Meditation is a mental discipline intended to induce a state of profound relaxation, inner harmony and increased awareness.
What can Meditation treat?
Meditation promises no specific results. What is ‘discovered’ during meditation will depend on the individual personality and needs. However, meditation has been shown to reverse the effects of stress and therefore has a positive effect on many stress-related conditions. These could include:
- high blood pressures
- headaches and migraines
- fatigue, depression, insomnia
- enhancing the immune system
- personal development
Meditation has been practised in various forms for thousands of years and is still practised by many religions around the world including Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Normally, our attention is caught not only by the demands of worldly activities but by thoughts and feelings, doubts and anxieties, ideas about ourselves and how we wish things to be. Our mental and emotional activity pulls us away from another element of ourselves, a stable core of inner poise, peace and harmony. Meditation can help restore that peace and harmony.
Many types of meditation are available in the UK. They include Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is practised by many people to alleviate stress and Buddhist meditation which encourages awareness of breathing and of positive feelings for those around you.
Various techniques can be used during meditation but all involve focusing the mind on a particular object or activity and disregarding external distractions.
Meditation has been shown to reverse the effects of stress and, while it is often practised as a means of spiritual enlightenment, it is widely used in a non-religious context to treat stress-related conditions. It can also reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol and lead to greater self-confidence and sense of self.
Consultation and treatment
It is possible to teach yourself to meditate but it is probably easier to consult a teacher who will show you how to achieve a meditative state as well as supervise progress. Practitioners may use language and ideas from a certain faith such as Buddhism but it is not necessary for you to belong to this or any other faith. Practitioners also use a variety of techniques; if you do not feel comfortable with one method, try another.
Whichever approach is chosen, there are a few basic requirements for practising meditation successfully: a quiet environment; a comfortable position (usually sitting so as to prevent you becoming drowsy or falling asleep); and a focus for the mind to help it withdraw from external reality. That focus may be a physical object, a mantra, awareness of breathing or a repetitive movement.
You will be advised to meditate on a daily basis for around 15-20 minutes, preferably at the same time of day.
Some fundholding GPs prescribe TM under the NHS but this is rare. A course of TM can be expensive (in some TM centres, four or five sessions may cost about £500) but concessionary rates as well as introductory lectures are available.
A course in Buddhist meditation costs approximately £90 (£14 concessions) for six sessions. Each session lasts up to two and a half hours and takes place once a week.
The School of Meditation requests a one-off donation of one week’s income after statutory deductions (different amounts can be agreed in advance in cases of personal hardship) for the teaching of their method. No further payment is ever required for individual guidance, even if this lasts a lifetime.
It is possible to teach yourself to meditate from books, tapes or videos. The prime aim should be to allow it to become a regular part of life. Deepening and refining the practice is a continuous process, which may require additional help.
How to find a practitioner
TM is taught in about 50 centres across the UK. Go to an introductory lecture before deciding to sign up.
The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, based at the London Buddhist Centre, have centres across the UK which offer classes in Buddhist meditation.
The School of Meditation, which teaches Mantra meditation, holds introductory public meetings at which you can learn about meditation and talk to someone about the method. Alternatively, you can make an appointment for an interview at the School’s office.
Classes are sometimes advertised in local libraries and newspapers.
Check with your doctor before starting meditation if you have a history of psychiatric problems.