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What Is Meditation?

 

It's associated with Eastern monks living like hermits in caves. Even Christian saints are renowned for their ability in this area. What is it?

Meditation. In its simplest form it is the practice of calming your body and mind to perform inner contemplation. The classic Eastern practice of this has you 

sitting with your spine straight, legs crossed and forefinger and thumb together as you release the sound of "ohm." But many people simply assume a comfortable pose and then clear their minds. 

The variations are numerous: some people focus on an external object, such as a candle. Others find that they can clear their minds easier by concentrating on their breathing. Some even silently repeat a word or a phrase.

One student of meditation has described it as "inner astronomy." Through meditation you discover the stars, the moon and the sun . . . all within you. Most closely associated with advanced spiritual development, Eastern medicine has claimed that meditation can help a person improve his physical health as well. 

For many years conventional Western medicine paid scant attention to meditation and even less to its "allegedly" benefits. But recently, studies have shown that meditation can indeed have immense health benefits. Meditation is an example of how the body and mind can work together in order to generate a state of well-being. 

Meditation can be an effective adjunct to conventional medical treatment. By calming the mind, many individuals have experienced remarkable improvements in such health conditions as blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, depression, anxiety, and stress. Many have even reported that chronic pain lessens when they meditate regularly and their problems with insomnia have decreased.

But more than that, studies have shown that even AIDS patients and those suffering with cancer benefit from practicing meditation. Some doctors have even noted that continued meditation may even help those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The exact mechanisms by which meditation work are not fully known as of yet, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Currently, the National Institutes of Health are sponsoring several studies to discover more in depth knowledge about the effects of meditation, how it works and for what health conditions it would be most beneficial.

Researchers do know that meditation produces changes in the body's autonomic nervous system which then alters your body's "fight or flight" response which dictates how you body responds to stress as well as how your organs, and muscles perform.

One of the best aspects of meditation is that unlike harsh prescription medicines given for depression or for heart-related conditions it is free of side effects.

Meditation: Two common types

There are two common types of meditation: mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation. 

Mindfulness meditation has its origins in Buddhism. It's based on the concept of raising your awareness level and your acceptance of the present moment. In this form of the ancient practice, you bring all your attention to the ebb and tide of your breath as you exhale and inhale. Many explain that the intention of this is to focus your attention on the experience at hand, without either reacting to it or judging it. The ultimate goal of this is to be able to transfer that nonjudgmental attitude into the daily actions of your life.

This form of meditation has often been advocated as a form of therapy for medical and psychiatric conditions, especially chronic pain and stress-related conditions. In fact, the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published an article that shows mindfulness meditation can be a useful therapy in preventing recurring suicidal behavior in those with severe mental illness. [Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 62(2) 2006]

Transcendental Meditation originated in the Vedic tradition of India. It was popularized in the West some forty years ago when the legendary British rock group, The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and several members of the group began practicing it.

This form of meditation uses a mantra a word, sound or phrase repeatedly silently that helps to quiet the mind to prevent it from straying to distracting thoughts. The goal is to direct the mind to comfortably settle into a quieter state in order that the body may move into a stage of deep rest, called by those who practice it "relaxed alertness."

There are several other, lessen known, forms of meditation. One of which is based on the question "Who am I?" It's something of a hybrid form of meditation, drawing on a variety of traditions. The purpose of this form is to become intimate with the true nature one's self. Instead of trance-like states of relaxation, it utilizes intense inquiry into the nature of thought, mind, self, ego and desire. 

Still another form of meditation is referred to as "Dynamic Meditation." This type, popularized by Guru Rajineesh, is quite controversial because it uses exercises closely related to aerobic training and even promoting hyperventilation.

Finally, you may encounter individuals who talk about "Jesus-style" meditation. Again, this is a dynamic-mind form of meditation in which the process engages the creative consciousness and full awareness. In this type, the mind and the related thinking processes are heightened rather than closed off or dulled. The only restrictions place on the individual participating in this form is that he is sincere in his search, she is persistent and possesses a God-consciousness.

 


Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

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Greg Cryns
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