Science & Health

WTF is Meditation?

Meditation is a mindfulness practice dating back to civilizations long before our own, and yet it remains an increasingly popular practice. We do a deep dive into what meditation is, how it works, and the different forms you may find.

Min read
Lydia Mcclendon
January 17, 2024

What Is Meditation? 

Meditation and mental health go hand in hand. In the fast-paced and often stressful world we live in, the pursuit of wellness has become a focus for many people. In a world where 1 in 5 women deal with a diagnosable mental health condition, and 27% of women are finding treatment, having options for your wellness journey is important. 

One practice that has gained widespread recognition for its transformative effects on both the mind and body is meditation. As a cornerstone of a well-rounded wellness routine, meditation is a powerful tool that transcends its traditional roots to offer a plethora of benefits to individuals seeking balance and tranquility in their lives.

At its core, meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to achieve a heightened state of awareness and clarity. Its origins can be traced back to ancient spiritual and religious traditions, such as the Buddhist meditation practices,  techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. Meditation has evolved to become a secular practice embraced by people from all walks of life. Holistic wellness businesses are increasingly incorporating meditation into their offerings, recognizing its potential to enhance mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

One key aspect of meditation is mindfulness, which is the practice of paying deliberate attention to the present moment without judgment. This involves cultivating an awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise, fostering a deeper connection to one's inner self. Mindfulness is simple in concept—it is the act of being present—but as humans in modern society, it is a challenge for many to get out of the thinking mind, always worrying about the future, and into the act of presence. In the context of holistic wellness, mindfulness meditation is often presented as a valuable tool for stress reduction and emotional regulation. As we dive deeper into what meditation is, we spoke with professional practitioners such as Somatic Therapist and Spiritual Psychologist Gioconda who explained that especially in meditation for beginners, "when used consistently meditation [like Yoga Nidra] helps our minds learn to shift into different brain wave states more smooth;y, and allows us to linger in restful and restorative brain states for longer periods."

How Does Meditation Work? 

The holistic approach to wellness emphasizes the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. In this context, meditation serves as a bridge that unites these facets of human existence. By engaging in regular meditation, individuals can experience a holistic transformation that extends beyond the alleviation of stress. Many meditators report a heightened sense of self-awareness, increased emotional resilience, and a greater capacity for compassion and empathy. 

From a physiological perspective, meditation has been shown to have a profound impact on the brain and body. Research indicates that regular meditation can lead to changes in brain structure and function, promoting neuroplasticity and enhancing cognitive abilities. Additionally, meditation has been associated with reduced stress hormones, improved immune function, and lowered blood pressure.

Meditation is a practice that transcends cultural and religious boundaries, offering a universal pathway to holistic wellness. From stress reduction to enhanced cognitive function and emotional well-being, the benefits of meditation are wide-ranging and scientifically supported. Holistic wellness businesses play a crucial role in disseminating information about meditation and empowering individuals to embark on self-discovery and transformation. As the world continues to recognize the importance of holistic well-being, meditation stands out as a timeless and invaluable tool for cultivating a balanced and fulfilling life.

Contemporary meditation practices offer a wide range of techniques, allowing individuals to choose methods that suit their preferences. Hybrid approaches, combining elements from different traditions, have emerged to cater to the diverse needs and goals of practitioners.

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What are the  Different Types of Meditation? 

Meditation comes in various forms and formats, allowing individuals to choose a practice that resonates with their preferences, lifestyles, and goals. Mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and guided visualization are just a few examples of the diverse meditation techniques available. Holistic wellness businesses play a crucial role in guiding individuals toward the meditation practice that aligns with their unique needs and aspirations.

Meditation encompasses a diverse range of practices, each with its own unique techniques and purposes. We’ve developed a comprehensive overview of some meditation practices to help you hone in on new ways to find healing. 

  • Mindfulness Meditation:

Purpose: Mindfulness meditation, rooted in Buddhist traditions, aims to cultivate a heightened awareness of the present moment. Practitioners learn to observe thoughts and sensations without attachment or judgment, promoting a sense of clarity and inner peace.

Technique: Focused attention on the breath, body sensations, or a specific point of focus.

  • Transcendental Meditation (TM):

Purpose: TM is designed to promote deep relaxation and access a transcendent state of consciousness. It's often used for stress reduction and promoting overall well-being.

Technique: Repetition of a specific mantra, a word, or sound, to transcend ordinary thought.

  • Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta):

Purpose: Metta meditation fosters feelings of love and compassion toward oneself and others. It is particularly effective in cultivating positive emotions and reducing negative feelings.

