An ancestral practice, meditation comes to us from the East and was initially a spiritual practice.
Long associated with Buddhism, in the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, extended the practice of meditation by stripping it of its “religious”, spiritual aspect: we speak of the secularization of meditation.
Today, meditation is no longer just associated with a religion: when we talk about meditation, we talk about the well-being it provides.
This source of well-being, accessible to all, explains the growing popularity of this practice.
There are different types of meditation: whichever one you opt for, the benefits of this practice are undeniable and deserve attention.
Before dwelling on these benefits, let us first look at the different methods of meditation.
The different methods to meditate
If meditation is originally of a “religious” order since it is associated with Buddha and therefore with Buddhism (on this subject, cf. article “Buddhism: religion or spirituality?”), the practice has been secularized in the West to appeal to a wider audience.
Different methods for meditating exist: we hear more and more about mindfulness meditation but also about transcendental meditation or even sensory meditation.
If the purpose remains the same (to be in contact with oneself), the methods differ according to their origin.
The oldest methods are those that remain associated with Buddhism, namely vipassana and zazen .
The vipassana is the very source of meditation: it constitutes the heritage of Buddha's teaching and is based on the continuous observation of one's own breathing.
The method is silent and consists of becoming aware of the air breathed: it is therefore a question of observing but also of paying attention to the sensations felt.
The Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana summarized this method very well by referring to the fact that "vipassana meditation is training the mind to look inside us and see how things are going in our mind and in our body. ".
Another method of meditation from Buddhism, zazen: the etymology of the word (“za” meaning sitting and “zen” meaning meditation) allows us to know more about this method which consists of meditating while adopting a sitting posture.
The posture adopted in zazen refers directly to that adopted by Buddha: in India, the method is designated by the Sanskrit term dhyana (which is also found in yoga).
Faced with these two ancestral methods, a so-called secular method was developed by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Vietnamese meditation master, when he found refuge in France in 1966, he adopted the teaching of meditation to Western culture: he is the founder of so-called mindfulness meditation.
If Thich Nhat Hanh developed the method of mindfulness, it is above all the American Jon Kabat-Zinn who contributed to the development of this method by associating it with the reduction of the stress that it allows (in 1979, he created a stress reduction clinic based on mindfulness meditation).
Mindfulness meditation, also called secular meditation, is about being mindful, paying attention to the present moment, and observing the sensations felt.
Today, this method is mainly associated with the benefits it provides on health and in this case on the reduction of stress (it is moreover on this benefit that Jon Kabat-Zinn focused).
Faced with the success of this method, some have insisted on recalling that all meditation is “mindful” since any method of meditating is based on attention and observation.
We also notice this with the so-called transcendental method: stemming from Indian spirituality, this method is in fact the first to address the Western people.
A practice adapted to the Western world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it can also be called mindfulness meditation since it consists of relaxing to develop one's consciousness.
The development and “success” of this method is mainly linked to the fact that in the 1960s, it was in vogue with various celebrities (practiced by the Beatles but also the Doors or by Martin Scorsese etc.).
Note that if the aforementioned methods are the best known, other methods exist: let us cite for example the so-called sensory meditation which is based on the observation of sensations on and in the body, or the so-called kundalini meditation which directly refers to the energy that circulates in the body and to the chakras.
Depending on the method chosen, the practice of meditation may differ; anyway, there is not a better method than the other, the whole thing is to be comfortable with the method chosen to benefit from the benefits of meditation because it is indeed for its benefits that meditation is wanted.
The benefits of meditation
If the practice of meditation has been secularized, it is not by chance: as mentioned above, it is because of the effects on the health and well-being of individuals that Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the method and that knew how to adapt it to the medical world.
Various scientific studies have also highlighted the benefits of meditation on:
- stress reduction: this is the very essence of the development of mindfulness meditation and is at the origin of the creation of “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR), i.e. clinical centers for stress reduction stress.
This stress reduction effect also helps to explain the current success of meditation: it is indeed because of this benefit that more and more people are taking up meditation and especially so-called secular meditation.
Today, meditation is no longer just perceived as a spiritual technique reserved for Buddhist monks, it is associated with an anti-stress technique.
If it makes it possible to reduce stress, it is both linked to the reduction in the density of the amygdala that it causes (and it is this area which becomes denser under the effect of stress) and, it is above all because meditation requires focusing, centering on a single thing: thus, it allows not to jump from thought to thought, not to rehash and therefore to feel better.
- In addition to reducing stress, meditation also avoids so-called depressive relapses: here again, it is in the United States that a method integrating meditation with so-called cognitive therapies has been developed. We talk about the MBCT method (for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy): the relapse rate has thus been halved.
Beyond the reduction of stress and depression, the benefits of meditation on the body and especially on the brain have been highlighted by various scientific studies. It is now established that:
- Meditation can slow down cerebral aging (aging linked to thinning with age of the prefrontal cortex). A study conducted by the University of California has thus highlighted the fact that the brains of people who have been practicing meditation for several years are better preserved than those who do not practice it.
- Meditation is a gymnastics of the brain: as such, it allows to improve the capacities of the brain. This was highlighted by a study conducted in 2011 by Harvard University: the structure of the brain is notably modified insofar as the researchers observed an increase in the thickness of the cerebral cortex of the hippocampus (or , this is the area that influences our ability to memorize and learn).
- Gymnastics of the brain, meditation also improves one's ability to concentrate and this is not surprising because the very essence of meditation consists in learning to focus one's attention (on one's breathing, on an idea, an object etc).
- Meditation also acts on blood pressure and helps reduce hypertension: indeed, it has been established that meditation allows blood to circulate more easily in the blood vessels and therefore reduces the pressure necessary for blood to travel through the body. .
- It is also beneficial for preventing cardiovascular disorders.
- It reduces the perception of pain and the neuronal reaction that accompanies it. As such, it is also increasingly recommended to people with cancer (not for any healing power but to feel better; therefore as a complement to the recommended care).
The benefits of meditation are therefore physiological but also psychological.
If it is acquired that it makes it possible to reduce the depressive states, anxious and the stress, one also knows that from a psychological point of view, the meditation makes it possible to act on the emotional state and on the reports/ratios that we have with others.
Meditation allows you to control your reactions and therefore to act on the symptoms that can cause social phobia (this includes stress, anxiety but also controlling your fear of others), as well as the ability to better concentrating improves empathy since the individual who meditates is more apt to listen to his fellow man.
In general, meditation therefore contributes to everyone's well-being and as such is worth practicing diligently.