Other States of Consciousness


Meditation is the act of focusing on a single target (such as the breath or a repeated sound) to increase awareness of the moment. While hypnosis is generally achieved through the interaction of a therapist and the person being treated, an individual can perform meditation alone. Often, however, people wishing to learn to meditate receive some training in techniques to achieve a meditative state. A meditative state, as shown by EEG recordings of newly-practicing meditators, is not an altered state of consciousness per se; however, patterns of brain waves exhibited by expert meditators may represent a unique state of consciousness (Fell, Axmacher, & Haupt, 2010).

Although there are a number of different techniques in use, the central feature of all meditation is clearing the mind in order to achieve a state of relaxed awareness and focus (Chen et al., 2013; Lang et al., 2012). Mindfulness meditation has recently become popular. In the variation of meditation, the meditator’s attention is focused on some internal process or an external object (Zeidan, Grant, Brown, McHaffie, & Coghill, 2012).

Meditative techniques have their roots in religious practices (Figure), but their use has grown in popularity among practitioners of alternative medicine. Research indicates that meditation may help reduce blood pressure, and the American Heart Association suggests that meditation might be used in conjunction with more traditional treatments as a way to manage hypertension, although there is not sufficient data for a recommendation to be made (Brook et al., 2013). Like hypnosis, meditation also shows promise in stress management, sleep quality (Caldwell, Harrison, Adams, Quin, & Greeson, 2010), treatment of mood and anxiety disorders (Chen et al., 2013; Freeman et al., 2010; Vøllestad, Nielsen, & Nielsen, 2012), and pain management (Reiner, Tibi, & Lipsitz, 2013).

Photograph A shows a statue of Buddha with eyes closed and legs crisscrossed. Photograph B shows a person in a similar position.
(a) This is a statue of a meditating Buddha, representing one of the many religious traditions of which meditation plays a part. (b) People practicing meditation may experience an alternate state of consciousness. (credit a: modification of work by Jim Epler; credit b: modification of work by Caleb Roenigk)

Feeling stressed? Think meditation might help? This instructional video teaches how to use Buddhist meditation techniques to alleviate stress.

Watch this video describe the results of a brain imaging study in individuals who underwent specific mindfulness-meditative techniques.