Is there any evidence?
The benefits of meditation are often talked about in esoteric abstraction, but scientific studies have helped demystify the effect
of meditation on the brain. In a study of meditators and non-meditators the brains of the experienced meditators were found to be thicker in the area associated with emotion and attention. Also, a survey conducted by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) indicated that if someone has had three or more periods of depression, meditation could reduce their chances of having another depressive episode by more than half.
Meditative techniques are also gaining popularity as a way of improving the quality of life for people suffering from chronic illness or pain.
Where does it come from?
Indian scriptures dating back over 5,000 years describe meditative techniques, though it's believed to predate recorded history. Vedic Hinduism is the oldest religion to claim meditation as a spiritual practice.
Meditation was popularised in the west in the late 60s when the Beatles, and an incongruous-looking Jane Asher, followed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to India. The maharishi, who died in February this year, introduced the west to the practice of Transcendental Meditation.
You don't need to be aligned to any religion in order to experience the benefits of meditation. As the maharishi said, "anyone who can think can meditate".
Reaching a meditative state is not necessarily easy though, intrusive thoughts can scupper attempts at focused mindfulness. The answer, explains Nataraja, is to keep trying: "Meditation is part and parcel of what it means to be human," she says. "Our brains are hardwired to access higher levels of awareness through meditation - it just takes practice."
What results can I expect?
According to Nataraja, every time you consciously clear your thoughts, you're strengthening the right-hand side of your brain. "This is the side of your brain associated with intuitive and holistic thinking, rather than logical, analytical thought. In a society reliant on left-brained activity, meditation means we can use both sides of the brain."
This balance brings true insight, creativity and imagination to whatever task is at hand, easing life's everyday stresses and strains.
"Meditation isn't goal orientated," Nataraja reminds us. "It's benefits are intangible, but they will bring a sense of groundedness, connectedness and compassion for both yourself and others."
If you suffer from very serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder you should consult your doctor before meditating.