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Representation of the Buddha in meditation posture ( Dhyana mudra , Polonnaruwa )
Charles West Cope - Maiden Meditation
Meditation in the park ( Malmö , 1983)
Joint meditation in Madison Square Park ( New York City , 2010)

Meditation (from Latin meditatio to meditari "to think, ponder, consider, find the middle" from ancient Greek μέδομαι medomai "think, sense"; there is an etymological reference to the stem of the Latin adjective medius, -a, -um "middle [r, - s] ”before) is a spiritual practice practiced in many religions and cultures . Through mindfulness - or concentration exercises , the intended spirit of calm and collect. In Eastern cultures, meditation is considered a fundamental and central mind-expanding exercise. The desired states of consciousness are, depending on tradition, described differently and often with terms such as silence , inner calm, emptiness, panoramic awareness, oneness, being in the here and now or being free of thoughts . According to the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers, this overcomes the subject-object split .

The term has also been used for texts that present the results of concentrated, in-depth reflection, such as Marcus Aurel's self- reflections or Descartes ' meditations on the foundations of philosophy .

Religious roots

Meditation occupies an important place as a form of experience and life in many cultures and religions. In Buddhism , Hinduism, and Jainism , the ultimate goal is enlightenment or attainment of nirvana . In Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, the ultimate goal of meditative practice is to experience the divine directly. Meditation as a spiritual practice is always integrated into different religious , psychological and ethical teaching structures. In Western countries, meditation is also practiced independently of religious aspects or spiritual goals to support general well-being and as part of psychotherapy . In the older German usage, the term "meditation" simply means thinking about a topic or the results of this thought process. Meditative practices are an integral part of many religions. Their spectrum is wide.

Far Eastern Traditions

Meditating Indian Jainas

Especially in Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism , meditation has a similar meaning to prayer in Christianity (cf. contemplation ). As an organized lore, meditation can be most traced back to the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India . As Jhana (in Sanskrit : Dhyana ) different states of immersion are described, to which today the Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen can be traced back. A diverse and traditional form of meditation also developed in Indian yoga (the preliminary stage is concentration). In particular, the Sūtras in Raja Yoga have shaped many techniques to this day, such as dealing with the breath in Pranayama and the systematic classification of the states of consciousness associated with meditation. Within these traditions, all meditation pursues spiritual goals. Daoist meditation is characterized by concentration, introspection and visualizations, the goal is to achieve unity with the Dao and the associated physical or spiritual immortality.

Christian traditions

In medieval Christianity, the “spiritual exercises” lectio (attentive reading), meditatio (object-free viewing), oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (objective viewing, contemplation ) were passed on to gather the mind (see in detail: Lectio divina ). Especially in the mystical traditions , the mind and thinking should come to rest in order to expose the "one source". Instructions were also published in the Middle Ages, such as The Cloud of Ignorance or the writings of Teresa of Ávila . Elements of meditative practice can be found to this day in the retreats of Ignatius von Loyola , some Benedictine and Franciscan traditions and in the Eastern Church in hesychasm .


The various meditation techniques differ according to their traditional religious origin, according to different directions or schools within the religions and often also according to individual teachers within such schools. In many schools different techniques are taught depending on the progress of the meditator. In addition to traditional meditation techniques, many forms of meditation that have been inspired by Far Eastern teachings and adapted to Western needs have been practiced in the West since the 1970s. Although many techniques and forms have their origins in religion, meditation can be practiced without belonging to any religion.

Meditation techniques are understood as an aid to practice a state of consciousness that is different from everyday consciousness, in which the present experience is in the foreground, free from usual thinking, especially from evaluations and from the subjective meaning of the past (memories) and the future (plans, fears, etc. .). Many meditation techniques are supposed to help to reach a state of consciousness in which extremely clear, wide-awake awareness and deepest relaxation are possible at the same time.

The meditation techniques can be roughly divided into two groups:

  • into physically passive (contemplative) meditation, which is practiced while sitting still, and
  • physically active meditation, in which physical exercise, mindful action or reciting aloud are part of the meditation practice.

The classification refers only to the external shape. Both forms of meditation can mentally include active directing attention as well as passive letting go and letting go.

In common parlance, meditation is often only understood as the passive form, as it is symbolized in images of the meditating Buddha .

