Complementary Health Approaches

Frequently Asked Questions

8. What is meditation?

Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.

(Watch this video to see how meditation is practiced. To enlarge the videos on this page, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screens. To reduce the videos, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).

(Watch this video to learn more about the origins and traditions of meditation.)

In the past few years, a lot of research has been done on a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation, which involves completely focusing on experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. Research results suggest that mindfulness meditation may have beneficial effects, such as relieving pain, helping people with insomnia sleep better, and reducing the severity of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

See what the science says about the effectiveness of meditation.