Meditation: definition and techniques
Meditation is a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness. The term “meditation” derives from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means attention and contemplation. Meditation includes a large variety of activities with or without spiritual and religious connections, and is designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. There are different kinds of meditation: they all include mental activity, emphasizing on religion, spirituality or concentration, however, some approaches also incorporate diet or movement (e.g. ayurveda, yoga). Transcendental and mindfulness meditations are two of the most popular meditation techniques. Transcendental meditation involves the use of a mantra; it is performed in sitting position with eyes closed twice per day for 15-20 minutes. Conversely, mindfulness meditation pays attention to the movement of the abdomen during breathing; it is practiced in sitting position with eyes closed, legs crossed, on a pad or on a chair and with straight back.
The health benefits of meditation
The practice of meditation is increasing among people who want to cure stress-related conditions, as well as to promote general health. Moreover, the interest in these benefits is growing among researchers who study the integration of this practice with medicine.
Firstly, meditation induces a state of relaxation, which reduces the stress and anxiety levels, therefore improving the general health condition. In fact, meditation determines a reduction of heart rate and oxygen consumption, with a decrease of pH and arterial lactate. Moreover, meditation produces an increase in the galvanic resistance of the skin and a predominance of alpha waves, produced during the state of relaxation.
Brain Aging Delay
Secondly, the regular practice of meditation suggests potential improvement in cognitive and emotional functions able to delay brain aging. The regular practice of meditation seems to modify brain activity and to induce structural alterations in specific areas of the brain. In fact, meditators present larger thickness of the cerebral cortex and a higher volume of gray matter in the brain regions associated with processes of learning, memory, regulation of emotions and emphatic capacity.
Relief from Ailments
Thirdly, meditation also shows benefits in some disease conditions. For example, meditation improves the regulation of mean arterial pressure in patients with coronary disease, reducing the risk of mortality, myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular accident. In patients diagnosed with cancer, meditation alleviates the physical and emotional adverse effects of the medical treatments. Similar benefits have also been observed in patients who have undergone organ transplantation. Elderly people benefit from meditation with improvement in sleep quality. Moreover, pain can be reduced with the practice of meditation.
In spite of the benefits, meditation may nonetheless cause adverse effects such depersonalization and de-realization. Therefore, it is not recommended for individuals with borderline or psychotic conditions.
In conclusion, meditation is a mental training able to modify the function of the brain and mind in favor of attention skills, cognitive capacity and emotional regulation, improving the response capacity to every day stressor stimuli.
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- JAMA Internal Medicine
- J Relig Health