A brief history of meditation


Before going into the details of different meditation practices and what neuroscience research has found about them, it would be nice to look back in time and find where it all started.

I’m sure we have all experienced some aspects of meditation in our lives, without being aware of them and before having even heard about meditation. When we take distance from our busy lives and fully engage in activities without having our mind in several places, we experience a deep feeling of inner peace.

For example, when we  walk in nature and pay attention to all nature sounds like the sound of the wind whispering through the leaves of a tree, the sound of the water flowing in a river, the birds chanting, the touch of the fresh morning breeze on your skin etc.


Or playing with your child while using all your senses to experience that very moment and being completely aware and conscious. I’m sure you can admit how peaceful you have felt during these meditation-like experiences (being completely present and focusing your attention on one thing at a time).

Through time, due to certain circumstances, some people became conscious of this process and did acknowledge its benefits and created a regular practice out of it. Which they then shared with others and we call it today “meditation”. Meditation has prehistoric roots. It is possible that it was first discovered by one of the ancient societies who entered a trance like state after a long day of hunting-gathering while staring at the flames of fire [1]. Or it was discovered by cavemen after spending prolonged times in the dark caves and entering an altered state of consciousness [1].

However, these are all speculations and the earliest evidence of meditation and yoga was found by archaeologists and is thought to come from ancient citizens of the Indus Valley (current northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India [2]) dating to 3000-5500 BC [3]. They discovered drawings indicating early illustrations of yoga and meditation practices. For example, depicting a figure standing on its head, sitting cross-legged, or a horn figure having a meditation posture [3]. Below you can see the picture of a seal depicting a man seated in a (yoga) lotus position, currently exhibited in the Islamabad Museum, Pakistan [3].


Indus seal depicting a meditating yogi [3]


However, some people argue that these drawings do not indicate yoga or meditation postures but rather a man or figure simply in a seated or standing (on its head) position, as back then chairs did not exist and these postures are not only postures of yogis and meditators. They believe that the root of meditation is mostly found to be in a religious context, which can be proved by tons of evidence in the religious rituals and religious texts.

As the time passed by, most of the world’s major religions adjusted the basic aspects of meditation and have incorporated them into their practice [4]. World’s greatest religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have their own meditation-like practices such as chanting and praying in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and yoga and meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism. However, the majority of the meditation practices we practise today (about 112 meditation techniques) are derived from Hindu traditions of Vedantism (Vedantism is an Indian school of religious and spiritual practice [5]) dating back to 3500 years ago [6].

Few thousand years after, during the middle ages, in the west, where medicine was the domain of the church and monasteries were seen as safe places, monks treated people with anxiety and stress using chanting and repetitive prayers [7], also called mantras. Mantras and chanting have long been associated with yoga practice. Mantras are sequences of syllables or words which were believed to have religious or spiritual powers [8]. And now, after 500-1000 years, our psychologists have started treating anxiety and stress using different meditation techniques [9].

As already mentioned, it is very difficult to date the very first practices of meditation. The meditation we know today is the result of many adaptations from the “original” ones. Over thousands of years, meditation has turned into a structured practice we know today. It is interesting to see that meditation was and is practised by humans of all time: past, present and very likely the humans of the future. Probably because in the same way that our body has always needed physical exercise to maintain a healthy state, our mind also needs a training like meditation (yoga is also one type of hindu meditation techniques).

If we look carefully we will see that all these seemingly different meditation practices have some things in common, namely looking inside yourself, being aware of your thoughts in a non-judgmental manner, being conscious and in the present moment. So, in my opinion, no matter which meditation technique you choose, as long as it matches your level of spiritual development and inner temperament, it will have its beneficial impacts on your psychological and physical well-being and lead to your spiritual growth if that is what you are looking for.

In the next post, I will introduce some different types of meditation and explain very briefly how each of them is practised. This way, you may find the most suitable technique for you. Just remember that you need to be very patient in this process.

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With love,




[1] Al Taher, R. (2015, September 25). A (Quick) History of Meditation for Beginners. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/history-of-meditation/

[2] Wright, Rita P. (2009), The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-57219-4.

[3] Retrieved from http://www.crystalinks.com/induscivilization.html

[4] Puff, R. (2013, July 07). An Overview of Meditation: Its Origins and Traditions. Retrievd from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meditation-modern-life/201307/overview-meditation-its-origins-and-traditions/

[5] Deutsch, Eliot (1988), Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0-88706-662-3

[6] A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1.

[7] Joseph, M. (1998). The effect of strong religious beliefs on coping with stress. Stress and Health, 14(4), 219-224.

[8] Alper, H. P. (Ed.). (1991). Understanding mantras. Motilal Banarsidass.

[9] Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics, 66(2), 97-106.

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