Meditation is a common mind-body strategy. While there are many types, meditation is any activity in which you control your attention. This mind-body technique helps you achieve a "relaxation response," a term used by Herbert Benson to describe the physical changes tied to a state of relaxation—decreased heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure.
There are two general forms of meditation, each with slightly different methods and goals: concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation.
Transcendental meditation—also known as TM—is one of the most popular types of concentration meditation. It is a stress reduction and healing practice that is a part of a healing system called Maharishi Ayur-Veda. It was introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
When practicing TM, you do not change your personal beliefs, philosophy, diet or physical activity. Instead, attention is focused on one thing—typically the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body or on a mantra, a sound or phrase that is repeated silently. This is known as the "one-pointed" method of meditation.
You are asked to maintain a passive attitude throughout the meditation practice. If you have distracting thoughts or images, you disregard them and focus instead on your mantra or breath. Sit in a comfortable position to minimize physical effort during meditation. For best results, it is suggested that you meditate twice daily for 20 minutes. The goal of TM is to develop a "transcendent" state of restful alertness.
Mindfulness is the other main type of meditation, also known as vipassana or insight meditation. Mindfulness involves intentional, non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.
Like TM, mindfulness begins with one-pointed attention, but expands to a wider scope of observation. You observe thoughts, feelings or sensations as "mental events"—without judging or analyzing.
By observing thoughts and emotions in this more distanced and accepting way, you can approach a stressful situation with a mindful response and without reacting in a way that may increase your stress.
Guided imagery uses your mind and imagination to evoke relaxing and healing physical responses. You might listen to a recording of someone guiding you through instructions to bring to mind relaxing and healing images drawing on all the senses. Many research studies show that guided imagery can be very effective in promoting healing and reducing anxiety and stress.
Like guided imagery, hypnosis uses the focused power of the mind and imagination to improve health, change a behavior like smoking or achieve emotional balance. In a relaxed state of concentrated attention, ideas and suggestions seem to have a powerful impact on the mind. A hypnotherapist works with you to design images and suggestions that can help you achieve your goals.