What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a mental exercise that trains attention and awareness. Its purpose is often to curb reactivity to one's thoughts and feelings, which, though they may be disturbing and upsetting and hijack attention from moment to moment, are invariably fleeting.

There are many ways of meditating and no one right way. One common way is to turn attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase, known as a mantra. Known as mindfulness meditation, it lessens distractability and promotes focusing on, and enjoyment of, the present moment. It can take a bit of effort to keep focused and to develop a regular meditation routine. Nevertheless, research demonstrates that it has many benefits for mind and body.

Meditation methods date back thousands of years, but they have new relevance in the modern world and have gained popularity as ways to generate inner calm. A cartoon from The New Yorker magazine sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older monk responds, "Nothing happens next. This is it."

The Benefits of Meditating

It’s impossible for us to make our thoughts disappear, and often, the more we try to suppress them, the louder they become. But practicing meditation can help clear away the mind’s chatter. Studies show that meditating even for periods as short as 10 minutes increases the brain's alpha waves (associated with relaxation) and decreases anxiety and depression.

Meditation acts on areas of the brain that modulate the autonomic nervous system, which governs such functions as digestion and blood pressure—functions heavily affected by chronic stress. Many people find meditation an effective stress-reliever. Through its physiological effects, meditation has been found to effectively counter heart disease, chronic pain, and other conditions.

Specific types of meditation are associated with different documented effects. Mindfulness meditation, for instance, has been shown to decrease distraction and rumination, and it can make negative automatic thoughts seem less frequent and easier to let go of. Likewise, loving-kindness meditation may limit the frequency of repetitive thoughts, in addition to curbing charged responses to those thoughts.


Anxiety, Mindfulness

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