Meditation is experienced as a spiritual practice in many cultures and religions. Through it and with the help of mindfulness and concentration, the spirit should gain control of itself and reach a state of calm. In Eastern cultures, it is considered as a fundamental consciousness exercise. The desired states of consciousness are commonly described as silence, void, panoramic awareness, being one, and being in the here and now or free from any thought.
In Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, the highest goal there is is enlightenment or reaching one's nirvana. In Christian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions, on the other hand, the goal of meditative practices is the immediate experience of the divine. In Western countries, meditation is often independent from religious or spiritual objectives, but is instead linked to psychological well-being.
The range of meditation techniques is not very clear. Techniques differ depending on their traditional or religious origin, or on the different directions or schools there are within religions, and often also on the individual teachers in these schools.
Meditation techniques can be classified into two categories, namely passive or contemplative and active. Passive meditation is practiced sitting silent, whereas the active type includes conscious movement or loud recitation (of a prayer for example).
In the Christian tradition, there are different steps to meditating and contemplating. The Path to God usually starts with the study of the scriptures and with the prayer in words either spoken or recited in the head. Then comes the representational approach, wherein one concentrates on less objects and observes them repeatedly and then leads on to recite the prayer of peace.
In mindfulness mediation, Zazen and Vipassana are the best-known passive forms of meditation from the Far East. These two forms have lots in common. For one, the meditator sits in an upright posture and respects the harmonious relationship between tension and relaxation. In many Western meditation schools, the basis of these practices is total consciousness towards the spiritual, emotional, and physical phenomenon that is happening at that moment. Furthermore, both schools teach the non-judgmental and unintentional awareness in the here and now, without clinging to thoughts, feelings, or perceptions.
Dance can, like in some Far Eastern-inspired forms of meditating, be a part of the preparation for the actual meditation. In the Oriental tradition, for example, the Dervish dance in Sufism which is a part of Islamic mysticism is a means of preparing for meditative contemplation.
Many schools use rhythmic sounds and music to facilitate meditative practices. In Christianity, the sounds used are especially chorales as taken from the Gregorian. Furthermore, praying the rosary in Christianity and reciting the mantra in Buddhism and in Hinduism have similar meditative aspects.
Regular meditation has a very calming effect and is recommended as a relaxation technique in Western medicine. The effect, in turn, which is a meditative state, is neurologically measured as a change in a person's brain waves. Lastly, scientists also listed the following components belong to the meditative process: relaxation, concentration, altered state of awareness, suspension of logical thought processes, and maintenance of a self-observing attitude.