Meditation, a practice that derives from an ancient philosophical-religious tradition, has become increasingly used and accepted in the medical setting as a way to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhace a sense of personal control. Meditation involves a qualitative shift in the state of ones consciousness, with related changes in thoughts and feelings that contribute to an improved sense of physical and emotional well-being.
The desire to attain an altered state of consciousness for therapeutic benefit can be traced back 3,000 years to Indian yogic practices. Writings on meditation also appeared in early Christian literature and in the Jewish mystical traditions. In Buddhist cosmology, meditation is thought to bring about abhidhamma or a balance of psychological equilibrium. The Vipassana tradition, in particular, has brought forth a form of insight meditation known in the west as Mindfulness.
Medical research on the physiological and psychological effects of meditation/relaxation began in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. At Harvard Medical School, Herbert Benson, M.D. began a series of investigations on the physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a form of meditation with origins in the Vedic tradition of India, which was brought to this country by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Experiments conducted over the years led Dr. Benson to believe that the hypometabolic changes he observed were not unique to TM but represented a naturally protective reaction to overstress, which he called the Relaxation Response.
Mindfulness Meditation, a variant on Tibetan Buddhist meditative practice, was introduced into medical settings in 1979 by Jon Kabat Zinn, Ph.D., founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
It is not necessary to subscribe to a particular religious or philosophical belief system to gain health benefits from meditation. The same techniques that are used to promote personal or spiritual growth also apply to the treatment of physical discomfort, alleviation of distress, improvement of health, and quality of life.