The Many Benefits of Meditation

Meditation.jpg

Sep 18, 2014 by Smart Blog

The practice of meditation has been popular for thousands of years, and continues to thrive - albeit in some very different guises. So, what is it about meditation that fascinates - and, apparently, benefits - so many people?

First of all, it is important to clarify that the term meditation does not refer to any single practice or discipline. Rather, meditation describes any mental discipline or activity that is used to bring about a desired state of consciousness.

If that all sounds a bit vague, in general, meditation is used to make the individual feel relaxed, develop helpful mental states (such as love, compassion, patience) and, increasingly, to improve physiological health by means of lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.

Meditation seems to have begun as a religious practice, and is still part of many religions today. However, there have always been secular forms of meditation and, particularly since the 1960s, meditation in the United States and Europe is overwhelmingly secular and focused on health and wellbeing rather than any religious concepts. Meditation, as it is used in modern, Western settings, is usually intended to induce happiness, relaxation and emotional balance.

 

How does it work?

Meditation can take many forms; these include relaxation techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga.

However, perhaps the most high profile technique at the moment is mindfulness, which is derived from Buddhist practice but has since been extended by many people. In particular, mindfulness has been developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, which is widely used by health and wellbeing providers around the world and was initially developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Mindfulness has been described in different ways by various commentators, but its key elements include focusing on the feelings, thoughts and perceptions that are occurring in the moment; in other words, it is a way of paying attention to the present and shutting out everything else. Some have described mindfulness as a 'state of being' or a 'state of being aware'.

 

Research

Researchers have shown increasing interest in meditation over the past few years, and have applied a range of modern scientific techniques to study its application and results. Studies have found that mindfulness may improve an individual's emotional state and that stress reduction improved in line with the number of times that mindfulness techniques were applied. Studies of other forms of meditation have yielded similar findings, for example, studies suggest that meditation can reduce work-related stress and improve cognitive function.

In general it seems that altered states of consciousness, such as those generated by meditation, can be associated with changes in neuro-physiology, often to the benefit of the person meditating.

However, as with many things in life, the benefits of meditation can be highly individual. A meditation technique that works wonderfully for one person may leave another completely unmoved, while some people simply do not get on with meditation at all. However, given the potential benefits, and general absence of side effects, meditation has to remain an option worth considering for anybody seeking to improve their general quality of life.