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What is meditation?
Meditation is a psychotherapeutic technique that aims to achieve mental clarity, emotional calmness, and emotional stability. Meditation usually involves an individual focusing their minds on a certain thought, object, or activity in order to train their attention or awareness.
Additionally, the mental improvement from meditation has been shown to improve the symptoms of many different diseases and new research is constantly discovering even more beneficial health effects of meditation.
Many types of meditation exist but most emphasize the importance of mental development. It is also important to differentiate meditation from other similar physiotherapeutic and self-regulation practices such as visualization and self-hypnosis. There are many different types of meditation that originate from all parts of the world.
Meditation techniques vary in respects to:
- The type of attention used during the mediation
- The relationship between the mediation and cognitive processes
- The main goal of performing meditation.
Concentration meditations aim for the continuous focus on one single object, an example being a sound, a singular concept, or the breath. Awareness meditations aim for fluid attention on multiple objects or a series of objects. Meditations will either observe or attempt to modify cognitive processes such as thoughts or images. Finally, some meditations aim for mental development such as the improvement of general well-being, but others focus on developing specific mental qualities such as concentration or wisdom.
Benefits of mediation
Research has shown that meditation can reduce the effects of a multitude of different psychosomatic disorders. This is especially true in the case of disorders in which stress plays a leading role. An example being that cardiovascular disorders – such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia – are particularly responsive to transcendental meditation. Asthma, stuttering, and even type 2 diabetes mellitus are responsive to meditation.
Meditation has also been shown to improve the immune function of cancer patients and help to reduce pain in patients suffering from chronic pain disorders. Individuals with stress disorders – such as anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, panic disorders, and phobias – also benefit from meditation.
Research has made it abundantly clear that meditation can help to improve the symptoms of many disorders and improve the general well-being of individuals that practice it.
Meditation in the western world
Different methods of meditation around the world are attributed to different sources. Buddhism is associated with East Asian meditation and Islamic practices are associated with meditation in many Islamic cultures. Western meditation began with Christianity as early as the 6th century. This form of mediation varied greatly from eastern forms as it required no specific action, phrase, or posture, but mainly involved bible readings, praying, and contemplation.
A few examples of meditative techniques and their origins are:
- Zen meditation (Buddhism)
- Mindfulness meditation (Buddhism)
- Mantra meditation (Hinduism)
- Yoga meditations (Hinduism)
- Taoist meditations (China)
- Contemplative prayer (Christianity)
Studies performed in the U.S discovered an increase in the practicing of mediation in both adults (Aged 18+) and children (aged 4-17). The same studies also concluded that women were more likely to meditate than men and that Caucasian individuals are more likely to meditate than any other ethnic group. With the increase in worldwide travel over the recent decades, it is of no surprise that meditation is increasing in popularity, in particular, eastern meditations. The increased interest in the eastern styles of meditation is caused by numerous factors, including the modern decline of Christianity, the lower spiritual awareness demonstrated in the western world compared to the east, and the rise of mental health complications among the population.
- Walsh, R. and Shapiro, S. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue. American Psychologist. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.61.3.227
- Taylor, E., et al. (1999). The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography 1931–1996. library.noetic.org/.../physical-and-psychological-effects-meditation
- Black, L., et al. (2018). Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. children aged 4–17 years. National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db324.htm
- Clarke, T., et al. (2018). Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. adults aged 18 and over. National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db325.htm