Looking at the history of meditation, the word itself comes from the Latin verb, “meditatum”, which means to ponder. Meditation is, in essence, the practice of training your mind to reach a higher level of consciousness. The use of meditation stretches across several cultures and religions, most notably Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam.
Generally speaking, meditation is a personal practice that requires both mental and physical diligence. External stimulus is usually discouraged. Sometimes meditators use objects such as a candle flame or repeated sound to help them to focus their mind. Very often meditators focus on a particular feeling, such as compassion, or patience, in order to reach a more divine state of understanding of human nature.
Although the history of meditation is thousands of years old, only recently has the practice been a growing trend in Western countries. In a 2007 survey it was discovered that almost 10 percent of US adults had practiced meditation at some point during the previous 12 months. That said, the amount is nowhere near the collective number of people with a regular or even daily meditation practice.
Because of the growing interest in meditation in the West, it has been the subject of significant scientific research; various studies undertaken since the 1960’s have linked meditation with improved metabolism, brain functioning, and lower blood pressure. It’s becoming more common for meditation to be used in medical settings to reduce stress and pain, such as during childbirth.
Although there are numerous forms of meditation, normally each practice has three components:
1. A defined technique
2. A relaxation of the mind and connection to the body
3. A self-induced state
This last point, “a self-induced state” marks a crucial difference between meditation and hypnosis. Meditation is self-induced, requiring the focus of the individual, while an outside person often directs hypnosis.
The goal of reaching “Nirvana” when meditating originates with the Buddhist faith. Nirvana is a complex concept that involves a human being reaching a higher level of existence thereby shaking off the concept of suffering. Indian religions believe that through dedicated meditation a man can reach Nirvana, although it is extremely rare.
Referring to the history of meditation in the US and other Western counties, two types are generally favored by the Western world: concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation. Concentration meditation involves a meditator focusing attention on one specific object and consistently refocusing their mind on that object to reach a deep meditative state. The most common object to focus on is one’s own breathing. Mindfulness meditation is similar in that a meditator simply becomes conscious of their experience while in meditation. The purpose is to learn how not to react.