|Mind-body interventions - [ edit]|
Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to a single point of reference. Meditation is often recognized as a component of eastern religions, where it has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which can emphasize development of either a high degree of mental concentration, or the apparent converse, mental quiescence.
The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation."
Eastern spiritual teachings, including meditation, have been adapted and increasingly practiced in Western culture. 
Forms of meditation
Meditation has been defined as: "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now." The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called "mindfulness;" others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, the meditator sits comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (either the breath, a sound: a mantra, koan or riddle evoking questions; a visualisation, or an exercise). The meditator is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus:
... shifting freely from one perception to the next... No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion. The meditator, with a 'no effort' attitude, is asked to remain in the here and now. Using the focus as an 'anchor'... brings the subject constantly back to the present, avoiding cognitive analysis or fantasy regarding the contents of awareness, and increasing tolerance and relaxation of secondary thought processes.
Concentration meditation is used in most religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation, there is an open focus, in concentration mediation the meditator holds attention on a particular object (e.g., a repetitive prayer) while minimizing distractions; bringing the mind back to concentrate on the chosen object. In some traditions, such as Vipassana, mindfulness and concentration are combined.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps to break down habitual automatic mental categories, "thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome." In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts.
- For more details on this topic, see Dhyana in Hinduism.
Hinduism can safely be considered the oldest religion that professed meditation as a spiritual and religious practice. Yoga (Devanagari: योग) is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, focusing on meditation. In India, Yoga is seen as a means to both physiological and spiritual mastery.
There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. These include (but are not limited to):
- Vedanta, a form of Jnana Yoga.
- Raja Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, which describes eight "limbs" of spiritual practices, half of which might be classified as meditation. Underlying them is the assumption that a yogi should still the fluctuations of his or her mind: Yoga cittavrrti nirodha.
- Surat shabd yoga, or "sound and light meditation"
- Japa Yoga, in which a mantra is repeated aloud or silently
- Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, in which the seeker is focused on an object of devotion, eg Krishna
- Hatha Yoga, in which postures and meditations are aimed at raising the spiritual energy, known as Kundalini, which rises through energy centres known as chakras
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that meditation is necessary for spiritual growth, alongside obligatory prayer and fasting. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is quoted as saying:
"Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries to your mind. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves."
Although the Founder of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, never specified any particular forms of meditation, some Bahá'í practices are meditative. One of these is the daily repetition of the Arabic phrase Alláhu Abhá (Arabic: الله ابهى) (God is Most Glorious) 95 times preceded by ablutions. Abhá has the same root as Bahá' (Arabic: بهاء "splendor" or "glory") which Bahá'ís consider to be the "Greatest Name of God".
Meditation has always been central to Buddhism. The historical Buddha himself was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between two classes of meditation practices, shamatha and vipassana, both of which are necessary for attaining enlightenment. The former consists of practices aimed at developing the ability to focus the attention single-pointedly; the latter includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom through seeing the true nature of reality. The differentiation between the two types of meditation practices is not always clear cut, which is made obvious when studying practices such as Anapanasati which could be said to start off as a shamatha practice but that goes through a number of stages and ends up as a vipassana practice.
Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the meditative development of mindfulness (sati, see for example the Satipatthana Sutta) and concentration (samadhi, see kammatthana), as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, in the pursuit of Nibbana (Nirvana). Traditional popular meditation subjects include the breath (anapana) and loving-kindness (mettā).
In Japanese Mahayana schools, Tendai (Tien-tai), concentration is cultivated through highly structured ritual. Especially in the Chinese Chán Buddhism school (which branched out into the Japanese Zen, and Korean Seon schools), ts'o ch'an meditation and koan meditation practices allow a practitioner to directly experience the true nature of reality (each of the names of these schools derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, and translates into "meditation" in their respective languages). The esoteric Shingon sect shares many features with Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) emphasizes tantra for its senior practitioners; hence its alternate name of Tantrayana Buddhism. Many monks go through their day without "meditating" in a recognizable form, but are more likely to chant or participate in group liturgy. In this tradition, the purpose of meditation is to awaken the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce practitioners to that which they really are: unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death.
Meditation is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being, beyond all habitual patterns. In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature that we have so long ago lost sight of amid the busyness and distraction of our minds.
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Most Buddhist traditions recognize that the path to Enlightenment entails three types of training: virtue (sīla); meditation (citta); and, wisdom (paññā). Thus, meditative prowess alone is not sufficient; it is but one part of the path. In other words, in Buddhism, in tandem with mental cultivation, ethical development and wise understanding are also necessary for the attainment of the highest goal.
