Meditation is a powerful set of techniques for calming and quieting the mind. Meditation involves creating a mode of consciousness in which the practitioner is not focused on actively thinking but is instead focused on sitting and breathing, which allows him to clear his mind. Some people meditate for spiritual purposes, while others may meditate just for the sense of relaxation and calm it provides.
Many forms of meditation have their roots in spiritual or religious disciplines. Modern meditative practices are strongly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, but other religions also have a tradition of meditation. Within a religious or spiritual context, practitioners believe that meditation opens the mind to divine influence or serves as a form of prayer or worship. For these practitioners, the goal of meditation is an increased understanding, often a purely intuitive understanding, of spiritual truths.
Modern practitioners of meditation may employ it as a form of stress reduction. Meditation often involves techniques of physical and mental relaxation, including deep breathing and sitting in a relaxed posture. For these practitioners, meditation quiets the worries of daily life and provides a sense of relaxation. As a result, they feel better able to deal with the problems they face. The goal of meditation for these practitioners is to build confidence, increase focus and concentration, and reduce anxiety.
Medical evidence for the health benefits of meditation is tentatively positive. A 1992 study in the "American Journal of Psychiatry" found that meditation reduced symptoms of anxiety and panic in some people with anxiety disorders, while a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found some evidence that meditation helps to improve cardiovascular health. It called for further research. For some practitioners, therefore, the goal of meditation is to improve health.
Meditation goals are as diverse as meditation practitioners. In addition to the common goals of stress reduction, health and spirituality, many people meditate to achieve a specific goal, such as improved performance at school, at work or in sports. In cases where someone is trying to achieve a specific goal, she may meditate on that goal, focusing her attention on it, sometimes in the form of an affirmation or short statement related to the goal.
- American Journal of Psychiatry; Effectiveness of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders; Jon Kabat-Zinn et al.; 1992
- Harvard Medical School Health Publications: Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress
- Religion Facts: Buddhist Meditation
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Meditation - an Introduction
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Meditation Practices for Health - State of the Research; Maria Ospina et al.; June 2007
- How to Meditate: Why Learn to Meditate
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation