The Benefits of Meditation

Daily stresses and distractions can frazzle your brain. With meditation, you shut the world out and concentrate on calm.

By Eric Metcalf
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

This is how Kimberly Montgomery, 52, a clinical psychologist from Indianapolis, describes the experience of meditation:

Picture yourself in a room in a huge castle. You find the door that allows you to walk out of the castle, and you do so. As you cross to the other side of the moat and keep walking, the massive castle dwindles in size behind you, and you can now see the forest around it, and then a distant village.

Your “castle” could be a rut or something oppressive you're trapped in, and the meditation gives you a sense of space, says Montgomery.

Like Montgomery, a growing number of Americans are seeking the benefits of this popular form of alternative medicine. In 2007, a national survey found that nearly 10 percent of adults — more than 20 million people — had meditated in the previous year. That number had grown by nearly 24 percent since 2002.

Meditation: The Types

During meditation, people typically rest in a quiet location and focus their mind on a particular thought or activity. There are two common forms of meditation: transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation.

In transcendental meditation, or TM, the practitioner sits in a comfortable position and silently repeats a sound, or mantra. Eventually, the individual reaches a state in which the mind is free of thoughts, and is silent, peaceful, but conscious.

Types of mindfulness meditation include:

Zen Buddhist meditation. With this type of meditation, you breathe in a precise manner while counting your breaths or focusing on a particular thought. As you do this, you become aware of being in the present moment.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). This program has been used to address chronic pain and illnesses. Again, it requires you to focus on your breath as it enters and exits your body, and when distracting thoughts intrude, you return your attention to the breathing and let the thoughts pass by. Another aspect involves "scanning" different parts of your body with your mind to assess the sensations in the parts... more story at