Passive meditation

Silence or calm meditation

In the Christian traditions there are different instructions and steps for meditation and contemplation. The “path to God” usually begins with the study of the scriptures ( lectio divina ) and prayer in words, spoken or thought (oratio). Objective contemplation follows, where one dwells on a little and contemplates this repeatedly (meditatio), and leads over to the prayer of calm, where thoughts also rest (contemplatio), in which the adept climbs into the cloud of ignorance . The ultimate goal is to experience the meditative state of consciousness and normal daytime consciousness at the same time; there is no longer any separation between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa.

Mindfulness or insight meditation

Buddhist monk meditating

Vipassana and Zazen are the most popular passive meditation forms in the West from the traditional Buddhist schools of contemplation. Elements of the Buddhist mindfulness practice found their way into the western approach to mindfulness . This resulted in the mindfulness-based stress reduction (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, MBCT), which are effective and ideological free clinical programs.

In Vipassana and Zazen meditation, the meditator sits in an upright posture that maintains a harmonious relationship between tension and relaxation. With the different variants, also within the meditation schools, the basis of the practice is the complete awareness of the mental, emotional and physical phenomena in the present moment. Both schools teach non-judgmental and unintentional awareness in the here and now, without being attached to thoughts, sensations or feelings. The aim of meditation is the transcendent spiritual experience, as it is described in the Heart Sutra as the dissolution of every duality, with which a liberation from the self (“my ego” in the conventional sense) should go hand in hand. A western representative of the Vipassana tradition is the American psychologist and psychotherapist Jack Kornfield .

Concentration meditation

In Samatha meditation, which is also called calmness meditation, the practitioner focuses on a single object such as the perceptible breath, a chakra , an imagined image, a single thought or a mantra . The concentrated focus on an object causes an elimination or replacement of the everyday flow of thoughts and thus leads to a deep calming of the mind.

Samatha meditation and Vipassana meditation are sometimes described as different forms of meditation in their own right. Often, however, Samatha meditation is considered an introduction or preparation for Vipassana meditation.

A special form of concentration meditation can be found in the name prayer . In this type, divine names are used as a mantra or in a mantra-like form.

Meditation is also an essential element of the anthroposophy founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) . In his work Steiner describes various techniques of meditation as a deepening and strengthening of thinking that can be assigned to concentration meditation. “With most other types of meditation, anthroposophic meditation has the goal in common of overcoming the separation of the person experiencing himself as a subject from a world experienced as an object. In contrast to most types of meditation with a Buddhist or Hindu background, Steiner [...] was concerned [...] with specifically seeking out this ground of being in the phenomena and qualities of the world. The aim of this approach is to enable people to have a spiritual relationship with the world and with themselves [...]. "

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a meditation technique taught by the Indian teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008) and his organizations. From their point of view, the Transcendental Meditation is the authentic meditation technique of the Vedic tradition , revived by Maharishi's teacher Brahmananda Saraswati (former Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath ) and compatible with all religious and ideological convictions. It has been spread around the world since the late 1950s. Aid of technology is a word, a mantra that can be used in a simple, natural and effortless way, without the aid of concentration or contemplation . When used correctly, the meditator experiences deep stillness with simultaneously increased alertness. As practice progressed, in addition to waking, dream and deep sleep, the “fourth main state of consciousness” stabilized: Calm wakefulness is now experienced 24 hours a day together with the three main states of consciousness. From here, higher states of consciousness developed, which finally culminated in the sensual experience of unity of self and world (“unity consciousness”). TM is practiced comfortably and upright with closed eyes twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time. Half a dozen advanced techniques as well as the "TM-Sidhi program", which is based on the ancient Yoga Sutras Patanjalis , complete the basic technique. These meditation techniques can be learned in courses from the TM organization or from independent TM teachers.

Active meditation

Tea ceremony
Yoga exercise

Zen Buddhism

In addition to Kinhin (walking meditation), which is practiced between passive zazen times, in Zen a mindful meditative posture is also practiced in very different activities, such as B. Sadō (or Chadō) - the path of the tea ceremony (tea path), Shodō - the path of writing, Kadō - the path of flower arrangement (also: Ikebana ), Suizen - the artful game of the Shakuhachi bamboo flute, Zen garden - the art of Garden design, Kyūdō - the art of archery - or Budō - the war route. During a sesshin , meditating together in a Zen monastery or training center over longer periods, the daily activities of Samu (washing dishes, cleaning, gardening, etc.) are also performed with great presence of mind, specific form and mindfulness.


