Meditation is a holistic discipline by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Meditation is a component of many religions, and has been practiced since antiquity. It is also practiced outside religious traditions. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual or psychophysical practices that may emphasize different goals—from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Meditation has been defined as: "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now." The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, often referred to as "mindfulness"; others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, the meditator sits comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (such as the breath; a sound, such as a mantra, koan or riddle-like question; a visualization; or an exercise). The meditator is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus:
... shifting freely from one perception to the next clear your mind of all that bothers you no thoughts that can distract you from reality or your personal being... No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion. The meditator, with a 'no effort' attitude, is asked to remain in the here and now. Using the focus as an 'anchor'... brings the subject constantly back to the present, avoiding cognitive analysis or fantasy regarding the contents of awareness, and increasing tolerance and relaxation of secondary thought processes.
Concentration meditation is used in many religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation there is an open focus, in concentration meditation the meditator holds attention on a particular object (e.g., a repetitive prayer) while minimizing distractions; bringing the mind back to concentrate on the chosen object.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps break down habitual automatic mental categories, "thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome." In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed.Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions.
There are many different ways to meditate and many different goals as well. Awareness and focus can shift infinitely internally within oneself, or awareness and focus can expand outwardly infinitely as well. The goal of meditation can be relax to improve the flow of energy within the body. It can used to retrieve information or to enter different states and levels of consciousness/awareness. Meditation can drastically improve one's health, expand consciousness and improve concentration. Since we live in a fractal universe of infinite growth and evolution, meditation is a tool for self cultivation and spiritual growth.