Meditation as a form of alternative medicine brings about mental calmness and physical relaxation by suspending the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. Generally performed once or twice a day for approximately 20 minutes at a time, meditation is used to reduce stress, alter hormone levels, and elevate one's mood.
This type of meditation is a special form of meditation in which all religious or mystical aspects have been removed. It is purely a type of mental exercise designed to improve overall health by reducing the global effects of chronic stress.
Meditation generally involves avoiding (though not forcefully) wandering thoughts and fantasies, and calming and focusing the mind. A range of strategies exist for focusing one's attention. It need not be effortful, and can be experienced as just happening. Physical postures include sitting cross-legged, standing, lying down, and walking (sometimes along designated floor patterns).
Health applications of meditation
Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. For example, in an early study in 1972 transcendental meditation was shown to effect the human metabolism by lowering the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lactate (lactic acid), and by decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and inducing favorable brain waves. (Scientific American 226: 84-90 (1972))
A person experienced in meditation can achieve a reduction in blood pressure, adrenaline levels, heart rate, and skin temperature." (See CDC Advance Data Report #343 below, page 18.)
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is a growing consensus in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund and do research in this area (e.g. the establishment by the NIH in the U.S. of 5 research centers to research the mind-body aspects of disease.)
A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), what was used, and why it was used in the United States by adults age 18 years and over during 2002. According to this recent survey, meditation was the third most commonly used CAM therapy (7.6%) in the United States during 2002 (See CDC Advance Data Report #343 below, table 1 on page 8) when all use of prayer was excluded. Breathing meditation, or deep breathing exercises was the second mostly use form of CAM therapy (11.6%). Consistent with previous studies, this study found that the majority of individuals (i.e., 54.9%) used CAM in conjunction with conventional medicine ( page 6).
Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that Zazen or Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain in his landmark book Zen and the Brain. This has been confirmed using sophisticated imaging techniques which examine the electrical activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response." The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry.
The Urantia Book indicates that relaxation is similarly a result of dynamic-mind meditation, thus its health benefits should be the same. However this has not been confirmed by scientific investigations.