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Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to a single point of reference. The benefits of the practice can engender a higher state of consciousness. Meditation is recognized as a component of eastern religions such as Buddhism, where it has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual or psychophysical practices which can emphasize development of either a high degree of mental concentration, or the apparent converse, mental quiescence.
The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation."
Eastern spiritual teachings, including meditation, have been adapted and increasingly practiced in Western culture.
Meditation has been defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now." The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called "mindfulness;" others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, a person sits comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (either the breath, a sound: a mantra, koan or riddle evoking questions; a visualization, or an exercise). The person is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus:
Concentration meditation is used in most religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation there is an open focus, in concentration meditation the person holds attention on a particular object (e.g., a repetitive prayer) while minimizing distractions; bringing the mind back to concentrate on the chosen object. In some traditions, such as Vipassana, mindfulness and concentration are combined.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps to break down habitual automatic mental categories, thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome. In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts.