Meditation is similar to relaxation. One might even wonder if they were in fact the same thing. However, several studies have found a significant difference between the two. It is based within the brain rhythms. In meditation there are increased beta rhythms and decreased alpha rhythms. In relaxation, alpha rhythms are increased (Freeman, 2009).
Meditation calms the mind and in some instances the mind goes into a state of what some call transcendence. In scientific terms it is known as the Blank-Out Phenomenon. This mental state is thought to clear the mind and break up mental thoughts and mechanisms that are unproductive. When one comes out of the blank-out, they report feeling like they can sense the world more vividly, their mind essentially feels clear of outside disturbances (Freeman, 2009).
There are different types of meditation. One is called transcendental meditation. Transcendental meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Herbert Benson also developed a type of meditation that is not associated with any religion as some feel uncomfortable participating in the transcendental form. It is called Respiratory One Method. Mindfulness meditation is another form. It has been used as an intervention in chronic pain, drug use, and in post traumatic stress disorder. It is also known as Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation. An interesting note is that mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase cognitive abilities in elderly people (Freeman, 2009).
Though meditation has been shown in studies to be effective for many people, there are contraindications to beginning meditation without careful observance and training from a professional. People with a psychiatric history should be aware that meditation may result in psychotic episodes. Some studies suggest that meditation causes seizures in those with epilepsy, and yet other studies show that it is very useful in those with epilepsy. Further research is needed before the outcome of this question is known (Freeman, 2009)
For more information on meditation, please visit: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm
Freeman, L. (2009). Complementary and alternative medicine: A research-based approach (3rd ed.).
St. Louis, MO: Mosby.