For thousands of years, meditation has been an integral practice for many cultures around the world. From East Asia to the Middle East, meditation was and still is seen as a way to reach enlightenment, happiness, spiritual insight, and increased concentration. This ancient practice can help people de-stress and increase their level of happiness.
The earliest recorded traces of meditation come from the Vedic period, which lasted from 1500 to 500 BC in India. During this period, Shiva, the god of creation, energy, and yoga was the one of the main gods worshipped. This is when early forms of Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of diagnostics and healing, originated. During this time, meditation was already seen as a way to gain insight into spiritual truths, obtain inner peace, and reach a higher state of consciousness.
The next major development in the history of meditation came from the birth of Buddhism in India during the 5th century BC. For Buddhism, meditation is known as “samatha” and is used as a way to calm the mind, boost concentration, and gain insight into oneself and the universe. Along with calming and peaceful thoughts, the aim is to achieve a mental stillness and serenity where we can gain insight into the true nature of reality.
As Buddhism spread to East Asia, it changed and evolved. In China, Taoism was founded and Taoist masters developed their own techniques of meditation. It’s practice also spread to Japan, where Zen Buddhism began to gain traction as a more ascetic, more meditative form of Buddhism. It was during this period that what is known today as Zen meditation – sometimes called “zazen” – was born.
The 6th century CE marks the beginning of Islamic meditation. During this time, Islamic Sufi mystics developed their own brand of meditation which blended traditional Islamic teachings with their own inner enlightenment. This form of meditation is still practiced in areas where Sufism is practiced, such as the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, meditation started to gain traction in the West. In many parts of Europe, Christian mystics and philosophers began to study and incorporate meditation into their spiritual practice. Also during this time, Hindu and Buddhist meditation texts started to be translated into European languages, thus introducing many of the practices to a new audience.
In the 1970s, meditation came to the general public’s attention after several books on the topic were released, most notably Herbert Benson’s “The Relaxation Response”. Since then, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West, with numerous celebrities and well-known figures singing its praises. Research has shown that this ancient practice can have a positive mental and physical impact on our lives.
Today, meditation can be found in many forms and practiced in many corners of the world. While its spiritual aspects may change, the basic principles of stillness, self-awareness, and concentration remain the same, granting those who practice it with the same positive benefits it has held through its long and interesting history.
Gail Allen and Danielle Schwartz are both 500-RYT yoga professionals trained in Hatha and Kundalini Yoga. They specialize in Holistic, Trauma-Informed Counseling, Chakra Healing, Curvy Yoga, Reiki | Energy Healing, Ayurvedic Science, and other modalities of healing.