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Meditation

By Steven Novella, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine

In meditation, people regulate their attention or systematically focus on particular aspects of inner or outer experience. Meditation usually involves sitting or resting quietly, often with the eyes closed. Sometimes it involves repeating a phrase (a mantra) meant to help the person focus. The most studied forms of meditation are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation.

Most meditation practices were developed within a religious or spiritual context and held as their ultimate goal some type of spiritual growth, personal transformation, or transcendental experience. As a health care intervention, however, meditation may be effective regardless of people’s cultural or religious background.

Medicinal claims

Meditation has been shown to offer numerous health benefits, including relieving stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, and the symptoms of chronic disorders such as cancer. It has favorable effects on brain activity. For example, it may increase activity in parts of the brain associated with mental clarity. Meditation often induces physical relaxation, mental calmness, and favorable emotional states such as loving-kindness and even-temperedness.

Meditation fosters the capacity for metacognitive awareness (the ability to stand back from and witness the contents of consciousness). Metacognitive awareness interrupts habitual and reflexive responses to stress and improves tolerance of and coping with emotional distress.

Meditation has been shown to have beneficial effects on heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) function. For example, it can help relieve the symptoms of cardiovascular disorders.

Meditation is also used to promote wellness.