An Overview of
Meditation Techniques

Meditation is a CAM technique based on linking the body and mind through a series of exercises. There are many different kinds of meditation, and most are based in ancient traditions and religions. Meditation usually involves focusing the attention by use of a word, gesture, posture, breath or other device, and using that focus to help the body relax and open to suggestion.

Meditation is sometimes prescribed or suggested by conventional doctors as a method to aid relaxation, or focus concentration on feelings of well-being. It's widely seen as an excellent practice to improve mood in those dealing with chronic illness. In addition, specific types of meditation may be useful in actual treatment – those that emphasize breathing patterns, for instance, have been helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of asthma attacks in some patients.

The Theory
By learning to focus the mind and slow the stream of thoughts that normally distract it, meditation is believed to help a person achieve physical relaxation, mental calmness and acuity and psychological balance. It can help a person change how he relates to the flow of emotions, and learn to control them, as well as some automatic responses to emotions and stimuli.

Meditation is a practice in its own right, as part of a lifestyle, and is sometimes used as a component of other alternative therapies such as yoga, tai chi or qi gong. When practiced for medical reasons, it is a mind-body medicine focusing on the interaction among the brain, the body, the mind and behavior. It affects the manner in which emotional, spiritual and other factors can directly affect health and illness. Among the health problems that meditation may be useful for are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain control
  • Mood and self esteem concerns
  • Stress relief
  • Insomnia
  • Physical or emotional symptoms related to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and asthma
  • Overall wellness

Nearly 8 percent of all Americans surveyed in 2004 had used meditation specifically for medical purposes in the previous year. The most well-known form of meditation is Transcendental Meditation, but there are many other forms.

The Evidence In Favor
Meditation has been shown to affect the way some autonomic systems of the body work, including breathing, heart rate, sweating and digestion. Scientists believe that it may do so by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system. There is some evidence that the long-term, habitual practice of meditation may make significant changes in the way that the brain functions. This may account for the beneficial effects of meditation.

The Criticisms
While meditation is considered generally safe, there is some evidence that intensive meditation can potentially aggravate symptoms in people with some psychiatric conditions. There is also concern that those using meditation to control symptoms of an underlying disease may delay seeing a conventional doctor for treatment.

Mindfulness Meditation


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