The earliest records of meditation practice date from approximately 1500 years BCE (Before Common Era). It seems to have been an integral part of the earliest forms of the Vedic, or early Hindu, schools in India. In the 6th to 4th centuries BCE, the Chinese Taoist and Indian Buddhist traditions began to develop their own versions of meditation practice. Further west, early forms of meditation practice were developed by such notable figures as Philo of Alexandria, the Desert Fathers of the Middle East, and Saint Augustine.
Some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana), come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BCE.[ The Vedas discuss the meditative traditions of ancient India. Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India. Dhyana in early Buddhism takes influence on Vedanta by ca. the 4th century BCE.
Although many forms of meditation can be found in ancient religious traditions around the world, the practice as a formal component of a spiritual path is probably most closely associated with Buddhism. The Buddha, who lived and taught in Southeast Asia about 2600 years ago, founded an experiential path that inspired generations of practitioners to sit in mindful awareness and breathe their way to lasting peace. According to his teachings, meditative concentration is one of three trainings that when practiced together result in awakening, or enlightenment. The other two are proper ethical conduct and the wisdom of seeing things as they truly are.
Men and women who gained insight and wisdom by putting the Buddha’s teachings into practice taught others. And seekers would travel to learn from great teachers who often lived in cultures far removed from their own, then bring the teachings back home. At one point, people were practicing some form of Buddhist meditation from the territories of modern-day Afghanistan to Mongolia and from Japan to Indonesia. Buddhism is known to be a spiritual practice that has adapted to the cultures of the regions where it has taken root.
In modern times, the art of meditation has mainly been associated with Asian spiritual traditions such as Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism, to name but a few. Western interest in Eastern religions and philosophies seems to have begun in earnest in the 19th century due to colonialism and improved means of transportation and communication. In those days it was mainly the domain of scholars and missionaries.
Eastern philosophy caught the attention of western “seekers” and artists as early as the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that meditation became popularized in the West. This period saw the arrival of meditation masters from the East who were invited to share their skills and knowledge with interested students. There were also many western students of mindfulness who were able to travel east and train under great masters in India, Thailand, Burma and other Asian countries, then bring their understanding of mindfulness and awareness practices back home and share it.
One of the most influential figures in the sphere of mindfulness today is Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.
The terminology used today to “meditate” was not introduced until the 12th century AD, coming from the Latin word meditatum.
Meditation and proven facts.
One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction study in nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress. Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgiaexample, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety.
It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks. Another study followed up with 18 volunteers three years after they had completed an eight-week meditation program. Most volunteers had continued practicing regular meditation and maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term.
Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.
One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies suggests meditation may reduce depression by decreasing these inflammatory chemicals.
Another controlled study compared electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and the brains of others who did not.
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you. Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.
For example, a study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants’ ability to reorient and maintain their attention. A similar study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task for longer.
These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation
Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn’t.Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn’t meditation. Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or “runaway” thoughts that often lead to insomnia. Additionale, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep.
Focused-attention meditation: Concentrates attention on a single object, thought, sound or visualization. It emphasizes ridding your mind of attention and distraction. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra or a calming sound.
Open-monitoring meditation: Encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought and sense of self. It may include becoming aware of thoughts, feelings or impulses that you might normally try to suppress.