Christian traditions have various practices which might be identified as forms of "meditation." Many of these are monastic practices. Some types of prayer, such as the rosary and Adoration (focusing on the eucharist) in Catholicism or the hesychasm in Eastern Orthodoxy, may be compared to the form of Eastern meditation that focuses on an individual object.
Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer. Some Christian prayer is made primarily by using the intellect, through the contemplation of the divine mysteries. However, Christian prayer or meditation through the heart, as described in the Philokalia is a practice towards Theosis, which involves acquiring an inner stillness and ignoring the physical senses.
According to the Old Testament book of Joshua, a form of meditation is to meditate on scriptures. This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians.
"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)
The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practice of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ".
- See also: Muraqaba
Meditation in Islam is the core of Muslim mystical traditions (in particular Sufism). Meditative quiescence is believed to have a quality of healing and creativity. The Muslim prophet Muhammad, whose deeds devout Muslims follow, spent long periods in meditation and contemplation. It on one such period meditation that Muhammad began to receive revelations of the Qur'an.
There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam:
- Tafakkur and Tadabbur, literally meaning reflection upon the universe. Muslims feel this is a form of intellectual development which emanates from a higher level, i.e. from God. This intellectual process through the receiving of divine inspiration awakens and liberates the human mind, permitting man’s inner personality to develop and grow so that he may lead his life on a spiritual plane far above the mundane level. This is consistent with the global teachings of Islam, which views life as a test of our practice of submission to Allah, the one God.
- The second form of meditation is the Sufi meditation, it is largely based on mystical exercises. However, this method is controversial among Muslim scholars. One group of Ulama, Al-Ghazzali, for instance, have accepted it, another group of Ulama, Ibn Taymiya, for instance, have rejected it as a bid'ah (Arabic: بدعة) (religious innovation).
Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqaba or Tamarkoz which is taught in the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order. Tamarkoz is a Persian term that means ‘concentration,’ referring to the “concentration of abilities”. Consequently, the term concentration is synonymous to close attention, convergent, collection, compaction, and consolidation.
Muslims meditate during the second stage of Hajj at "Mount Mercy", from noon to sunset.
The Jains use the word Samayika, a word in the Prakrit language derived from the word samay (time), to denote the practice of meditation. The aim of Samayika is to transcend the daily experiences of being a "constantly changing" human being, Jiva, and allow for the identification with the "changeless" reality in the practitioner, the Atma. The practice of Samayika begins by achieving a balance in time. If the present moment of time is taken to be a point between the past and the future, Samayika means being fully aware, alert and conscious in that very moment, experiencing one's true nature, Atma, which is considered common to all living beings. The Samayika takes on special significance during Paryushana, a special 8-day period practiced by the Jains.
Meditation techniques were available in ancient Jain scriptures that have been forgotten with time. A practice called preksha meditation is said to have been rediscovered by the 10th Head of Jain Swetamber Terapanth sect Acharya Mahaprajna, and consists of the perception of the body, the psychic centres, breath and of contemplation processes which will initiate the process of personal transformation. It aims at reaching and purify the deeper levels of existence. Regular practice strengthens the immune system, builds up stamina to resist against aging process, pollution, chemical toxins, viruses, diseases, food adulteration etc.
Acharya Mahaprajna says:
Soul is my god.
Renunciation is my prayer.
Amity is my devotion.
Self restraint is my strength.
Non-violence is my religion.
There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going "לשוח" (lasuach) in the field—a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63).
Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that meditation was central to the prophets. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one's mind.
In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called hitbodedut (התבודדות) or hisbodedus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy. The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", בודד (a state of being alone) and said to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. book of understanding), means the process of making oneself understand a concept well through analytical study.
Kabbalah is inherently a meditative field of study. Kabbalistic meditative practices construct a supernal realm which the soul navigates through in order to achieve certain ends. One of the most well known types of meditation is Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).
New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy and mysticism such as Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. Examples of such meditations include:
- Passage Meditation, a modern method developed by spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, involves silent, focused repetition of memorized passages from world scripture and the writings of great mystics.
- Transcendental Meditation, a form of meditation taught and promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
- FISU (Foundation for International Spiritual Unfoldment) was established by Gururaj Ananda Yogi's prime disciples Rajesh Ananda and Jasmini Ananda whom are the leaders ever since.
- Ananda Marga meditation was propounded by a Mahakaula Guru Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji in India, who said that it revived sacred practices taught by SadaShiva and Sri Krs'na. His system of meditation, he said, is based on original Tantra as given by Shiva and has sometimes been referred as "Rajadhiraja Yoga". He revised many yogic and meditative practices and introduced some new techniques.
