Meditation: definition, different types, benefits, meditation in practice

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Catherine Muzellec (psychomotrician and mindfulness meditation instructor)

A thousand-year-old Eastern tradition, meditation comes in many variations, and has been a real craze in the West for several decades. What are the different types? What are its benefits ? How to practice it?

What is meditation ?

A practice of mental training consisting in focusing one’s attention on the present, meditation is a very ancient practice. Historians of religions find traces of it in most contemplative religious currents throughout the world. Born in India more than 5000 years ago, it then spread to Asia, then to the West around the 18e century. It is through Buddhist spirituality, first of all, that it intervenes in the West, then secularizes in the 1960s with the practice of yoga, which is often associated with it. Today, meditation and mindfulness are practiced diligently and are experiencing real growth in all Western countries, including France, in Paris and in the provinces.

Etymologically, the term to meditate comes from the Latin meditari which means to practice, to reflect. From the pali bhavana root, meditation also translates into physical and mental training exercises, enlightened by the spirit and which aim to develop discernment and clarity of sight in the desired effects. But whatever the traditions, for the term meditation to be used, the following components must be found:

  • The use of a specific method, taught by a teacher recognized for his long expertise in this art;
  • The deployment of a certain quality of bodily relaxation, of a state of relaxation;
  • The relaxation of the mind also, which seeks nothing, not even calm and which does not judge;
  • The possibility for the practitioner to apply the method in total autonomy;
  • The development of increasingly in-depth attention strategies through systematic and regular study and personal practice.

This training of the mind makes it possible to see the impact of negative emotions and thoughts, such as anger or fear, gradually diminish and to generate positive mental and emotional states such as calm and joy.

“Meditation is based on attention to everything, to sensations, to sounds, to breathing. It is a question of cultivating jointly, vigilance and relaxation. This has the effect of extracting oneself from the endless flow of thoughts, produced by our brain”, explains Catherine Muzellec, mindfulness meditation instructor at the Clinique du Parc in Nantes. “It is therefore a matter of “contemplating”, “observing” what is happening, “being with” what is happening from moment to moment. And this will be done in a particular way according to the type of meditation practiced. “

What are the different meditations?

Mindfulness meditation

“Known under the English name of Mindfulness, mindfulness meditation is the most practiced today in the West, since it allows all types of human suffering to be alleviated”says Catherine Muzellec.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the use of mindfulness in a medical setting, defines it as follows: “Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, with intention, and without value judgment on what is present..

This practice aims to calm the mind, to understand it better and to act on it. It is not a control of the mind and the emotions that cross it, but rather a benevolent letting go, allowing harmful thoughts to pass, and to accept them. “It is an art of being with oneself, an art of being with what is happening in oneself, from moment to moment, welcoming what comes without judgment. This practice helps people who are suffering overwhelming emotions and reacting impulsively”adds Catherine Muzellec.

It is in the form of programs that mindfulness meditation is taught in a secular way, in contexts ranging from education, to medical care and psychiatry. These are the most discussed programs in France:

  • “For example, if one suffers from depression, the depression relapse prevention program, called MBCT (for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) is suitable. It allows participants to make a radical change in what contributes to their relapse and to improve their health. They see clearly what drives their mental ruminations, perceive the implications and learn to take another path in life. It’s all a group process.” explains the instructor.
  • The MBSR program (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) deals with Stress Reduction. Mindfulness practices, Yoga as well as teachings on the regulation of internal tensions, the latest discoveries on the levers of stress, allow the participants of these groups, a progressive and very concrete learning.
  • The MSC program (Mindfulness Self-Compassion) where self-compassion is taught through the prism of benevolence, humanism and mindfulness.

Transcendental Meditation (or TM)

From the Indian Vedic tradition (an Indian religion), this technique of transcendental meditation was adapted to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and popularized in the 1960s. In this practice, the idea that the mind is essentially attracted by happiness, and that he can achieve it by accessing silence and rest. The state of transcendence is also achieved through the use of the voice by mentally repeating a mantra – or a sacred incantation, protecting the one who utters it.

Vipassana meditation

Vipassana, meaning “see things as they really are“, is one of the oldest Indian meditation techniques. Rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago, this practice was taught as a universal remedy for mental impurities, leading to total liberation of the mind and So-called ascetic practice – based on the continuous observation of breathing and bodily sensations -, it is taught in the strict context of a ten-day residential course, allowing self-transformation through the observation of self and breathing.


A strict practice of Zen (fusion of Buddhism and Taoism) as it developed in Japan within the lineages of masters, zazen is practiced in a fairly ritualized context: the relationship with the master is important. Due to the discipline required, it is not suitable for everyone. The different centers offer both weekly meetings and retreats (called sesshins).

What are the benefits of meditation?

Since the 1970s and the rise of meditation in the West, many scientific studies have demonstrated the positive effects of meditation and its different versions on health. Thus, the regular practice of meditation exercises would allow many benefits:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation;
  • Promote the activity of brain areas associated with positive feelings;
  • Reduce chronic pain, especially in the elderly;
  • Reduce depressive episodes and their severity;
  • Increase attention and concentration skills;
  • Reduce OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder);
  • Improve the immune system;
  • Also contribute to restful sleep (evening meditation sessions exist).

Overall, the quality of life improves after a few weeks of practice”, comments Catherine Muzellec. “For each meditation program, we obtain measurable results, depending on the objective to be achieved. For depression, the MBCT program is 54% effective, compared to psychotherapy, or just taking medication. By combining the three in medicine, we also increase the chances of recovery and of not relapsing. Proof of its “health” advantage, this meditation program is also supported by Social Security at the Clinique du Parc where I practice”.

There are many ways to practice meditation in France, the most common being:

  • Practice alone, using web resources or free or paid meditation applications to learn breathing and concentration techniques in a few minutes.
  • Participation in a mindfulness group protocol (MSC, MBSR or MBCT) or a meditative retreat, all supervised by a certified instructor;

“The protocols generally last 8 weeks, with a weekly session. The sessions last between 2 and 3 hours, and a whole day in mindfulness, such as a day of class, helps to integrate and learn the practices into one’s life. In the program for seniors, the sessions are spread over time: one per month, for 8 months. Autonomous practice, even for a few minutes regularly, is encouraged anyway”says Catherine Muzellec.

Finally, to start, there are some exercises to learn, allowing you to learn gently and start meditating:

  • By being fully aware of the air you inhale and exhale, feel the body breathing in order to anchor yourself in the present moment;
  • The body scan: paying attention to each part of the body, from the toes to the top of the skull, moment by moment present to what is;
  • Slow walking, one sensation after another, awareness of each step.

For more information, consult the website of the Association for the Development of Mindfulness (ADM).

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Meditation: definition, different types, benefits, meditation in practice

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