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What is meditation?

The term „Meditation“ can designate a state (someone is in meditation) and at the same time it is a generic term for a multitude of methods (someone practices meditation). The meditation methods and the goals of practice are so different that it appears hardly possible to find a definition that includes all types of meditation and is still specific enough differentiate meditation from other techniques. Some meditation methods include body movements (e.g. Qigong), but the larger part is practiced in a motionless sitting position (so-called „silent“ meditation). The attention can be focused intensively on a certain object (narrowed focus) or observe all mental events that enter the field of conciousness (widened focus). Today, meditation is no longer seen and practiced solely as an exercise of religious absorption but also as relaxation method and as a means to cope with stress. Besides the traditional meditation methods there exist several clinical methods which were derived from the former without adopting their religious world view and goals. An overall view of the most prominent traditional and clinical meditation methods ist given under the heading „Schools“ (see menu on the left site). Unfortunately, in scientific studies the meditation method under investigation is all too often described only incompletely, which reduces their evidence and impedes replications. A complete definition should include:

  • a specification of the meditation method (How was meditation practiced?),
  • a detaild description of changes in the state of consciousness (What was experienced during meditation? States of meditation ),
  • a description of the changes in time (interaction between method and states, the process of meditation ) on the micro-level (during one session; seconds, minutes, hours) and on the macro-level (during the whole duration of practice; days, weeks, years),
  • a description of the context, in which meditation was practiced ( Setting: at home, in a clinic, in a monastery/ashram; kind of guidance), and
  • data regarding the meditating persons ( Set: expertise, motivation, goals, expectations etc.).