held within those pages, I realized the best thing I could do for myself was stop believing I was sick and begin believing and seeing myself as whole, complete and well.

This is no fairy story. Some of those days and moments were really tough. But the recovery I have achieved, and the happiness I found inside of myself is indeed commonplace, everyday magic. Meditation and yoga are the major factors that keep my internal light bright, free and undimmed by depression and anxiety.

But why? And how? . . . what in the world could make meditation and yoga so powerful that it conquers things as deep as depression and anxiety?

The answer lies in the endocrine system. Hormones are the body’s way of communicating with itself. Thoughts and feelings manifest on a chemical level by producing hormones in the body. The hormones produced by a happy thought give you a happy sensation. The hormones produced by a self-destructive thought give you a downright nasty sensation. There is a chemical cocktail in constant creation within you, which is largely dependent upon the thoughts you choose.

The power of meditation as medication is this: Meditation teaches power to choose thoughts and feelings in every single moment. The power of yoga as medication is this: the position of the body and the rate of breath combine to create a powerful hormone brew. If you slouch and your breath is shallow, the body is sending a message of total defeat and depression. If you stretch yourself into positions of victory and breathe deeply into every corner of your being, the body is creating a message of invincibility and of vibrant will to Live Life!

There are many ways to live medication-free if you suffer from anxiety or depression, and it’s important for each individual to find what works best for herself. If you are currently managing depressive disorder or anxiety with medication, please don’t quit immediately, as this could cause severe reactions. At this point, your body and mind are dependent on the synthetic hormones and chemicals that compose your Happiness Cocktail, and it has most likely stopped producing its own.

A good way to start is to find a mental healthcare professional and a community to support you in your decision to live an un-medicated life. It’s going to be very important to find those who support you in your decision, so start a conversation with your loved ones.

Next, don’t accept no for an answer. If you believe it, chances are very good you will see it. Definitely do take cautions into consideration, do your research, and do your best to understand your own mind and body.

Here comes a disclaimer:

I am not a doctor. I am a Licensed Massage Therapist, a 15-year Iyengar Yoga practitioner, an avid meditator, a voracious reader, and a perpetually curious soul. I don’t have the answers for you. Only you can know what’s best for you. Only you can create your experience in this lifetime. I only hope to shed light and inspire maximum wellness with my own experience.

May the Longtime Sun shine within you, and may all Love live in every cell of your body.