What is Meditation?
Meditation is a process of contemplation designed to bring one’s attention and awareness to a single focus or to a still and quiet mind.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and is still an important practice in many religious and spiritual traditions. Historically, the most common use of meditation has been to develop spiritual understanding, awareness, and the direct experience of ultimate reality.
While meditation is still widely used as a spiritual practice, its use has expanded over the past 40 years to health and well-being applications. Meditation can be practiced by anyone regardless of their religious or cultural background for these purposes.
In the 1960’s, physicians and scientists began to study the abilities of yogis who were able to display what appeared to be seemingly impossible physical feats such as the ability to raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees, lower their metabolism by 64 percent or easily control their heart rate or brainwaves.
One of these early researchers was Dr. Herbert Bensen of Harvard Medical School and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is a leader in the field of mind-body medicine and has been studying the numerous ways stress impacts health and well-being and has developed treatments to alleviate it.
In the 1970’s, Dr. Bensen developed a technique he called “the relaxation response” that is considered the physiological state opposite to stress. The relaxation response is characterized by decreases in metabolism, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Dr. Bensen and others have amassed evidence that such techniques can help those suffering from illnesses caused or exacerbated by stress.
Regular meditation can reduce the number of symptoms experienced by patients with a wide range of conditions. Meditation has been used as a complementary treatment for acute and chronic pain, addictions, allergies, anger management, anxiety disorders, asthma, depression, diabetes, fatigue, fibromyalgia, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, insomnia, infertility, immune system issues mild and moderate depression, panic disorder, skin conditions such as psoriasis, and substance abuse.
Meditation also benefits people who are not experiencing medical illness or stress. Regular meditators have been shown to have less anxiety and depression and report experiencing more enjoyment and appreciation of life. Meditation can help facilitate a greater sense of calmness, empathy, and acceptance of self and others.
What different types of meditation are there?
A meditator can focus on one thing such as a sound, a word or phrase which may be a mantra or a simple prayer, an inner or external image, the breath, or a movement pattern or position such as in tai chi or yoga. This type of meditation is called concentration meditation and is designed to focus one’s awareness, attention and concentration.
With mindfulness meditation, one becomes aware of all thoughts, feelings, perceptions or sensations as they arise in each moment. Thoughts that may arise in a meditator’s mind are contemplated for the purpose of non-attached observation rather than considered a distraction that must be gotten rid of.
Both meditation approaches are valuable, and I teach clients who wish to learn meditation both types of meditation approaches. I also teach a technique to help clients learn how to quiet their mind completely.