Tantra has its roots in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is the study of the flow of Kundalini or the Qi as the later Taoism called. Tantra is a mystical path of initiation, in the meditations of which one works with the visualization of various deities and the recitation of mantras. Hindu Tantra in connection with Kundalini and the doctrine of chakras became known in the West through the work of John Woodroffe , the Buddhist variant through Vajrayana Buddhism, which is also called Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism. In the higher tantras rituals involving sexual power can be practiced with a partner, where sexuality is viewed as the path to the original source of life force (Kundalini). Special inner postures as well as breathing and energy techniques could lead to spiritual experiences via ecstatic experiences during sexual union. This vague knowledge of such practices led to what is now mostly known as Neotantra , which can be described more as sex therapy work.


In the tradition of yoga , various postures and exercises, breathing techniques as well as fasting and other types of asceticism support meditation. In Raja Yoga, Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and Dharana (concentration) are the preliminary stages of meditation ( Dhyana ). Here Dhyana denotes the necessary preliminary stage to Ishvara-Samadhi. Asanas that have been held quietly for long periods of time are already meditative. In Jnana Yoga , meditation is seen as a natural being and is therefore not explicitly practiced. A western branch of Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Silence .

Martial arts

Even martial arts may be the subject vehicle and meditation: Especially in the Taoist traditions of Internal Martial Arts (. Eg Taijiquan , Xingyiquan etc.) of the meditative aspect plays a major role. In some styles, the fighting origin is almost completely receding. Also in many of the external martial arts (e.g. karate , judo , aikidō and also kinomichi ) meditative practices are practiced or their aspects are brought out. Kenei Mabuni , son of the founder of the Karate style Shitō-Ryū , emphasizes this aspect with his statement: Karate is Zen in motion .

Newer Far Eastern inspired meditation methods

Among the most famous newer active meditation methods are those developed by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh ( Osho ) in his Ashram in Pune (1970) for people from the West. Before the actual meditation phase, mental and physical tension should be relieved through active movement and increased breathing and the feeling for one's own body should be intensified. The dynamic meditation , Kundalini meditation , Nadabrahma meditation and Nataraj meditation are known .

As a result, numerous active meditation methods were developed as part of the New Age movement, which are often offered as music CD with movement instructions or an accompanying book.

Walking meditation

Often a physical activity also serves as a focus of meditation. The simplest activity that is used in this way is probably walking, which is common both in Christian culture (with various monastic orders etc.) and in the Far Eastern, e.g. B. in Zen (known there as Kinhin ), is used. The best-known representative of this form of meditation in the West is the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh , who came from Vietnam and has lived in France since 1971 .


As with some of the more recent Far Eastern-inspired forms of meditation, dancing can be part of the preparation for the actual meditation in silence. In the oriental tradition the dervish dance is in Sufism , in Islamic mysticism such a preparation for meditative immersion. The dervish dance leads to a state of consciousness with freedom from thoughts and bodily centeredness, which is a favorable condition for meditation and here for the dhikr , the uninterrupted awareness of the presence of God .

Classical (Greek) circle dances , performed slowly step by step, are used in between in some meditation seminars. They are intended to enable meditators to have a stronger conscious connection with their own body, which can sometimes get lost during long meditation sessions. Sacred dance is a special form of meditative dance .

Music and recitation

Many schools use rhythmic sounds and music to make meditation easier. In the Christian tradition , these are especially chorales as they are mainly known from Gregorian chant . The rosary prayer in Christianity has meditative aspects, as do the litanies (including the All Saints Litany). The Jesus prayer , which comes from the Eastern Church , can be understood as a mindfulness exercise or meditation. The same goes for the prayer of rest . In Hinduism and Buddhism, mantras are recited - either silently, softly or as chants ( chanting ). The repetitive forms of prayer in Christianity, which are essentially meditation paths, such as the centering prayer or the Jesus prayer, also work with mantras, which is why one can speak of mantric prayer in this regard.

