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Meditation

What is it?

Meditation is any activity that keeps your mind focused in the present. When your mind is focused on the present moment, it cannot worry about the past or the future. Thinking about the past and future can cause chronic mental stress. If you can spend time thinking only about the present moment, you are relieved from current stress.

Meditation is a safe and easy way to balance your physical, emotional, and mental states. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and is part of many of the world's religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Although many religions use meditation techniques, meditation can be practiced without following any religion or philosophy.

In the last 30 years, Eastern meditation techniques from India and Tibet have become much more popular in the United States. There are many forms of meditation and most are easy to learn.

Concentration meditation is used to focus your attention on breathing, an image, or a sound known as a mantra. Focusing quiets the mind and allows deep relaxation and clarity of the mind. A simple and easy form of this type of meditation is to sit quietly and focus on your breath. As you focus on breathing in and out, you forget about other thoughts and problems. Your breathing usually becomes slower and deeper during this time. If your mind wanders away from its focus on the breath, you simply return to the breathing pattern.

The other type of basic meditation is called mindfulness. During mindfulness meditation, you broaden your awareness and attention to the continuous feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells, images, and sensations that you experience. You watch what you are experiencing but do not react or actively think about these things. This process helps clear the mind and relieves stress and worries.

Studies have shown that meditation can improve your health. Transcendental meditation (TM) is a very popular form of meditation that has been widely studied. Researchers believe that people practicing TM can improve their health by changing different physical and mental activities in the body. TM affects the body by decreasing the heart rate, slowing breathing, decreasing stress hormones, and increasing brain waves associated with relaxation. After practicing TM, you react faster, are more creative, and have an improved memory.

Each meditation session takes about 15 to 20 minutes and is practiced in the morning and at night. Some suggest meditation should be practiced before meals rather than after eating. You should be in a quiet, comfortable room that is free from distractions. Most people find that meditating in a sitting position helps to prevent falling asleep while in a deep meditative state.

Meditation may help stress, tension, anxiety, panic, heart disease, depression, or insomnia. Headaches, pain, alcohol and drug rehab, digestive problems, and menstrual problems have also been helped with meditation. Other health problems that meditation has helped are acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

Most people learn meditation from an instructor, either in private or group sessions. Meditation can also be learned from books, tapes, or videos.

For more information:

  • Institute of Noetic Science (415) 331-5650.
  • Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (415) 327-2066.
  • Maharishi International University (515) 472-5031.
  • Mind/Body Health Sciences, Inc. (303) 440-8460.
  • Stress Reduction Clinic, University of Massachusetts Medical Center (508) 856-2656.

References:

1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Cassileth BR: The Alternative Medicine Handbook, 1st ed. WW Norton & Company, NY, NY; 1998:16-21.

3. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983: 120-132.

4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997:90-94.


Last Updated: 4/4/2014

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