There are many kinds of meditation, including transcendental meditation, in which you focus on a repetitive mantra, and compassion meditation, which involves extending feelings of love and kindness to fellow living beings. One of the most studied practices is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, or being aware of your own thoughts and surroundings. Buddhists believe it alleviates suffering by making you less caught up in everyday stresses – helping you to appreciate the present instead of continually worrying about the past or planning for the future.
"You pay attention to your own breath," explains Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of meditation at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston. "If your mind wanders, you don't get discouraged, you notice the thought and think, 'OK'."
Small trials have suggested that such meditation creates more than spiritual calm. Reported physical effects include lowering blood pressure, helping psoriasis to heal, and boosting the immune response in vaccine recipients and cancer patients. In a pilot study in 2008, Willem Kuyken, head of the Mood Disorders Centre at Exeter University, showed that mindfulness meditation was more effective than drug treatment in preventing relapse in patients with recurrent depression. And in 2009, David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that it slowed disease progression in patients with HIV.
This is one area where I think the East has it all over the West. However, I do understand some argue such meditation, practiced the right way, is not only Western, but always has been. It is "biblical" and, in reality, what Jesus was all about. These are the Judeo-Christian mystics. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1327) is probably the most notable Christian mystic from an earlier era. These two fellows, I understand consider themselves "Judeo-Christian" mystics and pretty well understand the proper way to live in the moment, and the danger of getting caught up in your thoughts, especially with regards to planning the future. I admit, I'm not to the point where I'd like to be; but I at least understand the proper end, the light at the end of the tunnel. Eckhart Tolle is probably the most well known figure who presently promotes these ideas.