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

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Patient Education

In meditation, a type of mind-body medicine, patients regulate their attention or systematically focus on particular aspects of inner or outer experience. The most highly studied forms of meditation are transcendental meditation (TM) and mindfulness meditation. Although research is incomplete, results to date suggest that meditation could work via at least 2 mechanisms:

  • Producing a relaxed state that counters excessive activation of neurohormonal pathways resulting from repeated stress

  • Developing the capacity for metacognitive awareness (the ability to stand back from and witness the contents of consciousness), thus theoretically helping patients not react to stress automatically (with highly conditioned, learned patterns of behavior) and helping them tolerate and regulate emotional distress better

Most meditation practices were developed in a religious or spiritual context; their ultimate goal was some type of spiritual growth, personal transformation, or transcendental experience. However, studies suggest that as a health care intervention, meditation can often be beneficial regardless of a person’s cultural or religious background.

Uses for Meditation

Meditation has been used to relieve anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia, and symptoms of chronic disorders such as cancer or cardiovascular disorders. It is also used to promote wellness.