Often, people show up to the meditation classes I give with no real idea of what meditation actually is. Essentially, they are acting on a sense that it might help with whatever personal requirements they might be have at the time. However, those requirements vary widely from person to person – ranging from dealing with stress and health issues to pursuing more ‘spiritual’ goals – self-growth and self-discovery. So in the light of all these competing demands, what can we say about meditation’s ability to answer them?
The same practices apply to answer different needs
It turns out that many of the same kinds of meditation practices that have been used for spiritual purposes for generations also have significant health and stress relief benefits. For a look at the literature on the health benefits of meditation, my colleague Bhadra Kleinmann’s article The health benefits of meditation on this site makes for very informative reading. (Very often in the literature the word mindfulness is used instead of meditation.)
What you want is what you get
The intention with which you come to meditation with has a significant influence on what benefits you obtain from it (Shapiro, Carlson, Astin & Freedman, 2006). In other words, what you want from meditation influences what you get out of it – be it some momentary stress relief, or deeper insights into your own being.
…and sometimes what you want changes.
An early study suggests that for some people, their aim changes as they pursue their meditation practice further, from more health-related to more self-reflective or spiritual topics (Shapiro, 1992). This is something I have noticed myself when teaching introductory classes free of charge for the general public on behalf of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. As a meditation group, our own approach at is one of spiritual awareness and self-discovery – however, being aware that there are a lot of people at the class who don’t identify as being spiritual, I’ll start in the first class by first discussing the wide spectrum of reasons people look at meditation (like I do above). I’ll explain that later classes will focus more and more on the spiritual side of things, but at least from the first couple of classes those who are only interested in the health and stress benefits will still gain a lot of practical meditation techniques as well as valuable information on setting up their own practice which will be useful no matter what. Over the years, I have noticed that in each class there are always a few people who were self-declared non spiritual types, that stick around and become interested in the self-discovery and self-growth aspects of meditation.