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Most people probably associate meditation with religion. It is certainly true that most religious practices include meditation as an essential part of their teaching, although some don't use the word 'meditation' to describe their particular meditative or contemplative practice.

However, although Meditation has been taught in the West for many years as part of the Christian tradition, it does not always have a religious element. It is not necessary to be religiously minded to meditate, nor to give up worldly things, as is often supposed. Meditation is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system. Over the past half century, many non-religious people have begun to take meditation seriously. Moreover, many of the techniques of meditation that are attracting attention have come from the East. Today, meditation is being found valuable by ordinary, everyday people, many of whom may not be particularly religious.


The word 'meditation' can be used in a variety of different ways and may have many different associations. For some, the word may imply concentrating the mind on some mental image or, possibly, on the idea of nothing; for others, it may mean thinking about an idea, as when we meditate on the state of the economy. Meditation may be a form of devotion or prayer; it may mean an examination of one's internal thought processes, or simply a settling down of the mind into quietness. For some it could be sitting in a meadow on a summer afternoon letting the sun and birdsong carry you away; or it may mean a guided meditation in which a therapist asks a patient to imagine certain things happening to him. All these meanings and more have passed under the umbrella of 'meditation'. Despite their differences, all forms of meditation have the same basis - conscious control of attention.

Outside of the religious practice, meditation is simply a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation. Successful meditation means simply being - not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as it unfolds. In general, meditation is a technique for bringing the mind to a state of peace and quiet.

Techniques of Relaxation

There are many widely known systematic techniques of relaxation. All attempt to combat stress by bringing the ‘fight or flight’ response under control. There are two main groups: those that concentrate on the mind, and those that work on the body. The proposal is that if you relax one, you will relax the other.

Mental Techniques

Most mental methods are forms of meditation. Throughout man’s history, a variety of different techniques have been derived, originally from the esoteric elements of the major religions; all have the effect of increasing the powers of concentration, and all combat stress by bringing the mind under conscious control. The mind is, in its usual state, a never-ending series of associations. Every impression that enters sets off a chain of associations that, especially in stressful situations, rebound like a ricocheting bullet, setting up a wall of mental interference between the mind and outer reality.

Meditation aims to bring this process under control, allowing you to concentrate on the moment, and not to worry about past or future possibilities. This increase in attention eventually leads to a new clear-sightedness; it helps you to see objects, people, and situations as they are, not as you want them to be or as they appear to your subjective associations. This can lead to a new sense of peace with a new perception of your place in the world and your relation to external circumstances. It gives you a mental breathing space. This can help you to stop wasting energy in pointless anxiety and activity. By bringing the mind under control you also control your actions and undermine the "donkey and carrot" syndrome in which you do things automatically without knowing why, or even when or how. Meditation helps you to act, and not react automatically in fear, anger, or greed.

Meditation Tables Meditation Tables Om Symbol Meditation Objects

(see also our Relaxation and Tiredness pages).

Methods of Meditation

There are three methods of meditation. Most common is the use of physical or mental objects on which the meditator tries to focus his attention. Every time other thoughts, or even verbal definitions, enter the mind, they must be pushed off and attention brought back to the object. Physical objects should be natural objects, such as stones or shells, or small personal objects like jewels or plain rings. Other objects include: the verbal or mental repetition of sounds (Transcendental Meditation's associations (the lotus flower, pictures of saints and gurus); and body rhythms, especially breathing.

The classical meditation methods of Bhakti, and Sufi, Raja and Kundalini yoga all use the meditator's own breathing. You just sit and concentrate on your breathing... not doing anything to alter the way you breathe, not worrying about whether you are doing it right or wrong, not even thinking about breathing; just 'following' the breathing and 'becoming one' with the breathing.

The second major method is to concentrate on yourself; to cultivate a constant awareness of your actions, thoughts and surroundings. This means that you begin to see how your mind works, to discover the automatic nature of your actions and to see the possibilities of the self or, in some philosophies, the essential nothingness, behind the transient automation. Krishnamurti's "self-knowledge" and Gurdjieff's "self-remembering" typify this method.

The third method combines aspects of the other two; the best known examples being Zen Buddhism's "zazen" meditation and use of the "koans" (unsolvable problems), and Tibetan Buddhism. Choose the method most suitable for your own personality and circumstances, and stress will be relieved.,

Physiological Effects of Meditation

These are the opposite to those of the ‘fight or flight’ response. The following conclusions emerge from the results of experiments designed to scientifically test the benefits of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

  1. Sleep. The reduction of oxygen, and also of the metabolic rate, during meditation means a deeper level of rest. Meditation may also help insomniacs to get to sleep more easily.
  2. Skin resistance to electricity decreases under stress and increases during meditation.
  3. Cortisol level. The amount of Cortisol in the blood plasma increases under stress and decreases during meditation.
  1. Sleep Fig 1 compares the change in oxygen consumption during sleep and during TM. A shows the percent change in oxygen consumption. B shows the time in hours. The second diagram compares the average time taken by an insomniac to fall asleep, for 30 days before starting TM, and for 30 days after starting TM. C is the time in 1 hour intervals.
  2. Skin resistance Fig 2:2 compares skin resistance during meditation and during various other activities. Resistance is measured in kilohms.
  3. Cortisol level Fig 2:3 compares the percentage of cortisol in the blood plasma of non-meditators before, during and after relaxation, and of meditators before, during, and after meditation.

Here are a few supportive articles and sites that may help convince you that meditation is a worthwhile habit:

The Science of Meditation - Psychology Today

The Benefits of Meditation  - Psychology Today

Meditation 'good for brain' - BBC

Scientists probe meditation secrets - BBC News

For Stress Reduction, Just Say Ommm  - CNN

How Monks Find Their Happy Groove - CNN

For more information go to Project Meditation

If you require further information about meditation, or the various therapies on offer to you, please feel free to contact us.

If you want to learn meditation the easy way, the Gaia Team recommends:

The Meditation Program

We found the following programme concerning relaxed breathing very useful:

The Power of Breathing

And  this one is just right for stress reduction:

Five Rituals

Download the FREE Information ebook - A Guide to Meditation for Self-Development

A Letter About Meditation