Monday, 17th June 2013 9:40pm.
Harry Jackson Jr., ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 10/02/2006
Meditation is no longer the stereotype of a Buddhist monk sitting in orange robes on the floor with his legs crossed -- although that is an option.
Stephan Bodian, author of "Meditation for Dummies," says meditation is flexible. A prayer can be meditation. "Zoning out" -- becoming so focused that you perform with unsurpassed, mystical excellence -- is meditation.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes meditation as techniques that help people gain "relaxation, mental calmness and psychological balance." The agency focuses on two categories -- mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation.
While researchers have found the same mental and physiological benefits from both forms of meditation, there are some differences.
This form teaches to be aware of the moment, understanding it and getting control of it.
Origin: The practice is based in Buddhism. The practice also is used in Christian contemplative meditation practiced in cloisters and monasteries. Nowadays it's widely used outside a religious context.
Try it: The simplest form starts with being mindful of your breathing. You focus on breathing and the fullness of your lungs. Your skill expands with practice. Eventually, you learn to use mindfulness skills in everyday life, living in the moment and avoiding stress by not allowing it to develop. Several books can teach this, or there are groups and coaches in the area.
Who uses it: Health professionals find this to be the most popular method. It's the most flexible and the most accessible. Along with helping individuals find peace, it's used for family counseling, cardiac rehabilitation or heart health, and pain control in cancer centers. If you hire a teacher or join a group, fees range from free to several hundred dollars.
TM, as practitioners call it, clears the mind by focusing on the repetition of a "mantra," words or sounds.
Origin: The TM movement began with the founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu mystic from India who cultivated an oral tradition in which the practice can be passed down only by teachers for a fee of $2,500, according to TM teachers.
Try it: The mind and body relax by detaching (transcending) outside distractions. The category also is called "absorption meditation" by researchers. It's difficult to do without a TM teacher.
Who uses it: The teaching of TM operates like a business. Only practitioners who have signed up at TM centers or contract for it to be taught in institutions have access to it. TM is not widely used outside official TM circles or without their involvement. It is being used in prisons and other institutions to help troubled people get control of their mental health.
No matter which form you choose, expect meditation to enhance your enjoyment or understanding of parts of your life. It's not religion, although you may become more in tune with your religion after practicing meditation.
Practitioners suggest finding a teacher, although that isn't absolutely necessary.
Jim McLaughlin, who practices meditation, says to be patient: "Changes don't happen overnight." Research suggests that changes in your mood and well-being may take up to eight weeks of meditating regularly.
Some say "regularly" is five to 20 minutes a day; others say 40 minutes a day twice a day.
Do what feels comfortable.