08/10/2015 5:27 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

How Meditation Works To Treat Depression, Anxiety And Stress

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Businessman meditating on the bed in a hotel room

Meditation has risen to mainstream popularity in the past few years. Some swear by it, while others still tend to think it's a practice for those into alternative therapies. Whether you believe or not, the age old practice has been around for thousands of years.

“Meditation has its roots in eastern philosophy. Hindu and Buddhism are the first recorded texts that we have that reported meditative procedures and techniques,” Professor Vijaya Manicavasagar, Director, Psychological Services at the Black Dog Institute Told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Every ancient culture had its way of meditating, and meditation can take many forms."

Dr Addie Wootten, CEO of Smiling Mind and Clinical Psychologist, agrees. “There are many important Buddhist philosophers who have championed mindfulness meditation in the modern era including the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.

One of the leading champions of Mindfulness meditation in western society was Jon Kabat-Zinn who brought Mindfulness Meditation to his hospital in the US, The University of Massachusetts Medical School, in the 1970’s. He developed a Mindfulness Meditation program for patients who were experiencing chronic, medically incurable problems and found that his program significantly helped his patients.

He went on to develop the now world-renowned 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that has a significant evidence base for its effectiveness in reducing distress, pain and other physical symptoms such as fatigue and improving wellbeing, and resilience.”

Celebrities such as Arianna Huffington -- the founder of The Huffington Post -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah, Russell Brand and Hugh Jackman all publicly endorse mediation and its benefits. But what about for regular folk? And for those with depression and anxiety?

“There is a lot of research evidence -- which is always growing, that meditation aids in depression. It used to be thought, back in the 90s, that it was only used to prevent relapse in patients who had suffered depressive episodes, though lots of research since then has demonstrated that it's effective in the direct treatment of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. It has also been used for people with substance abuse. Mediation has a wide applicability,” said Manicavasagar.

Wooten recommends meditation is best applied under the guidance of a qualified doctor.

“The best approach to managing anxiety and depression is in collaboration with your doctor or another mental health professional. I don’t think we can say that mindfulness meditation will cure all ailments and it certainly won’t completely eradicate the experience of anxiety and depression, it's important to find the right treatment, and this may or may not include meditation.”

For those wanting to get started, try to understand that mediation is different for everyone. No two people experience the same thing.

“People often have this vision in their mind of someone who is sitting somewhere for hours on end, completely oblivious to their surroundings -- in a trance like state -- but really that kind of stage people only obtain after years and years of practice," said Manicavasagar.

"If you're going to start, what I would suggest is very short periods of time. Start small. Learning to focus on one thing is part of meditative practice. Even focusing on a candle flame in an accepting mode for three or four minutes is a great start.”

Wootten suggested having help to start.

"I strongly recommend trying the free Smiling Mind App. The programs are structured from beginners to more advanced and are also tailored to different age groups so we have something for everyone," Wooten said.

"If you want to work with someone face to face there are many meditation teachers you can work with or psychologists who can teach you.”

And for those who swear they just can't do it?

“This is a common statement -- and really, it's just not true. Meditation is not about not thinking. It's about awareness of our thoughts. Just stopping, taking a breath and being aware -- aware of your breath, your body and your surroundings. They are the first steps to take in starting to meditate, and most of us can do that. Just put down your phone, shut your eyes and take a breath… and look, you're meditating,” said Wootten.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.