Technique: Repeating phrases or affirmations that express love, compassion, and goodwill.

  • Body Scan Meditation:

Purpose: This practice involves systematically scanning and bringing awareness to different parts of the body. It promotes relaxation, releases tension, and enhances body awareness.

Technique: Mentally scanning the body from head to toe, paying attention to sensations in each area.

  • Zen Meditation (Zazen):

Purpose: Rooted in Zen Buddhism, Zazen aims to achieve a deep state of concentration and insight. It emphasizes sitting in a specific posture and observing thoughts without attachment.

Technique: Sitting in a specific posture, focusing on the breath, and allowing thoughts to come and go without attachment.

  • Guided Visualization:

Purpose: Guided visualization uses mental imagery to create a peaceful and calming experience. It's often employed for relaxation, stress reduction, and goal manifestation.

Technique: Listening to a guide or recorded script that directs the imagination toward a specific scenario or visualization.

  • Chakra Meditation:

Purpose: Derived from ancient Indian traditions, Chakra meditation focuses on balancing and aligning the body's energy centers (chakras). It is believed to enhance spiritual and physical well-being.

Technique: Concentrating on each chakra sequentially, often accompanied by visualization or affirmations.

  • Breath Awareness Meditation:

Purpose: Breath awareness meditation centers on the breath as a focal point. It promotes relaxation, improved concentration, and mindfulness.

Technique: Observing the natural breath, counting breaths, or focusing on the sensation of breathing.

Modern Meditation Practices 

Holistic wellness businesses often incorporate meditation into their programs and services, recognizing its role in promoting overall health. Whether through group meditation sessions, mindfulness workshops, or personalized meditation guidance, these businesses aim to make meditation accessible to individuals seeking a holistic approach to well-being.

Modern meditation practices have evolved and adapted to the needs of individuals living in today's fast-paced and technologically advanced world. While many contemporary meditation techniques share roots with traditional practices, several key factors distinguish them from their historical counterparts.

Modern meditation practices leverage technology to make mindfulness more accessible. Meditation apps, online courses, and guided meditation recordings allow individuals to engage in the practice at their convenience, breaking down geographical and time barriers, and allowing a new generation to find balance. Speaking to Yoga Teacher and Meditation Guide, Christine Anderson she explained that in her practice she found that"meditation offers so many gifts... focus, connection, compassion and nervous system regulation." skills that many are trying to find their way back to in a hectic, hustle focused world.

  • Secularization of Meditation:

In the past, meditation was often associated with religious or spiritual traditions. Modern practices, however, have become more secular, appealing to a diverse audience. This inclusivity has contributed to the widespread adoption of meditation across various cultures and belief systems.

Advances in neuroscience have led to a greater understanding of the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation. Modern practices often integrate scientific principles and research findings, providing evidence-based support for the effectiveness of meditation in promoting mental health and well-being.

Recognizing the positive impact of meditation on stress reduction and productivity, many modern workplaces have integrated mindfulness programs. Employers offer meditation sessions, encouraging employees to incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines for enhanced focus and resilience.

Modern psychotherapy often incorporates mindfulness-based approaches. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are examples of therapeutic interventions that draw on meditation principles to address mental health issues.

Contemporary meditation practices emphasize personalization, allowing individuals to tailor their meditation experience. Whether through guided sessions, mindfulness exercises, or specific meditation apps, practitioners can choose approaches that align with their preferences and goals.

While modern meditation practices maintain a connection to the ancient roots of meditation, like those rooted in Buddhist practices and beyond, these adaptations reflect a dynamic response to the challenges and opportunities of the present day. The integration of technology, scientific validation, and a more inclusive and diverse approach make modern meditation practices accessible and relevant to a broad spectrum of individuals seeking mindfulness in the 21st century.

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Retreat’s Microdosing & Meditation Program

Joining a meditation program can make a difference in integrating your meditation practice. One way to find more accountability and community is through the Microdosing and Meditation program with Retreat. Meditation in combination with micro dosing and integration has been shown to have overlapping phenomenology and neurophysiology, but limited studies although the increasing interest in meditation practice and psychedelic states. Many contemplative traditions, like meditation,  explicitly aim at dissolving the sense of self by bringing up altered states of consciousness through meditation, while classical psychedelics are known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness, a phenomenon known as drug-induced ego dissolution.

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About the Author

Lydia Mcclendon

Lydia Mcclendon is a freelance writer and editor within the world of psychedelics, plant medicine, parenthood and the intersection of working in marketing for a taboo industry. She has written for a wide variety of publications, worked within editorial coordination, and loves the creativity and chaos that creative content brings.

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