See also: ACEM meditation , Benson meditation , vocal meditation and Qigong


The various techniques sometimes prefer certain postures or are limited by their technique, such as walking meditation. Asanas and positions such as the lotus position , seiza , sitting, and kneeling positions are popular in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, although other postures such as lying and standing are also used. Meditation is also sometimes performed while walking (walking meditation), or performing a simple task known as samu .

Meditation research

In Germany, the psychologists Ulrich Ott and Tania Singer are primarily concerned with neurobiological meditation research. In November 2010 the interdisciplinary congress "Meditation and Science" took place in Berlin for the first time. It was organized by the Identity Foundation and the Oberberg Foundation.

Since 2001 the Society for Meditation and Meditation Research e. V. (SMMR) holds annual interdisciplinary conferences and symposia. The SMMR is a non-profit association founded in 2000 and based in Cologne, which promotes meditation research in Europe through conferences, research awards, the coordination of research projects and publications.

The Mind and Life Institute , with the participation of recognized scientists, is trying to investigate the effects of meditation on the brain and vice versa.

Effects of Meditation

Regular meditation can have a calming effect and is often recommended in certain forms as a relaxation technique in Western medicine . The effect, the meditative state, can be measured neurologically as a change in the brain waves . The heartbeat is slowed down, breathing deepens, muscle tension is reduced.

In 2004, Richard Davidson recorded greater activity in the left frontal lobe of Tibetan monks and the gamma waves were more than 30 times more pronounced than in the control group.

Also morphological changes were by Ulrich Ott and Sara Lazar are occupied; the density of nerve cells in the orbitofrontal cortex was higher and those areas of the cerebral cortex that are “important for cognitive and emotional processes and well-being” were up to five percent thicker compared to the comparison group.

Systematic reviews

Some authors of systematic reviews criticized the methodological quality of many studies, but concluded that there is evidence that mindfulness training has beneficial effects on various aspects of mental health , such as: B. Mood , life satisfaction , emotion regulation , and the extent of psychological symptoms .

In 2007, MB Ospina, K. Bond analyzed 813 medical and psychological scientific papers on behalf of the US Department of Health , which had dealt with the effects of meditation on high blood pressure , cardiovascular diseases and drug and drug abuse. Of the 813 studies found, 147 (16%) examined mindfulness meditation (including 49 MBSR , 28 Zen meditation , 7 MBCT , 6 Vipassana meditation), 50 of which had a randomized-controlled study design. According to the authors, there is “enormous interest” in using meditation as therapy today. In the studies on meditation and health published up to 2005, a large part of such evidence is more "anecdotal" or comes from inadequate research. However, there is evidence that "certain types" of meditation can reduce high blood pressure and stress in patients, and in healthy people it has been shown that practices such as yoga can increase verbal expressiveness and lower heart rate , blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, the methodological quality of the investigations is rather poor. A consistent theoretical point of view seems to be lacking. Future investigations would have to apply stricter standards in terms of execution, analysis and writing. From the results of their work, however, the conclusion should not be drawn that meditation does not work. According to Ospina, the indications of the therapeutic effects are just not yet sufficiently conclusive; For example, there is a lot of uncertainty about the meditation practice itself. The review divided meditation into five categories: mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga , taijiquan, and qigong . Transcendental meditation and the relaxation-response technique have been studied most frequently , followed by yoga and mindfulness meditation.

In a review by Goyal et al. (2015), the effect of meditation programs on several parameters (anxiety, depression, stress / strain, positive mood, mental health, quality of life, attention, substance use, food, sleep, pain and weight) was assessed in different ways studied adult clinical populations. For mindfulness meditation programs, there was relatively clear evidence of improvement in anxiety, depression, and pain and less significant evidence of improvement in stress / strain and quality of life related to mental health. Little or no significant evidence for the effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, food, sleep and weight. No evidence was found that meditation programs were better than active treatment (medication, exercise, other behavioral therapies).

The effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for preventing relapse of depression has been sufficiently proven and was therefore included as a therapy recommendation in the S3 guideline on depression .


A comprehensive meta-analysis by Fox et al. (2014) based on various studies of imaging methods (n = 21) showed that meditation changes the area of ​​the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions associated with body awareness. The effect size was given as medium ( Cohen's d = 0.46). However, funnel plots show that there may be a publication bias , which is why these results should be interpreted with caution.

