Meditation: an Overview
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Author: Metamorpheus, posted on 11/21/2011 , in Category "General"
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Abstract: What is meditation? What are the main techniques? How does it affect us physically? Are there any risks? How to meditate? In order to answer these questions, I’ve done some research, presented here in a short summary.

(Updated: 15 May 2012)
Meditation can be defined as intentional self-regulation of attention to promote a specific mental focus and awareness of internal or external experiences [1].
A wide variety of methods may be used, including some in which the body is immobile (Zazen, Vipassana), others in which the body is let free (Siddha Yoga, the Latinan, the chaotic meditation of Rajneesh), and others in which the person participates in daily activities while meditating (Mahamudra, Shikan Taza, Gurdjieff’s 'self-remembering') [2]. Although many Religious and spiritual activities have been linked to specific religions, practicing them does not necessarily imply certain beliefs. Hundreds of variations of each spiritual activity exist, since many have been altered and combined in hybrid techniques [2]. A survey involving contemporary Western Buddhism practitioners show that most frequently cited types of meditation are: noticing the breath without counting, mindfulness , mantra recitation , cultivation of loving- kindness [3].
The many techniques of meditation can be generally classified to [4]:
  1. Mindfulness meditation, which focus on the field or background perception and experience (either the breathing process, a sound, a mantra koan or riddle evoking questions, a visualization, or an exercise). The subject then consciously scans the thoughts in an open focus, shifting freely from one perception to the next. No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion.
  2. Concentrative meditation, which focus on a preselected specific object.
  3. A shift between the field and the object.
Spiritual activities such as prayer, yoga, and meditation have been found to have immediate effects on physical parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure, and many physicians recommend meditation techniques to their patients and include them as part of integrated health programs. Preliminary studies suggest that meditation may have a number of health benefits, helping people achieve a state of restful alertness with improved reaction time, creativity, and comprehension, decreasing anxiety, depression, irritability, moodiness, and improving learning ability, memory, self-actualization, feelings of vitality and rejuvenation, and emotional stability. Preliminary studies also suggest that meditative practices may provide support for patients with hypertension, psoriasis, irritable bowel disease, anxiety, depression, and may improve chronic pain [2].

The Biological Aspect

Meditation practices activate distinct brain areas, which makes these areas progressively more available during tasks after meditation. For example, Mindfulness Meditation leads to increased blood flow in prefrontal areas, and to thickening of brain areas involved with attention switching and perception of bodily states. Research among adults and adolescents diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) showed that after the mindfulness training, both adults and adolescents exhibited significant decreases in inattention and hyperactivity. Reviews of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) studies suggest that it decreases depression, anxiety and psychological distress in people with chronic somatic diseases, and that it reduces stress, ruminative thinking and trait anxiety in healthy people [6].

Growing Popularity

latest National Health Statistics Reports show that in 2007, adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion out of pocket on visits to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners and purchases of CAM products, classes, and materials [7].
Since 1972, the federal government has funded hundreds of research studies dealing with various forms of meditation. A significant increase in medical research on all types of meditation funded by the United States government since 1998 can be seen: from seven studies that year, eighty-nine in 2008, and 122 in 2009 [8].

Side Effects and Risks

Although physically noninvasive, meditation can be harmful in patients with psychiatric illness, and heightening anxiety in patients with overwhelming anxiety. It also may trigger the release of repressed memories [2]. Meditation isn’t a replacement for conventional care or as a reason to postpone a doctor’s visit in regard to a medical problem. Therefore, you should consult your health care provider about any complementary and alternative practices you use.

How to Meditate

  1. Choose a quiet place, where you’ll have minimum destructions. Choose a comfortable sitting posture.
  2. 2.For most people, the hardest stage is calming the thoughts to enable clear and quiet concentration. There are few techniques to accomplish that. The most dominant are concentrating on an object, and concentrating on the breath. For the first one, you can also take advantage of the Mediation Utilities: They include a rotating wheel, moving balls, a beating heart, etc’. Concentrate on the repetitive movement to quiet your thoughts. Some like to attach a positive feeling, for example, click on the heart tool, and imaging how love fills you up with each beat.
  3. Breathe deeply and slowly, in and out. Concentrate of your breath. Some like to image the breathing coming and going through the third eye chakra (in between the eyes) or the heart chakra, in order to stimulate these chakras. This stage is very important; it calms the mind and body. When thoughts are back again, gently come back to the breathing concentration.
  4. Relax every organ in your body. Every place you feel stress, breath into it, relax it.
  5. After your mind has quiet down, imagine a white healing light entering your body with each breath. The light reaches every corner in your body, healing your mind, body, and wonderful soul.
  6. Don’t feel frustrated if you feel you didn’t reach this quiet and calmness the first times. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. At the beginning, try 10 minutes – twice a day. With time you can extract the time at your convenience. I try to meditate half an hour, twice a day, and I can personally testify that it changed my life.

References

  1. Astin, J.A., B.M. Berman, et al., The efficacy of mindfulness meditation plus Qigong movement therapy in the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Rheumatology, 2003. 30(10): p. 2257-2262.
  2. Lee, B.Y. and A.B. Newberg, Religion and Health: A Review and Critical Analysis. Zygon, 2005. 40(2): p. 443- 468.
  3. Sullivan, B.M., B. Wiist, and H. Wayment, THE BUDDHIST HEALTH STUDY: Meditation on Love and Compassion as Features of Religious Practice. Cross Currents, 2010. 60(2): p. 185-207,287- 288.
  4. Perez-De-Albeniz, A., Meditation: Concepts, effects and uses in therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, 2000. 5 (1): p. 49-58.
  5. Frederick, T., G. Sarina, and S. William, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice. Mind & Brain, 2011. 2(1): p. 73-81.
  6. Young, S.N., Biologic effects of mindfulness meditation: growing insights into neurobiologic aspects of the prevention of depression. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, 2011. 36(2): p. 75 -77.
  7. Nahin, R.L. and B.J. Stussman. National Health Statistics Reports: Costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Frequency of Visits to CAM Practitioners: United States, 2007. 2009 [cited November 4, 2011]; Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nhsr/nhsr018.pdf.

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