What is Meditation?

Please, remember that I do not claim to be an expert.  I am only an ongoing student and reporting on my observations and interpretations of my literature reviews.  I look forward to any comments, ideas or recommendations you may have.

Meditation is defined differently by most people.  First let us look at what some of the renowned meditation masters have to say.    One eloquent definition of meditation by Pema Chodron states, “…by learning to peacefully abide in sitting meditation: (we are) creating the space for our garden to grow. Then we can cultivate qualities that will allow us to live our lives in full bloom.” (Mipham, 2003, p. 7)   To Patanjuli, an ancient yogic sage, meditation was simply the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.  A more modern take may be, Mary NurrieStearn’s (LCSW, RYT) definition, “…taking some time to sit; focus your attention on your breath, mantra or stillness; and witness your thoughts.” (NurrieStearns , 2010, p. 176)

My definition after reading uncountable definitions is:  meditation is the deliberate act of quieting the mind in order to access a state of consciousness that is serene and peaceful.  As we review the literature on meditation research, in following posts, it is important to keep in mind that due to the many ways of defining meditation and “the absence of a validated scientific model for practice”, performing statistically rigid research is difficult. (Chiesa-zm, 2010, p. 590)

Also adding to some of the ambivalence, is the fact that there are so many techniques for meditation.  Usually techniques revolve around finding a way to be physically comfortable, keeping a high quality of breathe, and finding as much mental stillness as possible. Some people never sit or find physical stillness during meditation, but it is commonly believed that the stiller the body the greater ease with which one will find mental stillness. Some of the more common meditation techniques include; moving mindfulness, rhythmic movement, sound vibrations, withdrawal of the senses, single mental focus and non-judgmental thought detachment.

Let us briefly look at these techniques.  Walking, hiking, yoga asana (physical postures) and other deep awareness movement can be categorized as moving mindfulness. Rhythmic movement refers to swaying of the body, tapping of the fingers or muscle tension and release.  The incorporation of sound vibrations into meditation happens during chanting, mantra repetition, kirtan, singing or the use of recorded sound.  Withdrawal of the senses is any technique that includes closing of the eyes, plugging of the ears or inhibition of any of the senses.  A single mental focus most often incorporates focus on a scent, candle flame, the breath, or a mantra. A mantra can refer to a single word, sound or series of words or sounds that have significant meaning to an individual.  Lastly, thought detachment, can refer to non-judgmental thought labeling and non-identification with thought or emotions.  All of the above techniques can be used alone or in conjunction with each other.

Various schools of meditation practice make use of a number of techniques and often provide guidelines for use of particular techniques to provide for specific outcomes. These specific outcomes could be used prescriptively for different pathologies or illnesses.  “Meditation techniques with emphasis on concentrative practices, for example, may be more suitable for pathologies with attention problems, while meditation techniques that emphasize emotional stress reduction may be more efficient in affective pathologies.” (Rubia, 2009, p. 9)

Resources:

  1. Chiesa A., Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1239-1252.
  2. Mipham, S. (2003). Turning the Mind Into an Ally. New York, New York: Riverhead Books.
  3. NurrieStearns, M., NurrieStearns, R. (2010). Yoga for Anxiety. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
  4. Rubia, K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology, 82(1), 1-11.
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Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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