From the late 1950’s with Jack Keroac’s “The Dharma Bums” through the 1970’s, Eastern philosophy reached the general populace at a heightened level (e.g., Maharji , Transcendental Meditation, and the Beatles). However, influence of the East on Western thought can be traced back at least to Emerson. (Phil Goldeberg) Wallace, Benson and other scientists brought meditation into the laboratory. Since then, there has been a plethora of research on meditation from a scientific standpoint.
The literature on mediation can be confusing. Over the years, terms have been used interchangeably. Techniques describing imagery, systematic relaxation, focus on visual or kinesthetic experience can all be found in traditional writing and psychological literature. The general category for mental techniques that are utilized for self-improvement or heath is “Self-regulation”, e.g., systematic relaxation, hypnosis, meditation, guided imagery.
From a psychophysiological perspective, meditation per se, is an intentional self-regulation of attention which can lead to increased health and self-discovery. Most descriptions involve concentration; relaxation; an altered state of awareness; suspension of logical thought or judgment; and maintenance of a self-observing perspective, i.e., being in the present moment.
Recently, the scientific research on meditation has focused on three general styles. One is a focused attention meditation, when a person concentrates on an object of attention, like a mantra (repeated sound) or the in-and-out cycle of their breath. Another is referred to as “open-monitoring” style of meditation when a person just observes the sights, sounds and sensations that come to mind without judging or thinking about them. “Mindfulness” is an example of this type of meditation. A third category involves cultivation a particular feeling, such as a meditation of loving kindness. For example, a person creates feelings of benevolence or compassion toward others by means of imagery and memory.
Research has shown and continues to show mental and physical benefits based on evidence from neuro-technology and imaging techniques. Early research suggested that meditation induces a “hypometabolic wakefulness” that reduced stress and results in greater health. Meditation produces an opposite reaction to activation of the sympathetic nervous system with a decrease in oxygen consumption, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and an increase in alpha and occasional theata waves recorded by an EEG. Later research showed EEG synchrony in the brains of advanced meditators, with increased alpha waves in the frontal and central regions as well as increased theta waves in frontal regions of the brain.