The word “meditation” comes from the Latin word “meditatum,” or “to ponder.” No one knows exactly when meditation started or how, but the first time “meditato” was used to refer to a process was in the 12th century by a monk named Guigo II. Some believe that meditation may have been used even in prehistoric times by the older civilizations when they used repetitive rhythmic chants. It could have been stumbled upon by hunters and gatherers after a long day while staring into the fire in a trance, and it could have been from those spending their lives in caves learning to slip into this altered state of consciousness. There are even some early references to meditation in Hindu scriptures. Other forms of meditation began to develop in Confucian, Taoist China, and Buddhist India in the 5th and 6th centuries.
While we do not know a lot about its early history, meditation as we know it goes back at least 5,000 years and may have originated in India. This belief came from archaeologists who discovered evidence of meditation in wall art dated from 5,000 to 3,500 BC. The wall art depicts people sitting in poses which appear to be related to meditation – on the ground, legs crossed, hands on knees, and eyes narrowed. Meditation techniques are also described in Indian scriptures which date back at least 3,000 years ago.
The Hindu development of meditation began when Siddhartha Guatama reached enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi Tree around 500 BC. Siddhartha’s goal was to understand get closer to the true nature of the “God.” Hindu meditation further developed as a means of reaching a better understanding with the higher being. Buddhist meditators stopped using meditation for that purpose and began using it as a way of realizing their own interrelatedness with the universe. Siddhartha’s teachings spread these benefits across Asia. Then the Japanese monk Dosho learned Zen in China and brought it back to Japan. He developed the instructions for sitting meditation, “Zazen,” and he opened a meditation hall in Japan to teach others.
Most religions have incorporated meditation and modified it to fit their religion. In Judaism, the Kabala teaches “hitbodedut” which is one of the best-known meditative practices today. The Jews focused on prayer and study in meditation. Islam has two types of meditation. “Tafakkur” is mentioned in the Qur’an and involves contemplation and reflection on the universe. The other Islamic meditation is called Sufism, but it is not very accepted today. Islams often repeat names of their God and control their breathing. Eastern Christians focus more on postures and prayers.
Buddhism is interesting in that there are multiple variations including Zen and Tibetan. Most Buddhist meditation is focused on enlightenment.
Swami Vivekananda of the Ramakrishna mission first brought meditation to the first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893. Since then, Americans were attracted to the idea of meditation; however, despite the attraction and interest of meditation, it did not become widely popular in America until the mid-20th century when Hindu and Buddhist teachers traveled the Western world and taught yoga, meditation, zen, and more.
In the 1960s and 70s, people began to study and test meditation to learn about its benefits. Until then, meditation was largely considered a religious activity aimed at spiritual enlightenment and was not performed for health and other benefits. In 1963, an Australian psychiatrist named Ainslie Meares published his theory of therapeutic meditation which used meditation (or what is now known as Stillness Meditation Therapy) which focuses on mental rest to treat anxiety, pain, and later to help manage cancer. Meares found that meditation naturally rests the mind and relieves anxiety. As a result, it converts “reaction” into “calmness” which leads to overall better health.
Dr. Herbert Benson, an American at Harvard, found that there were benefits of meditation beyond religion, and he published those results in the 1970s. He found that when the nervous system went into “fight or flight” mode, our blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rates rose. He believed that this stress was harmful to the body. In the late 1970s, an American medical biologist named Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Meditation for the sole purpose of managing stress.
Meditation is now used even outside religious groups for well-being, relaxation, and mental health and stability. Further research into the results of meditation has been impressive. Research indicates that meditation helps with both relaxing as well as stimulating. Meditation is now widely used for improved physical, emotional, and mental health, and ongoing research is still uncovering more and more benefits of meditation.
Meditation can help achieve mental and physical muscle relaxation which helps reduce stress. Relaxing and reducing stress also helps provide a more peaceful overall frame of mind. With the increased relaxation, reduced stress, and peaceful frame of mind, people are able to better manage chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and other issues. By reducing stress, people are also able to think more clearly and make better choices. The reduced stress and increased relaxation also helps combat cardiovascular, immune, and neurological hindrances. It has been shown that meditation aids in physically lowering the heart rate and high blood pressure. It also helps slow breathing which can help with issues such as anxiety and asthma. Relaxing the mind and reducing stress also helps reduce the symptoms of hormonal issues arising from pre-menstrual syndrome and menopause. Surprisingly, people have also used meditation to help quit smoking, using drugs, and drinking. The physical benefits of meditation have led to an overall increase in physical health in the population who meditate on a regular basis.
In addition to the physical benefits discussed above, it was also found that meditation helps achieve enhanced focus, creativity, and self-awareness. People who practice mindfulness meditation find an increase in attention, self-control, and awareness. By allowing the mind to explore, meditation is encouraging creativity, learning, and memory. Meditation can train the mind to pay closer attention to details, and it teaches the mind to engage in the present moment rather than continually jumping to other times and places. The increased self-awareness and self-control help people process thoughts, feelings, and sensations while keeping their mood and attitude in check. Mindfulness meditation teaches openness, acceptance, and thought rather than instant reaction. With these benefits, it’s no surprise that meditation tends to lead to an overall increased self-esteem, self-control, and an overall happier and healthier life.
Buddha Groove The History and Origin of Meditation Unknown https://www.buddhagroove.com/the-history-and-origin-of-meditation/
Meditation Meditation: Benefits Glenda http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring05/Luft/benefits.htm
Meditation Meditation: History Glenda http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring05/Luft/history.htm
Meditation Association of Australia A Brief History of Meditation Unknown http://meditationaustralia.org.au/brief-history-of-meditation
Positive Psychology Program A (Quick) History of Meditation for Beginners Reham Al Taher https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/history-of-meditation/
Psychology Today An Overview of Meditation: It’s Origins and Traditions Robert Puff, Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meditation-modern-life/201307/overview-meditation-its-origins-and-traditions