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Understanding Meditation

Meditation is simply a mental exercise that affects body processes. Just as physical exercise has certain psychological benefits, meditation has certain physical benefits. The purpose of meditation is to gain control over your attention so that you can choose what to focus on rather than being subject to the unpredictable ebb and flow of environmental circumstances.

Types of Meditation

Transcendental meditation is but one form of meditative practice. Chakra yoga, Rinzai Zen, Mudra yoga, Zen meditation, and Soto Zen are examples of other meditative systems. In Soto Zen meditation, common external objects (like flowers or peaceful greens) are focused on. Tibetan Buddhists use a mandala – a geometrical figure with other geometric forms on it that has spiritual or philosophical importance -- to meditate upon. The use of imagined sounds or of silently repeated words, called mantra, has also been used.

Regardless of the type of meditation, however, one of two approaches is used: opening up of attention or focusing of attention. Opening up of attention requires a nonjudgmental attitude: you allow all external and internal stimuli to enter your awareness without trying to use these stimuli in any particular manner. As with a blotter and ink, everything is just absorbed. When the meditative method requires the focusing of attention, the object focused upon is something either repetitive or something unchanging.

Benefits of Meditation

Because it is so popular and can be learned quickly and easily, meditation has been one of the most researched of the relaxation techniques. Its physiological effects include a decrease in muscle tension and a decrease in heart rate. When experienced meditating people were compared with novice ones and people taught a different relaxation technique, it was found that the most significant decreases in heart rate occurred in the experienced and short-term meditating ones.

Psychological effects include less anxiety. At this point, you realize that the mind cannot be separated from the body. Consequently, you’ve probably guessed that the physiological effects of meditation have psychological implications. Numerous studies have found evidence that the psychological health of people who meditate often is better than that of non-meditating individuals.

For instance, people who meditate have been found to be less anxious. To add, teaching people to meditate can diminish anxiety. Researchers have also found that meditation is related to an internal focus of control and greater self-actualization.

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