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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Researchers Say Meditation Combats Depression
January 11, 2007

Zen Center Teaches Meditation To Chicagoans

CHICAGO -- It could be inside a Japanese temple, but in fact, the Chicago Zen Center sits inside a stately Evanston home that some call a hospital for the mind.

Sensei Sevan Ross heads the Zen Center.

"Since the beginning of Buddhism, to help people with mental afflictions. That's what we do," he said.

Student Mike McKane goes to the Zen Center to lighten his depression.

"The meditation sort of put things in perspective for me. It was doing something good for me," he said.

Now, modern science is testing a 2,500-year-old tradition, exploring its healing properties, NBC5's Nesita Kwan reported.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison study meditation classes like those at the Zen Center. And while the complex workings of the brain remain a mystery, technology now allows for brain scans that show surprising differences after just weeks of meditation.

Researcher Donal McCoon said that previous studies used meditation on patients who'd suffered recurrent bouts of clinical depression.

"They measured brain waves with a big old electrical cap sitting right there. And what they discovered is that the brain waves did change," McCoon said. "In particular, their relapse rate for depression was cut in half."

But Ross said meditation isn't always easy, and it does take work.

"You're trying to wrestle the mind out of its normal patterns," he said.

Meditation usually appears as a quiet practice on the outside, but inside, meditators actively notice every twinge of anger, fearfulness or anxiety, and again and again, let it go.

Many meditators say what they're developing is the mental muscle to keep negative moments from snowballing. Brenda Gratton is one such practitioner.

"If I'm good and in practice, I can catch the first thought of, 'Oh, my what is this?'" she said. "You start to notice the little, itty bitty thoughts that slowly build up."

"I can feel the anger come up within me," another person who practices meditation said. "Then a little alarm goes off in my head like, 'Just don't react, don't speak. Listen.'"

In the end, scientific explanations pale in comparison to meditation's effect on those who believe it's changed their brains and their lives, Kwan reported.

"I'm a little more outgoing socially," McKane said. "I just talk to people, not concerned about what they think."

McKane said meditation has helped him become happy with himself.

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