History of Meditation: East and West
It is believed that meditation and its benefits have been practiced since well before written history, using basic meditation techniques such as stargazing or staring into a fire.
The first written record of an actual meditation technique was from 5000 years ago in Hindu scriptures. Building on this, Gotama Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE) was responsible for spreading meditation across the Asian continent during and after his life. However, the benefits of meditation didn't remain limited to only Buddhists and Hindus. Cultures across Asia adapted meditation methods to compliment their own religious beliefs and spiritual practices, resulting in a broad range of meditation traditions and styles. For example, the Sufi branch of Islam uses meditation practices, believing that the prophet Mohammed himself had encouraged it.
Western styles of meditation, including contemplation and prayer, began in ancient times as part of Greek and Egyptian mystery religions, Judaism, early Christianity, Islam and extend into the practices of today. In these religious traditions, Western style meditation plays a key role for many religious followers, especially monks and other contemplatives. Pagan and indigenous religions also often include meditation training, mostly of the Western visualization or contemplation type.
In some form or another, meditation appears in just about every one of the world's religions, including Judaism, Christianity, aboriginal religions, Native American traditions, and of course, Dharmic religion.
The popularity of meditation rose in North America during the 1960's and 1970's, fed by the attention it had received from pop icons such as the Beatles. In conjunction with this popularity - primarily among the North American youth - scientists began to explore the potential medical benefits that meditation has to offer. It was soon accepted as a practical holistic approach to healing, and is now regularly practiced for the promotion of healing and the control of stress. It has also been embraced by the self-help and human potential fields, driving much of what has become the modern New Age movement.
Meditation overview: East and West
When most people think about meditation as a whole, it is the eastern version that comes to mind. This is likely because the root of one of the primary categories of meditation is of the Asian Dharmic religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism. Also, modern media almost always portray meditation in an eastern context.
Meditation in Asia is also a part of activities that have no base in religion, such as several forms of martial arts. Yoga is an increasingly popular form of meditation, which incorporates certain physical poses in order to assist in centering the mind. The majority of eastern meditation styles are called "japa" meditations, which means that a mantra, word, or even sound is repeated in order to achieve the right focus. And yet other eastern styles employ focus on an object, concentration on breathing, or involve chakra meditation.
Several kinds of eastern meditation are widely accepted as having health advantages on a physical and mental level.
On the other hand, western style meditation is also beneficial to help people to reach a happier and more positive perspective when managing their daily lives. Many practitioners feel as though their minds are much clearer in times when difficult decisions - at work, and in their personal life - must be made. Furthermore, life is often perceived as much fuller when meditation is regularly practiced, as it allows for a much truer level of self-awareness.
Western style meditation is comparable to eastern meditation, but many people raised in contemporary western society find it to be more practical and suited to their uses. Though the goal remains the same - inner awareness and self improvement - its techniques include those that help the practitioner find guidance and understanding in order to reach a specific goal.
When practiced daily, decisions are made with more clarity, and crises are managed quickly, effectively, and with a minimum amount of upset. It is the crisis management aspect of western meditation that is so frequently appealing to people born and raised in the Western world.
The techniques are also very effective in conditioning the ego to become more self-reliant in life, through rational planning and effective problem solving. However, as much as self-reliance is encouraged, meditation will also deepen one's connection with others.