Table of contents
What does meditation mean?
Meditation is an umbrella term for many different mental exercises that have been practised for thousands of years in various religious traditions. Meditation is a central element in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity in particular.
Since the 20th century, meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in the "western" world and science and research are also investigating the subject with growing interest. An essential element of all meditative techniques is the conscious control of attention with the aim of achieving a state of inner peace. This state can also be thought of as thoughtless awareness. Bodyscan is also a form of meditation, see article Bodyscan.
What meditation techniques are there?
A basic distinction is made between two types of mediation:
- Passive meditation: Focusing attention while sitting or lying down, without moving
- Active meditation: Here, additional physical exercises are performed, e.g. in yoga or some martial arts styles. But chanting mantras or praying are also part of it.
Meditation techniques are now a dime a dozen. What they all have in common is the focus on one's own inner world by gently directing one's attention inwards, e.g. by concentrating on the breath. You become a silent observer of your own thoughts, feelings and emotions without judging them. The art here is to remain in the observing position and not to be carried away by arising distractions. This is a challenge, especially for beginners, but it becomes easier with practice.
Tip: Digressing from conscious awareness and observation is quite normal. When meditating, if you notice that your thoughts are everywhere but on your breath, register this and gently return your attention to your breath without judgement.
By the way, when meditating you can also focus on other things than your own breathing rhythm. Other objects could also be, for example, physical sensations, emotions, smells, sounds or an image in the mind's eye.
How do I meditate properly and how often should I meditate?
First of all, you should detach yourself from expectations of immediately reaching a transcendental state and not put any pressure on yourself. There is nothing wrong with meditating! However, it takes a little discipline, especially in the beginning, to make meditation a regular practice. But what regular means to you is up to you. It is worth trying out different meditation exercises at the beginning - because not all techniques are equally suitable for every person.
How can I learn to meditate?
There are different ways to learn to meditate:
- Courses on site
- Exchange with other beginners and advanced learners
- Books on Meditation & Meditation Exercises
- Online courses & numerous guided meditation videos
- With apps
Meditation and Osteopathy
When patients come in for a consultation, their complaints and health problems are only the tip of the iceberg.
Underneath, usually relatively unnoticed, a multitude of longer and shorter lasting, more or less interacting, mutually reinforcing or diminishing risk factors, mechanisms of action and influences are at work, e.g. Genetics, course of pregnancy, pre-, peri-, postnatal factors, stress in early life, infections, accidents, top-down and bottom-up processes (e.g. belief systems, emotional experience, neurovegetative states, etc.), life circumstances (occupation, partnership, finances, family situation, friendships, living conditions), living habits, states of the metabolic, immune, hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
With osteopathic touch we can also grasp certain parts of the invisible iceberg. But this requires further expertise and perceptual tools, which is why I have developed psychosomatic osteopathy (Liem, Neuhuber 2020a), see Article
Patients can actively support their osteopathic treatment by training their awareness of the interactions that are constantly at work in their lives and are thus more able not only to perceive them, but also to take better and more adequate responsibility for themselves and their environment.
Apart from this, intensive meditation and mindfulness training seems to improve the haptic threshold in osteopaths (Sange 2013).
Sange, S. Influence of mindfulness exercises and meditation on haptic perception. Manual Medicine. 2013; 51: 479-483.
The effect of meditation on body and mind - state of research
- Mindfulness meditation and the immune system - The results of a 2017 systematic review suggest possible effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity and biological ageing. Mindfulness mediation could have salutogenic effects on immune system dynamics, but further work is needed to investigate these effects in more detail (Black et Slavich 2017).
- Meditation and brain organisation - An Italian meta-analysis has used available neuroimaging data to examine the effects of meditation on brain structure and function. The results show that meditation leads to activation in brain areas involved in processing self-relevant information, self-regulation, focused problem solving, adaptive behaviour and interoception. Furthermore, in experienced meditators, a meditation practice leads to functional and structural brain changes, especially in areas involved in self-referential processes such as self-awareness and self-regulation (Boccia et al 2015). Top-down therapies such as imagination or meditation initiate conscious and voluntary mental processes at the level of the cerebral cortex (Taylor et al 2010). They cause a shift in brain function, associated with a reorganisation of neuronal representations within the CNS and improved bidirectional communication between the cerebral cortex and the limbic system and brainstem structures that regulate autonomic, neuroendocrine and emotional behaviour (Liem, Neuhuber 2020b, Craig 2002, Critchley et al 2001, Saper 2002).
