Archive for March, 2012

Loving kindness: A powerful practice

March 31, 2012

Loving kindness or metta is an ancient Buddhist practice of giving compassion to oneself and others. Sounds simple?  Not really. Giving compassion to oneself is not what most people do.  In fact, there is a billion dollar industry built on books on self-improvement. If we stroll down the self-help section of a Barnes and Noble, we find shelves of books on how to be better human beings, how to look better, how to prevent aging, how to achieve the perfect body, how to have better relationships etc.  We get the message that whoever we are or whatever we’ve done in our lives is clearly not good enough.

It’s so easy to be critical of ourselves and others. Loving kindness is acceptance. A loving kindness meditation I practice and teach is:

May I be filled with loving kindness

May I be well

May I be peaceful and at ease

May I be happy

When you practice meditating on loving kindness first for yourself and then for others, you begin to develop more compassion and acceptance. It doesn’t happen overnight but gradually, the message gets through. We can stop trying to improve and love and accept ourselves just as we are. We also learn to accept and love the other people in our lives.

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Antidepressants: Do you really need one?

March 18, 2012

CBS Sunday Morning this morning aired a piece on the rampant use of antidepressants in the United States. An astounding 30 million people in our country  take antidepressants. Yet, as pointed out in the program, we are not all walking around deliriously happy.

Why is that?  There are several explanations for the overuse of antidepressants. One thought  is that people are often prescribed an antidepressant when they are only mildly sad or slightly depressed. Primary care physicians prescribe antidepressants along with antibiotics and many other medications, and since they have not been trained in psychiatry, too often they write a prescription based on the patient’s report of feeling a bit depressed.

Pharmaceutical companies advertise directly to consumers. A commercial for Cymbalta sends this message: “Not feeling like yourself? You could be suffering from depression. Cymbalta can help.”

Antidepressants are very helpful if the diagnosis is truly depression.  People who suffer from moderate or severe depression benefit from medication. Individuals with mild depression or sadness do not respond to antidepressants. A recent JAMA study shows that the effect of antidepressants in this group are only slightly more effective than placebos.

If you feel that you are suffering from depression, seek the help of an experienced psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner for a complete evaluation and assessment.

Beginning a meditation practice

March 5, 2012

I remember when I first started a meditation practice. I had been diagnosed many years ago with a left bundle branch block—a benign rhythm problem in the heart that thankfully does not require treatment. I had always enjoyed good health, and I felt alarmed. As soon as the words “you have a bundle branch block” came out of the cardiologist’s mouth, I felt anxious and totally unprepared for a diagnosis of any kind. I immediately sought the help of a psychologist colleague who began to teach me relaxation and meditation to cope with the anxiety. Every day, as I now teach my patients, I spent 20 or 30 minutes just sitting quietly and repeating a comforting word silently. When my mind wandered, which it always does for everyone, I tried to bring my mind back to the focus of the word I was repeating silently. Although it was tempting to look for results, I avoided that temptation since all the books I was reading about meditation counseled me to stay in the moment. Over time, I began to feel calmer, more focused, and generally more content. I would designate the early morning for my meditation practice where I would sit in a comfortable chair in my living room and simply meditate and spend time with myself and my mind, which never seemed to tire of finding silly things to think about.

You don’t need any special equipment and you don’t need to ponder what word you are going to repeat to yourself. Attempting to find the “perfect” word is simply a form of distraction. All you need is a comfortable chair where you can sit upright in what I refer to as a “posture of dignity” and the absence of any noise or distractions. You can start at 10 minutes if you like and work toward 20 and eventually 30 minutes. Try not to be discouraged by your mind wandering since this this is totally normal. You will notice that the mind does not necessarily wander to brilliance but rather thoughts like “I need to go to the dry cleaners” or ” I should call Susan” or “What do I want for dinner tonight?”—just everyday thoughts that arise. Simply notice the thought and let it go as best you can. I frequently refer to seeing the thought as a beautiful fluffy cloud on a lovely summer day, and I watch it merely drift on by. By all means, be kind to yourself. This is a new practice that could change your life.