- Dying Meditation Which was Developed By Vivek jiIn India , who said " This is the the technique , which is so close to us , we are dying each and every moment , and if we can understand this feature of us then we could be able to live the real life which is eternal".
In Sikhism, the practices of simran and Nām Japō encourage quiet meditation. This is focusing ones attention on the attributes of God. Sikhs believe that there are 10 'gates' to the body, 'gates' is another word for 'chakras' or energy centres. The top most energy level is the called the tenth gate or dasam dwar. It is said that when one reaches this stage through continuous practice meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavour when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, as one experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.
Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord's name since meditation only conjures up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householders life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, as was popular practice at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.
Taoism includes a number of meditative and contemplative traditions. Originally said to have their principles described in the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu and Tao Tsang among other texts; the multitude of schools relating to Qigong, Neigong, Daoyin and Zhan zhuang are a large, diverse array of breath training practises in aid of meditation with much influence from later Chinese Buddhism and with much influence on traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese as well as some Japanese martial arts. The Chinese martial art T'ai Chi Ch'uan is named after the well-known focus for Taoist and Neo-Confucian meditation, the T'ai Chi T'u, and is often referred to as “meditation in motion”.
Often Taoist Internal martial arts, especially Tai Chi Chuan are thought of as moving meditation. A common phrase being, "movement in stillness" referring to energetic movement in passive Qigong and seated Taoist meditation; with the converse being "stillness in movement", a state of mental calm and meditation in the tai chi form.
Meditation according to Krishnamurti
J Krishnamurti used the word meditation to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind. He said, “Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time.” For Krishnamurti, meditation was choiceless awareness in the present. He said "..When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy - if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation."
Dynamic Meditation is the name of one of Osho's popular Active Meditation techniques. However, in general active/dynamic meditation refers to any meditation technique which does not have one's body assuming a static posture. Such techniques are widely used in Karma Yoga. An example of such activity could be Natya Yoga or a Shamanistic dance, such as described by Carlos Castaneda or simple exercises that focus on certain parts of the body "to give you the power to profoundly affect your mental and physical state directly and quickly".
Osho, earlier named Rajneesh, introduced the meditation techniques which he termed Active Meditations, which begin with a stage of activity — sometimes intense and physical — followed by a period of silence. He emphasized that meditation is not concentration. Dynamic Meditation involves a conscious catharsis where one can throw out all the repressions, express what is not easily expressible in society, and then easily go into silence. Some of his techniques also have a stage of spontaneous dance. He said that, "If people are innocent there is no need for Dynamic Meditation. But if people are repressed, psychologically are carrying a lot of burden, then they need catharsis. So Dynamic Meditation is just to help them clean the place. And then they can use any method ... It will not be difficult. If they, right now, directly try, they will fail." 
Sri Aurobindo used to meditate while walking.
Also the Thai monk Luang Por Teean taught a (more conservative) form of active meditation which in Luang Por Teean's translated books is usually translated as 'Dynamic Meditation'. It involves the use of the hands and arms during sitting meditation. He also used walking meditation as a complementary method. His teaching was aimed at developing awareness of the movements of the arms, which are moved continuously in a certain pattern throughout the meditation. The awareness is, however, not limited to the arms but inclusive of the whole life-experience. This type of active meditation is a type of vipassana meditation, which is popular in Thailand, and is becoming more well known in the western countries, too.
Sahaja Yoga is a meditative practice started by H.H. Shri Mataji Nirmala Srivastava. Sahaja Yoga focuses on awakening the Kundalini, so that practitioners can achieve Self-realization.
Forms of meditation which are devoid of mystical content have been developed in the west as a way of promoting physical and mental well being.
Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, one can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax the muscular tension.
Autogenic training was developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in 1932. Schultz emphasized parallels to techniques in yoga and meditation, however, autogenic training is devoid of any mysticism.
Australian psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares published a groundbreaking work in the 1960's entitled Relief Without Drugs, in which he recommended some simple, secular relaxation techniques based on Hindu practices as a means of combating anxiety, stress and chronic physical pain.
Herbert Benson M.D., of Harvard Medical School, conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines - mainly Transcendental meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. He first described the results in his 1975 book The Relaxation Response where he outlined a secular approach to achieving similar results.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche founded Shambhala Training in 1976, a secular program of meditation with a belief in basic goodness and teaching the path of bravery and gentleness. The 1984 book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior contains student-edited versions of Trungpa's lectures and writings.