- Meditation and gene expression - It is now considered certain that our environment influences gene expression, and not only the physical influences, but also psychological, social and cultural components play a role in gene expression. The first studies on yogic and meditative practices indicate that these practices positively influence gene expression profiles in immune cells in the bloodstream. This shows that mindfulness training can benefit physiology at its most basic level. However, further studies and meta-analyses are needed to assess the exact molecular networks (Saatcioglu 2013).
- Mindfulness-based meditation and chronic pain - The therapeutic effectiveness of meditation on chronic pain has been well documented since the 1980s. In a 10-week study, mindfulness-based meditation was used for stress reduction, relaxation and self-regulation in 51 chronic pain patients. The meditation intervention was effective for back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, headache, facial pain, angina pectoris and non-coronary chest pain. The mechanism of action of meditation in this study was the development of a mindful attitude towards propioception. (Perception of one's own body according to its position in space, the positions of the head, torso and limbs in relation to each other as well as their changes as movements together with the sensation of heaviness, tension, strength and speed). suggested. A distanced observation of the experience of pain seems to bring about a decoupling of the sensory dimension from the affective reaction and reduce the experience of suffering through cognitive reappraisal (Kabat-Zinn 1982). More recent research is now using neuroimaging techniques to elucidate the neural mechanisms of cognitive strategies in pain. A high-quality 2018 review concluded that cognitive and meditative therapies can alter the function of brain regions in an extensive network, including non-nociceptive regions. In patients with chronic pain, neuroimaging results showed increased activation of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, while in healthy individuals, increased activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insular cortex and decreased activation of the thalamus were observed. Overall, the cognitive and meditative therapies reduced the affective experience of pain. This systematic review thus demonstrated that meditative techniques lead to morphological brain changes (Nascimento et al. 2018).
- Meditation programmes for mental stress and well-being - A large meta-analysis has looked at the effects of mindfulness meditation programmes on mental health and general well-being. A total of 47 studies with a total of 3515 participants were included. The analysis found that meditation can make a significant contribution to reducing stress, anxiety and depressive moods. The research group concluded from this data that meditation programmes contribute to a reduction in the negative dimensions of psychological stress (Vieten et al. 2018). Meditation can also achieve a reduction in stress by activating the vagus nerve (Gerritsen et al 2018, Telles et al 2013). For example, Loving Kindness Meditation increased positive emotions through improved perception of social relationships, which in turn led to an increase in vagal tone. However, this effect was only achieved in those individuals who actually felt increased joy and social connectedness (Kok et al 2013). It is suspected that vagal activation also occurs via deep breathing during meditation (Gerritsen et al 2018). As there are very different types of meditation, just like in yoga, these variations could be taken into account in future studies. Mindfulness meditation also improves emotion regulation and decreases amygdala responses (Kober et al 2019)
- Meditation and eating behaviour - Initial research suggests that mindfulness meditation may be an effective intervention for binge-eating. A systematic review from 2014 provided the first evidence that mindfulness meditation can effetively reduce binge-eating and emotional eating (Katterman et al. 2014). Furthermore, mindfulness has also been linked to increased creativity (Lebuda et al. 2016), offsetting age-related cognitive decline (Gard et al. 2014) and improved attention in adolescents in educational settings (Felver et al. 2016, Shapiro et al. 2015). The positive effects of meditation on physical and mental health are scientifically well established. Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to establish new behaviours in the long term. Therefore, below you will find helpful tips for incorporating meditation into your daily life in the long term:
- Create a permanent meditation place for yourself
- Wear comfortable clothes when meditating
- Experiment with different postures (cross-legged, lying down, sitting on a cushion).
