Though many alternative practitioners teach meditation, the practice is increasingly a part of mainstream medicine. Indeed, recent research has tended to support meditation as a therapy for some people. Such prestigious institutions as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City offer classes in meditation not to fight cancer itself, but to help cancer patients cope with pain and other symptoms.
What is meditation?
Most commonly it requires sitting or lying quietly in a prescribed position, usually with eyes closed, so that attention is withdrawn from the outside world. It is not just sitting motionless, however. Disciplined meditation is a part of virtually all major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, and certain mystical branches of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Buddhists, especially, seek "stillness of mind" and "mindfulness" (awareness of the entirety of your current experience). Eventually, by understanding the imperfect nature of worldly things, they hope to attain a state of serenity and abandonment of ego-driven self. Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, also seek to explore and make use of the power of the mind to promote healing of body and mind, via a range of techniques. Most forms of meditation call for concentrating on breathing.
Perhaps the best-known form of meditation is "transcendental meditation," or TM. It became popular in this country in the 1960s, after being introduced in the late 1950s by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian sage who captured the attention of the world, or at least the world press, at about the same time as the Beatles. TM is less a search for contact with a deity than a means of controlling emotional stress. As in some other forms of meditation, TM involves repeating a word or phrase (called a mantra) aloud or silently.
Another popular meditation practice is known as "mindfulness" meditation. This involves cultivating a keen awareness of present experience for example, the simple act of eating a meal. You try to observe and concentrate on the texture and taste of the food on your tongue, the feel of the fork in your hand, all without making judgments. This technique has been taught for many years at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, which treats chronic pain and other ills.