Meditation 101: A Brief History, Various Forms, the Benefits, and How to Find the Right Type

 

When something has been around thousands of years, there must be a reason.  Meditation is a practice that human beings have embraced throughout the ages and throughout various cultures and civilizations. Meditation, which has evolved into a mainstream practice, including in Westernized countries, comes in many forms and varieties. Research validating the many benefits of meditation continues to emerge. In this article, you will learn about the history of meditation, variations, and the benefits.

A Brief History of Meditation

Meditation in some form has existed for at least 5,000 years—though the exact data remains unknown. Early sources trace meditation to the ancient teachings of the Veda in India.

Meditation later spread through Taoism in China and Buddhism in India. The Buddha, whose teachings date back to 500 B.C., had a profound effect on the practice of meditation, according to the EOC Institute. Fast-forward to 20th century America, where Zen Buddhism, Hatha Yoga and Transcendental Meditation gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s (in part thanks to the hippie movement).  Today, meditation continues to hold interest and has become mainstreamed into the American culture. In particular, mindfulness, or intentionally paying attention to the present moment, is practiced in schools, hospitals, counseling centers, and other places. With promising research showing the benefits of meditation, this trend will likely continue into the future, writes Psychology Today.

Varieties of Meditation

Forms of meditation can be found in Judaism and Islam, which has two forms of meditation, Tafakkur and (the less accepted form) Sufism. According to Psychology Today, Buddhism features Zen, Tibetan, and Theravadan meditation.  Here are some commonly practiced forms of meditation (reported by Medical News Today):

  •   Loving-Kindness Meditation: During this meditation, the practitioner repeats a simple message or phrase until he or she generates feelings of compassion and love.

 Possible Benefits: linked with reducing depression, anger, and other negative states or emotions.  Enhanced relationships. Improved sense of well-being.

  • Mindfulness: In this meditation, the meditator focuses on the present moment, including one’s surroundings. The breath is often used as an anchor to bring the attention back to what is occurring.

 Possible Benefits: Less distracted, more aware of environment, connecting with self and others, increased health, decreased stress response.

  • Zazen: This is Zen meditation, where the practitioner typically sits with legs crossed and focuses on the breath and without judging thoughts. Particular attention is given to the posture, such as keeping the back straight. The eyes are held slightly open, cast down about three feet ahead.

Possible Benefits: Increased focus and concentration. Improved health. Decreased stress response.

  • Transcendental Meditation: This involves the use of a mantra or sound which is repeated or more accurately thought in a particular way. One sits comfortably, usually in a chair, and practices for 20 minutes, twice a day. Instruction from a trained teacher is recommended due to the nuances of the technique.

 Possible Benefits: Expansion of awareness, reduced stress, deeper connection with self and desires, improved health

  • Body Scan: In this meditation, the person scans their body to find and release tension. This can be done laying down on the floor. The practitioner may start with focusing on one end of the body, such as the feet, and work his or her way through the entire body.  

 Possible Benefits: Reduced stress, greater health, relaxation

 

Benefits of Meditation

While the quality of some studies have come into question, research suggests that meditation produces numerous benefits, including improved physical and mental health. For example, a synthesis of 20 studies found that meditation and mindfulness reduced depression and blood pressure as well as improved sleep, self-esteem, cognitive functioning, attention, and anger management. Individuals practicing zazen were found to possess more control over the brain’s default network, which is responsible for producing random streams of thought. Hundreds of research studies have been conducted on Transcendental Meditation, reporting improved academic performance for students, reduced burnout rates for teachers, reduction in PSTD for veterans, reduced risk of heart attacks, greater resistance to stress, and other benefits.

Selecting A Meditation Form

How do you go about choosing a type of meditation? The best way is by experimenting or asking yourself questions such as: “How does my body feel? What’s happening with my mind, lots of thoughts, do I need to focus better? What’s my goal? Do I want to feel more energy, connected, clearheaded etc.?” As you determine your reasons for meditating, look at the list above of types of meditation and see which one fit your needs. All meditation styles provide some kind of benefit so they key is to fit the right fit for your goals and current situation.

An ancient practice, meditation has proven itself to be highly beneficial for people from all walks of life and all ages. The variety of forms provide you with a choice and opportunity to learn new methods. Check out the various meditations and practices in the calming corner so you can experience the process for yourself.