- Start with small units of max. 10 minutes
- Lower your expectations
- No hurry after meditation
What are the dangers to watch out for?
In meditation, there is a danger of absolutising one's own inner experience. However, the contents of one's awareness are one thing, the psychological individual and collective structures against whose background contents of consciousness are first "seen" and interpreted are another. These structures are largely inaccessible to a purely phenomenological practice (Liem 2008).
A merely subjective introspection - no matter how sincerely and devotedly it is pursued - cannot recognise these. Through a "monological" introspection, we can study the phenomena of our individual consciousness better and better, but psychodynamic aspects as well as developmental structures cannot be noticed and identified through this. These only become possible through an understanding of the respective individual and historical-historical cultural contexts, for which a dialogical and hermeneutic practice is indispensable (Liem 2011).
Not infrequently, there is an extraordinary reluctance "on the part of certain meditators", favoured by the fact that seductive monopolistic models with their promises and not infrequent demands, easily seduce us into surrendering our maturity at the entrance.
This results in abstruse, sometimes dangerous blind adoptions of Indian, Tibetan or Japanese meditation techniques and systems in Western meditation courses.
Fundamentalist traits (just don't deviate from the original system), especially in combination with rigid personality structures and ignorance of Western reflective achievements, blind us to such insights.
The problem also lies in the fact that the explanatory models of the respective meditation, their theoretical models and traditions based on metaphysics were coherent at the time of their emergence, but they are no longer so today. Not only because the attempts at explanation do not stand up to today's discourse, but also because, for example, they were simply not able to take intersubjective, i.e. cultural influences into account and instead attributed absolute validity to subjective experiences.
Furthermore, the respective meditations are often embedded in metaphysical religious explanatory models, because these simply could not be explained in any other way several millennia or several centuries ago, as it has only become possible to research the neurophysiological and neuroanatomical correlates for the meditative experiences in the last few decades.
Disciplines of cognition that are so important for human consciousness, such as psychoanalysis and developmental structuralism, are only 100 years old, whereas the practice of introspection has been handed down for millennia, which is why one finds, and can find, only little of the former in the traditions (Liem 2008). By unreflectively following these old models, modern practitioners of introspection are unreflectively transmitted the archaic, magical, mythical contents of the traditions as "timelessly valid" truths.
The problem is that today's "meditator" cannot recognise this infection of consciousness by the early intersubjective contents of the teachings, no matter how much introspection is done. It is precisely one of the great weaknesses of the old teachings that at that time they could not yet understand that the subject experiences of the meditators are not truths per se, but were largely determined by collective intersubjective and individual psychodynamic contents.
This can sometimes give rise to inner deep experiences in the "meditator" with frames of reference that no longer fit, with the risk of reductionist, view-narrowing attitudes that unfortunately even hinder the "meditator" in many of his other lines of development instead of supporting them. What would be needed here is usually not a major change in the respective meditation practices, but a supplementation of the old teachings and a relativisation of the monopolistic frames of reference of the old traditions and integration into the more differentiated, integrated, comprehensive i.e. more developed ones of postmodernity (Liem 2011).
The same applies to the unreflected adoption of views from the beginnings of osteopathy, especially when cultural, social and scientific-historical conditions in the development process of osteopathy are not taken into account.
Black DS, Slavich GM. Mindfulness Meditation and the immune system. Physiol Behav. 2017;176(3):139-148
Boccia M, Piccardi L, Guariglia P. The meditative mind: A comprehensive meta-analysis of mri studies. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015
Craig AD. How do you feel? interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2002;3 (8):655-666
Critchley HD, Mathias CJ, Dolan RJ. Neuroanatomical basis for firstand second-order representations of bodily states. Nat Neurosci. 2001;4(2):207-212
Felver JC, Celis-de Hoyos CE, Tezanos K, et al. A systematic review of mindfulness-based interventions for youth in school settings. Mindfulness (N Y). 2016;7(1):34-45
Gard T, Hölzel BK, Lazar SW. The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014;1307:89
Gerritsen RJS, Band GPH. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:397
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