Meditation is becoming more and more popular in many western countries around the world. The practice has a deep history and roots originating from the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism (Kume, 2018.) The term “meditation” is now used to describe a large number of different techniques as there is not just one type of meditation. According to Vedic science, the true purpose of meditation is to connect yourself to your deep inner Self (Sharma, 2015.) Some of the different types of meditation are breath awareness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Zen meditation (Vilines, 2017.) There is increasing research that shows various health benefits gained from regularly practicing meditation (Kume, 2018.) Lifestyle and health benefits of regular meditation include improved focus (Walton, 2015), reduced stress (Cooper, 2016), lowered blood pressure (National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016), and increases pain tolerance (Giovanni, 2015.) Even though there are many articles and research reports that outline all the benefits of mediation there is a concern that scientific data is lacking. Many of the studies include inconsistent definitions, don’t include a controlled group, and don’t rule out the placebo effect (Stetka, 2017.) For this reason, there is some conflicting information about mediation.
Meditation is both mental and emotional. It is practiced in many different cultures such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. (Thomas and Cohen, 2014.) Meditation is defined by The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association as ‘in its broadest and most universal definition, meditation is a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling’ (Johnson, 2012.) The popularity of meditation is understandable with the number of different benefits. This article describes the process of meditation, its benefits when practiced regularly, conflicting information, and the potential risk factors of the practice.
Meditation has a long and rich history; it is a precise technique where you relax your mind and be in a state of consciousness. This state of consciousness is completely different from a normal waking state, we are aware but not lettings thoughts control our minds. By meditating we are experiencing the center of consciousness within ourselves (Rama, 2020.)
Even though meditation is practiced in different religions such as Buddhism, it is not part of just any religion. This is because meditation is a science, this means that the process follows a particular order, has defined principles, and produces results that can be verified (Rama, 2020.) There are many different types of meditation including breath awareness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and zen meditation just to name a few (Vilines, 2017.) Attention is something all these types of meditation have in common.
The Process of Meditation
When meditating you are clearing your mind, relaxing, and bringing your focus inwards. During meditation, you are fully awake and alert but instead of being focused on the external world, your mind becomes silent. Meditation becomes deeper when the outside world is no longer distracting you. (Rama, 2020.) One type of meditation is mindfulness meditation which involves remaining aware and present at the moment. A key part of this is instead of dwelling on the past to be aware of current surroundings. Unlike some other forms of mediation, mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere such as waiting in a line. This is done by calmly noticing your surroundings such as sights, smells, and sounds. A common thing to be aware of while partaking in mindfulness meditation is breathing (Vilines, 2017.) Another type of mediation is a breath awareness meditation. During this, you take slow and deep breaths. The goal is to only focus on breathing and block out other thoughts from entering the mind (Vilines, 2017.) Zen meditation is a form of meditation that is practiced in Buddhism. The goal of this is to find a position that is comfortable, focus on breathing and observe your thoughts without any judgment. This form of meditation involves more discipline than other types.
Meditating has many benefits to our overall lifestyle and health. One benefit is that it improves our focus. A study found that a few weeks of meditating helped people focus and their memory improved during verbal reasoning (Walton, 2015.) This happened because the practice of meditating involves focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this improves our overall focus even when not meditating. This benefit can be lasting if meditation is being practiced regularly (Cooper, 2016.)
Meditation also helps reduce anxiety and stress. This happens because the more you meditate you are loosening the connections of particular neural pathways (Cooper, 2016.) Meditation has been known to reduce stress for a while, in particular, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be extremely successful at reducing stress and anxiety (Walton, 2015.) A study conducted in 2012 which consisted of 36 trials found that 25 of them reported better suffering from less anxiety after practicing mediation (National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016.)
Meditation has also been successfully proven to improve the blood pressure of those at risk of high blood pressure. This was proven by research conducted in 2009 by an NCCIH funded trial. This research involved 298 university students, they found that meditation may lower high blood pressure. This same study also found that meditation was successful in decreasing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger (National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016.)
Research has shown that meditation in particular Zen meditation makes you stronger against pain. The research was conducted by the University of Montreal, they exposed a group that regularly practice Zen meditation and a group who don’t to a painful level of heat. They measured the brain activity and found that those who practiced Zen meditation reported less pain (Giovanni, 2015.)
Mindfulness meditation has become extremely popular with more and more articles outlining all the personal benefits of practicing it. However, there are psychologists who are worried that the hype is outweighing the science. The concern is that despite the many articles and popularity of the meditation type the scientific data is lacking. Many of the studies include inconsistent definitions, don’t include a controlled group, and don’t rule out the placebo effect (Stetka, 2017.) There was a review into this in 2015 published in American Psychologist which found that only 9% of research into this topic has been done in clinical trials that includes a controlled group (Stetka, 2017.) Another study conducted in 2014 which included over 3,500 participants found that there is no evidence of mindfulness meditation increasing attention, lowering substance abuse, aiding sleep, or controlling weight (Stetka, 2017.) This research conflicts with many others about the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation.
Potential Risks of Meditation
Overall meditation is believed to be a safe and healthy practice for everyone to practice. However, some people who suffer from physical limitations may not be able to practice certain types of meditation. For example, some types of meditation involve walking or yoga. There have also been rare reports of meditation making symptoms such as anxiety and depression worse (National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016.) There have also been rare reports where meditation has exacerbated symptoms in people who were already severely ill with certain psychiatric problems. However, meditation has been shown to be helpful for those with psychiatric illnesses (Johnson, 2012.) These cases are so rare that it is safe to say the meditation isn’t a potential risk for the majority of the population.
In conclusion, meditation is a beneficial practice for the majority of the population. There is enough research out there to conclude that meditating does have benefits to an individual, even with some research data lacking.