Another work by Fox et al. a. (2016), which is based on 78 studies of imaging procedures for examining the brain, also showed that different meditation techniques are consistently associated with different brain activities. It follows that, in order to examine the effects of meditation exercises, test subjects should be examined who use similar or identical meditation techniques. In addition, it was shown that activations in individual brain regions are accompanied by reduced activity in other brain regions.

A meta-analysis by Sedlmeier et al. from 2012 showed that meditation training had a positive effect on a wide range of psychological variables. The mean effect size was given as medium (d = 0.58).

Specific effects of meditation on cognitive functions

The current study situation suggests that meditation has a positive effect on various areas of cognition :

The meta-analysis by Sedlmeier et al. (2012) based on 163 studies found positive effects of medium size (between r = 0.25 and 0.30) for the influence of meditation on variables such as perception, cognition and attention. In addition, the length of the meditation experience is positively related to these measures (but only over a period of up to 10 years), with the greatest positive changes within the first 4 years. Meditation was more effective across all examined variables compared to relaxation techniques (r = 0.21). According to the meta-analysis, relaxation techniques are only slightly more effective than no training at all.

There is also evidence that even relatively brief practice of various mindfulness meditations (8 weeks or short intensive retreats ) improves certain levels of attention (e.g. sustained, selective, and executive attention). The effects of different mindfulness meditation practices seem to depend on the quality and quantity of the practice.

A reduced reactivity to emotionally charged stimuli (in the form of images) and an increased ability to concentrate could also be demonstrated after seven weeks of training in mindfulness meditation.

Jha et al. (2010) concluded that training in mindfulness can protect against dysfunction from a study of military personnel who were exposed to high levels of stress. The effects of training (e.g., improving working memory capacity) were more pronounced in people who meditate more.

Another study examined the relationship between meditation, self-reported mindfulness, cognitive flexibility and attentional performance. In contrast to participants without meditation experience, experienced meditators showed greater cognitive flexibility and attentiveness.

Other researchers examined changes in cognition after four days of meditation training in participants with no prior meditation experience. Here it was shown that even short meditation training significantly improved spatial-visual processing , memory and the ability to maintain attention.


Similar spiritually meaningful states of consciousness or mystical experiences , as they are strived for or experienced in meditation, are also sought through trance and ecstasy techniques ( trance dance), holotropic breathing or psychotropic substances . Meditation differs significantly from such practices for expanding consciousness in that it is almost always presupposed and supported by a clear and alert awareness. In some traditions, for example in Christian mysticism or in Vajrayana Buddhism, there are also flowing transitions between meditation and trance induction. Transcendental experiences are also possible with forms of prayer such as those practiced in Judaism and Christianity. The essential distinguishing feature between prayer and meditation is the communicative component in addressing a higher being in prayer. In Christian meditation, however, listening to God is always a crucial component.

In Buddhism, especially in its tantric variant, and in Hinduism there are spiritual invocation practices that are very similar to prayer, but are called meditation there.

“Meditating means getting absorbed in an idea and getting lost in it, while thinking means jumping from one idea to another, romping about in quantity, accumulating nothing, pursuing concept after concept, goal after goal. Meditating and thinking are two divergent, incompatible activities. "

- Emile Cioran : The failed creation. 1949

Meditation center

Poggersdorf, Austria

It is a term from the western cultural area . Some of the New Age centers founded in the second half of the 20th century have a communal building or a central assembly room that is used either also or exclusively as a meditation center in religious and / or spiritual communities and groups, or in the case of ashrams becomes. The Universal Hall in the Scottish Findhorn Foundation is an example of a changing use with inserted meditation times , while the Matrimandir in Auroville, South India , is an exclusively meditative use in absolute silence .

Meditation retreat

Meditation Retreat ( German: Meditation Retreat ) is a new term from the English-speaking world and stands for a break through meditation in a group with other meditators under the guidance of a meditation teacher. You go to a meditation retreat center for at least a few hours and up to several months, which are spread around the world. The focus is on meditation. Goals, such as stress reduction and the course of the program , vary according to the orientation of the respective provider.


Web links

Commons : Meditation  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Meditation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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