Is meditation the perfect antidote to our tech-filled lives?

By Nisha Lilia Diu

A major study finds meditation can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving anxiety. No wonder its gaining popularity among high-powered professionals.

Oh, no. Incense. There’s a juice bar in the foyer and bhangra music playing, too. It feels like I’ve stepped into some kind of space warp. Outside, the City of London. Inside… well, it’s hard to describe. Because, as I step further into the Light Centre, a “natural health” studio offering everything from acupuncture to yoga, it becomes clear that its clientele is as far from the yogurt-knitting crowd as it’s possible to get.

They’re the kind of high-powered men and women you imagine weekending (with their BlackBerries) at luxury spas. Which, come to think of it, is what the Light Centre feels like.

I’m here for my first session of mindfulness meditation, one of the centre’s most popular courses and a practice that made headlines last week. On Monday, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a ground-breaking study that found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants. Dr Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine, who led the research, singled out mindfulness meditation as the most effective form.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,” says Adrian Wells, a professor of psychopathology at Manchester University and a clinical adviser to the charity Anxiety UK. The psychologist Katie Sparks agrees. “In the group work that I’ve done with sufferers of anxiety or depression, I’ve found it very beneficial because it calms the mind. It’s not a new thing,” she adds.

That’s an under-statement: mindfulness is a meditation technique that has been advocated by Buddhism for 2,500 years. Paul Christelis, the Light Centre’s course leader and a clinical psychologist, defines it as “paying attention to your experience, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment or criticism”.

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Mindfulness class, Photo: Mindfulness

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