Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Psychology of Meditation and Health: Present Status and Future Directions

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Psychology of Meditation and Health: Present Status and Future Directions

Article excerpt

The use of meditation for healing and enlightenment is not new. The practice of meditation has been prevailing throughout the human history among diverse cultures. In fact, all religious traditions practice some forms of meditation. It is generally associated with healing, spiritual growth, and enlightenment. After its introduction to the western world by Indian spiritualist Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, the nature of scientific investigation of spiritual beliefs and practices underwent a drastic change. However, it was only during the 1960s that scientific studies started focusing on the clinical effects of meditation on health after the reports of extraordinary feats of bodily control and altered states of consciousness by eastern yogis reached the west. These reports captured the interest of many western behavioural scientists. With the scientific advancement and refinement in instrumentation, scientific study of effects of meditative practices became possible. A formal acknowledgement of the academic curiosity within psychology came in 1977, when the American Psychological Association issued a statement on meditation stating that-"meditation may facilitate the psychotherapeutic process." They also encouraged research "to evaluate its possible usefulness" (Kutz, Borysenko, & Benson, 1985, p.1). As a result, both health care professionals and lay people embraced meditation as a valuable tool for stress reduction and a device for healing both mental and physical disorders.

The word "meditation" is derived from the Latin meditari, which means "to engage in contemplation or reflection." The word meditation comes from the same Greek and Latin root as the word medicine. Manocha (2000) described meditation as a discrete and well-defined experience of a state of "thoughtless awareness" or mental silence, in which the activity of the mind is minimized without reducing the level of alertness. Walsh and Shapiro (2006) defined meditation from cognitive and psychological perspective, as a family of self-regulation practices that aim to bring mental processes under voluntary control through focusing attention and awareness. Other major descriptions of meditation emphasize components such as relaxation, concentration, an altered state of awareness, suspension of logical thought processes, and maintenance of self-observing attitude (Craven, 1989). Thus, meditation has been conceptualized in many ways and there exists no consensus definition. It is very difficult to capture its essence in one definition. However, Cardoso et al. (2004) developed an operational definition encompassing both traditional and clinical parameters. They defined any practice as meditation if it (1) utilizes a specific and clearly defined technique, (2) involves muscle relaxation somewhere during the process, (3) involves logic relaxation (i.e., not "to intend" to analyze the possible psychophysical effects, not "to intend" to judge the possible results, not "to intend" to create any type of expectation regarding the process), (4) a self induced state, and (5) the use of a self-focus skill or "anchor" for attention.

TYPES OF MEDITATION

Presently many meditation techniques are being practiced. However, all of them can be grouped into two basic approaches- concentrative meditations and mindfulness/insight meditations. Concentration meditation aims at single pointed focus on some sound, image or sensation to still the mind and achieve greater awareness. Most popular form of this meditation is "transcendental meditation"(TM) developed by Maharshi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. TM is generally done by focusing the mind on some mantra (sound) to achieve transcendental state of consciousness. Mindfulness meditation on the other hand involves opening up or becoming more alert to the continuous passing stream of thoughts, images, emotions and sensations without identifying oneself with them. Such practice helps in developing non-reactive state of mind, which is the foundation for calm and peaceful state of consciousness. …

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