meditation, religious discipline in which the mind is focused on a single point of reference. It may be a means of invoking divine grace, as in the contemplation by Christian mystics of a spiritual theme, question, or problem; or it may be a means of attaining conscious union with the divine, e.g., through visualization of a deity or inward repetition of a prayer or mantra (sacred sound). Some forms of meditation involve putting the body in a special position, such as the seated, cross-legged lotus position, and using special breathing practices. Employed since ancient times in various forms by all religions, the practice gained greater notice in the postwar United States as interest in Zen Buddhism rose. In the 1960s and 70s the Indian Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularized a mantra system known as Transcendental Meditation. Meditation is now used by many nonreligious adherents as a method of stress reduction; it is known to lessen levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. The practice has been shown to enhance recuperation and improve the body's resistance to disease.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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