Meditation 101: Know Your Options
An Overview of Various Meditation TechniquesOne common misconception, promoted in popular books and articles, and even sometimes in research articles, is that all meditation procedures are more or less “the same.” But this is simply incorrect, for meditation procedures often differ in their purpose, practice and the results they give.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a U.S. government entity within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says:
“There are many types of meditation, most of which originated in ancient religious and spiritual traditions.”
Meditation has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.
Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.
There are many types of meditation; here are some:
- Concentration is a voluntary sustained control of attention to keep it focused on the object of meditation.
- Open-monitoring mindfulness involve a focus of attention on a thought or object or maintaining a stance of mindfulness and letting distractions come and go without judging them
- Methods of contemplation actively engage the mind in images, concepts, internal energy, breath, subtle aspects of the body, love, or of God.
- Automatic Self Transcending: Transcendental Meditation is a simple meditation technique that allows the mind to automatically transcend the meditation process, leading to the experience of “consciousness itself."
What does science say about the effectiveness of meditation?
Some of the many claims of benefits from the various meditation programs range from lowered blood pressure, decreased anxiety and depression, to smoking cessation. Much of this research is anecdotal and some of it is scientific. Anecdotal evidence is based on someone's personal subjective experience and gives us some indication as to what is going on. However, scientific research is needed to get some objective answers based on findings from repeatable systematic observation, measurement, and experimentation.
Even cursory knowledge of the many different procedures used by the world’s major meditation programs makes it clear that it is a mistake to regard them or their benefits as being essentially the same.
I wasn’t really looking for a meditation practice, but I went with some friends to a free introductory presentation on the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. What appealed to me was the science behind it, and the fact that it is taught in the same way by every certified TM teacher. I saw research on physiological indications of decreased stress, improvements in health and decreased use of cigarettes and alcohol.
This was what I needed! I learned the next weekend. In my first meditation, I experienced a profoundly deep rest in my body, and yet my mind remained awake. After the first 20 minute meditation I felt rejuvenated, clearer and happier. Yes, happier!
That was in 1973 and I’ve continued to practice the TM technique twice a day. I never miss, because the results are so real. I look forward to every meditation and, yes, I’ll say it — Transcendental Meditation saved my nursing career. I went on to have a great clinical career for almost 40 years!
If you are considering meditation, do your homework, look at the science, read reports from others who have learned the meditation program and find the technique that suits you and can give you the benefits you are seeking.
Amy Ruff, RN, BSN, WOCN (Amy is the National Director of Transcendental Meditation for Nurses and the Education Director of Transcendental Meditation for Women).
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