SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER AND MEDITATION
In the late 1990s, Jane Anderson was working as a landscape architect. That meant she didn’t work much in the winter, and she struggled with seasonal affective disorder in the dreary Minnesota winter months. She decided to try meditation and noticed a change within a month. “My experience was a sense of calmness, of better ability to regulate my emotions,” she says. Her experience inspired a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.
Previous studies have found that Buddhist monks, who have spent tens of thousands of hours of meditating, have different patterns of brain activity. But Anderson, who did this research as an undergraduate student together with a team of University of Wisconsin-Stout faculty and students, wanted to know if they could see a change in brain activity after a shorter period.
At the beginning of the study, each participant had an EEG, a measurement of the brain’s electrical activity. They were told: “Relax with your eyes closed, and focus on the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose; if a random thought arises, acknowledge the thought and then simply let it go by gently bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath.”
Then 11 people were invited to take part in meditation training, while the other 10 were told they would be trained later. The 11 were offered two half-hour sessions a week, and encouraged to practice as much as they could between sessions, but there wasn’t any particular requirement for how much they should practice.