Meditation has been around for thousands of years, with hunter-gatherers and the shamans of the prehistoric ages said to be among some of the earliest practitioners.
It is not exactly known where or when meditation originated, but research findings have shown evidence of meditation being practiced by Chinese Taoists and Indian Buddhists from as early as 6th century BC.
In India, some had discovered images dating back to 5,000 BC, depicting people sitting in a meditative state, with legs crossed and eyes half-closed. Yoga meditations, which mostly came from India as well, have also become some of the most popular forms of meditation that are still being practiced today.
Amid the ongoing debate on who invented meditation, a few key names have emerged as some of its founding leaders. They are mainly Siddartha Gautama (the Buddha), ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tze (one of the founders of Taoism), and Japanese monk Dosho (founder of Zazen meditation).
Outside of Asia, early meditative practices are also linked to Judaism, with stories involving the act of meditating written in the Torah. Islam believers who practice Sufism also turn to meditative rituals, such as the hadra, where practitioners lock arms and walk in circles as they move their bodies in repetitive motions while chanting praises for God.
For those who don’t know, meditation came from the Latin word “meditatum,” which means “to ponder.” However, people who meditated in the past were often motivated by their quest for spiritual enlightenment.
In contrast, these days, as the world becomes more populated, developed, fast-paced, and ever-ridden with conflict, people turn to meditation for mental solace, happiness, to improve self-awareness, or, perhaps, to slow time.
Among the popular forms of meditations that have been adapted for the modern world is one known as mindful meditation. Popularized by the US, mindfulness trains people’s minds to focus on the now and their present actions without judgment, and to regulate negative thoughts.
Some of those who popularized mindfulness — usually seen as a blend of ancient Buddhist, Zen, and Tibetan meditation techniques — are Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh and American doctor Herbert Benson.
Another well-known doctor for adapting meditation for the Western context was American medical professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in 1979 founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, where he adapted Buddhist teachings on mindfulness into a program to treat the chronically ill, called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.”
Since then, Kabat-Zinn’s program has been adapted for other schools, prisons, and hospitals across the US.