Meditation as medication

Medikation: Kate Varga meditates in what she call her ‘den’ inside her closet in Calgary on Feb. 24. Meditation has helped Varga cope with depression and anxiety. (Photo by Spardha Mehta/The Press)

In today’s challenging world, many people experience depression and anxiety.

The World Health Organization recently listed depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

While there are many possible ways to cope with mental health concerns, mediation is an example of a solution that has very swiftly become popular in recent years.

According to Ranbir Krishan Rekhi, an ardent meditator from India, who is a part of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS), meditation is beneficial for mental health.

“When you learn to be the witness of your thoughts and emotions, which is an essential part of being present, you may be surprised when you first become aware of the background ‘static’ of ordinary unconsciousness and realize how rarely, if ever, you are truly at ease, with yourself,” he said.

YSS was founded in 1917. For the last 100 years, it has made available the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millennium ago in India. YSS also runs the Self Realization Fellowship which is operated all over the world.

Despite the science being clear about the benefits of meditation, people have been hesitant to consider it as a source for recovery.

But for Kate Varga, meditation has proved to be very beneficial. She has long struggled with anxiety and depression.

“I don’t know how was I able to get to university without having a mental breakdown, but I think was always somehow able to keep it in check,” she said.

Varga, 28, is a barista at Starbucks located in downtown Calgary. Varga had been a substitute teacher in Canada for three years before this.

For her, things fell apart when she decided to move to China in July 2018. She sold all her possessions and moved her entire life to China because it was finally going to be her big break in the teaching job.

She got hired as a kindergarten teacher.

But things didn’t go as planned.

She had to quit and break a two-year contract after being there for two and a half months. Going back home, in debt and to live with her parents, devastated her.

“It all bubbled up to a point where I couldn’t function normally,” she said

The doctors that Varga consulted in China declared that she had developed panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, depression, and insomnia.

After the futile attempts of trying various medications and therapies, Varga has found solace in meditation.

A year later now, Varga is on her path of recovery.

For Varga, while meditating, it doesn’t matter if your mind is bouncing around thinking about what you are going to cook or the conversation you had with someone the other day.

“The fact that you’re sitting there and giving the space to allow that to happen is meditating, as long as you can catch yourself when your mind wanders,” she said.

Lunch Break: Kate Varga meditates during her lunch break at the Devonian Gardens in Calgary on Feb. 19. Meditation has  helped Varga deal with depression and anxiety and keeps her calm and relaxed. (Photo by Spardha Mehta/The Press)

Varga has invented a little meditating den, right in the comfort of her home, inside an empty closet. To make her even more relaxed, she follows a small routine of lighting candles around her sitting area, wearing a flower lei around her neck and then sitting down to meditate.

Journaling and dancing have been two other major resources that have helped her.

She laughs as she recalls that if sometimes she gets irritable, her boyfriend asks if she has meditated already. “He actually calls it medikate, because it’s like meditation and medication for Kate,” she said.

Varga met Matthew Lillywhite, who she is currently dating, in March 2018.

Go Together, Grow Together: Matthew Lillywhite and Kate Varga pose together at their house in Calgary on Feb. 24. Lillywhite and Varga have been together since March 2018 and Lillywhite has been a great support for Varga in her journey of recovery. (Photo by Spardha Mehta/The Press)

When Varga was diagnosed with ill mental health, Lillywhite stood beside her through all of it.

“I had to watch the whole thing develop from 10,000 km away,” he said, “I don’t know if I could live with myself having fallen in love with Kate only to abandon her in her darkest hour.”

Varga’s experience with meditation has been full of various emotions. Sometimes she feels anxious, sometimes emotional and sometimes really sad.

“When I started meditating, I would cry because I realized how little time I spent in the present moment, and how my whole life has been trying to escape into something better,” she said.

The type of meditation that Varga follows is called Zen. It is an ancient Buddhist tradition that dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th century China. From its Chinese origins it spread to Korea, Japan and other Asian lands where it continues to thrive.

Also, the app Headspace has helped her in distancing herself from the ideas that run around in her head. The app has small lessons, which Varga personally finds very helpful.

“In one of the lessons we talked about noting, where it’s like you see the thoughts, but you don’t necessarily have to engage with them. You don’t have to grab hold and let it take you down the rabbit hole,” she said.

The fact that you’re sitting there and giving the space to allow that to happen is meditating, as long as you can catch yourself when your mind wanders. – Kate Varga

Varga believes that the root of most mental health problems is spending too much time in the past or the future. “So, because meditation forces you to be in the present moment, by definition, you’re spending less time in the future, therefore, you’re going to be feeling less anxious thoughts,” she explained.

According to Rekhi, his meditation techniques too include removing restless motion from the mind.

“In the perfect stillness of body and mind, the meditator enjoys the ineffable peace of the presence of the soul… thus definitely helps in dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression,” he said.