Meditation or mindfulness is widely utilized in both traditional and holistic medicine. Meditation might be defined as a “technique for stilling the mind and attaining a state of total awareness” as well as a ”practice focused on experiencing our very nature and consciousness” (Aguirre, 2018, p. 9). The term “mindfulness” was first used by Jon Kabat-Zin to define an approach to meditation practice specifically adapted for the Western culture or “the wisdom and the heart of Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism” (Giraldi, 2019, p. 14). Thus, the terms “meditation” and “mindfulness” might be used interchangeably in the general sense. The following essay will investigate the origins of meditation, its practitioners, and its application.
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Meditation originates from the Buddhist teachings of awareness and acceptance. The Buddhist meditative tradition has been around for over 2500 years since it first appeared in Northeastern India (Giraldi, 2019, p. 14). There were several traditional schools of meditation in different countries, including the Theravada Hinayana (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka), the Mahayana Zen (China, Japan, and Korea), and the Vajrayana (Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan). Meditation became especially popular in the 1990s after Jon Kabat-Zinn published his book called “Full Catastrophe Living,” selling more than 400,000 copies worldwide and bringing public attention to the topic of mindfulness (Giraldi, 2019, p. 20). Thus, meditation was mainly practiced in Asia before its introduction to the West in the 20th century.
There are no limitations for mindfulness so that anyone can practice meditation regardless of their age, gender, physical fitness, or mental state. According to Aguirre (2018), “if you can breathe, you can be mindful because the breath and the ability to focus on the breath is always with you” (p. 25). However, mindfulness is a skill requiring regular practice for the achievement of significant results and benefits. Meditation does not require specialized training and can be done at home, while it is also possible to receive guidance in a variety of classes, workshops, or retreats (Harbula, 2019). Therefore, meditation can be effective without special preparation if a person practices it regularly, either alone or with a mentor.
Mental disorders were traditionally treated by medical professionals such as psychiatrists or psychotherapists. However, the introduction of Buddhist practices to Western researchers in the 19th century resulted in an increasing interest in meditation as a therapeutic tool for the treatment of psychological problems and mental illnesses (Giraldi, 2019). For instance, the measurement of mental states of meditating individuals demonstrated that each state was linked to the change in various brain networks (Aguirre, 2018). The ability of meditation to reduce anxiety and lower stress levels explains its positive influence on mental health.
Moreover, Dr. Richie Davidson discovered that regular meditation affects immune function by developing a stronger immune response. At the same time, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn concluded that the practice prevents stress-related DNA damage by enhancing telomerase function (Aguirre, 2018, p. 11). Therefore, meditation proved to be an effective instrument for the treatment of mental and psychological issues, immune deficiencies, and insomnia by reducing the negative impact of stress.
All in all, meditation is an ancient Eastern practice that was adopted by Western practitioners in response to the public need for the improvement of physical and mental health. Meditation is available for anyone ready to commit to the regular practice either alone or under guidance from a spiritual mentor. Overall, mindfulness practice might help to improve well-being by treating mental or psychological issues and strengthening the body and the immune system.
Aguirre, B. (2018). Meditation: Your questions answered. ABC-CLIO.
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Giraldi, T. (2019). Psychotherapy, mindfulness, and Buddhist meditation. Palgrave Macmillan.
Harbula, P. J. (2019). Meditation: The simple and practical way to begin meditating. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.