The book Sensual Meditation (1980) which was written by the founder of the Raëlian movement outlines a sequence of non-ascetic meditation exercises which emphasize a Sensual Meditation involving a physical and sensual awareness connected with current knowledge of how the body and mind are organized.
The 1999 book The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism by Paul Wilson has a discussion and instruction in a form of secular meditation.
Biofeedback has been tried by many researchers since the 1950s as a way to enter deeper states of mind.
Acoustic and photic
Newer forms of meditation are based on the results of EEG (electro-encephalogram) work in long-term meditators. Studies have demonstrated the presence of a frequency-following response to auditory and visual stimuli. This EEG activity was termed "frequency-following response" because its period (cycles per second) corresponds to the fundamental frequency of the stimulus. Stated plainly, if the stimulus is 5 Hz the resulting measured EEG will show a 5 Hz frequency-following response using appropriate time-domain averaging protocols. This is the justification behind such inventions as the Dreamachine and binaural beats.
Meditation in a Western context
"Meditation" in its modern sense refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate to any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity.
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness, and its goals in that context have been stated to achieving spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, and to better cardiovascular health.
Different spiritual traditions, and different teachers within those traditions, prescribe or suggest different physical postures for meditation. Most famous are the several cross-legged postures, including the Lotus Position.
Many meditative traditions teach that the spine should be kept "straight" (i.e. that the meditator should not slouch). Often this is explained as a way of encouraging the circulation of what some call "spiritual energy," the "vital breath", the "life force" (Sanskrit prana, Chinese qi, Latin spiritus) or the Kundalini. In some traditions the meditator may sit on a chair, flat-footed (as in New Thought); sit on a stool (as in Orthodox Christianity); or walk in mindfulness (as in Theravada Buddhism). Some traditions suggest being barefoot, for comfort, for convenience, or for spiritual reasons.
Other traditions, such as those related to kundalini yoga, take a less formal approach. While the basic practice in these traditions is also to sit still quietly in a traditional posture, they emphasize the possibility of kriyas - spontaneous yogic postures, or perhaps repetitive physical movements such as swaying etc., which may naturally arise as the practitioner sits in meditation, and which should not be resisted but rather allowed to express themselves in order to enhance the natural flow of energy through the body, which is said to help purify the nadis and ultimately deepen one's meditative practice.
Various hand-gestures or mudras may be prescribed. These can carry theological meaning or according to Yogic philosophy can actually affect consciousness. For example, a common Buddhist hand-position is with the right hand resting atop the left (like the Buddha's begging bowl), with the thumbs touching.
In most meditative traditions, the eyes are closed. In some such as some Zen sects, the eyes are half-closed, half open and looking upwards. In others such as Brahma Kumaris, the eyes are kept fully open.
Quiet is often held to be desirable, and some people use repetitive activities such as deep breathing, humming or chanting to help induce a meditative state. Practitioners of the Soto Zen tradition meditate with their eyes open, facing a wall, but most schools of meditation assume that the eyes will be closed or only half-open.
Focus and Gaze
Often such details are shared by more than one religion, even in cases where mutual influence seems unlikely. One example would be "navel-gazing," which is apparently attested within Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Chinese qigong practice. Another would be the practice of focusing on the breath, which is found in Orthodox Christianity, Sufism, and numerous Indic traditions.
Sitting cross-legged (or upon one's knees) for extended periods when one is not sufficiently limber, can result in a range of ergonomic complaints called "meditator's knee". Many meditative traditions do not require sitting cross legged.
Health applications and clinical studies of meditation
In their review of scientific studies of meditation, published in the International Journal of Psychotherapy, Perez-De-Albeniz and Holmes identified the following behavioral components of meditation:
- altered state of awareness,
- suspension of logical thought processes, and
- maintenance of self-observing attitude.
The medical community has studied the physiological effects of meditation Many concepts of meditation have been applied to clinical settings in order to measure its effect on somatic motor function as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function. Also the hermeneutic and phenomenological aspects of meditation are areas of growing interest. Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. For example, in an early study in 1972, Transcendental Meditation was shown to affect the human metabolism by lowering the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lactate, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and inducing favorable brain waves. In 1976, the Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. Meares wrote a number of books on the subject, including his best-seller Relief without Drugs.''
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is growing agreement in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund research in this area (e.g. the establishment by the NIH in the U.S. of 5 research centers to research the mind-body aspects of disease.)
Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain in his landmark book Zen and the Brain (Austin, 1999). This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging which examines the activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response." The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains.
Other studies within this field include the research of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts who have studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress.