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To help cope with the stress of 21st-century life, many people are turning to the ancient practice of meditation. One recent study found that 18 million Americans now practice some form of meditation on a regular basis. But where exactly did this ancient discipline come from? In this short piece, we’ll briefly explore the complex history of two of the oldest and most popular meditation traditions on earth.

Indian Yogis And The Start Of Formal Meditation
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint an exact date and place where meditation was “invented.” First off, it’s extremely difficult to precisely define what “meditation” means. Another problem historians have with determining meditation’s origins is that religious ceremonies in shamanic groups were passed down orally.

We do know, however, that the Indian discipline of yoga was one of the oldest to emphasize the practice of deliberately stilling the mind. While there’s a lot of debate over the start of the yogic tradition, most scholars believe it began in northern India at least 5,000 years ago. In ancient texts like the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, we can see what we now associate with meditation practice, especially pranayama breath work and the use of mantras. Today, of course, yoga practice is still going strong with studios popping up all over the Western world.

Meditation Practice In The Oldest Buddhist Scriptures
Although ancient Hindu yogis founded and developed the meditation practice, most people associate meditation practice with another Indian religion: Buddhism. In the oldest Buddhist teachings compiled in the Pali Canon, the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama places central importance on the practice of daily sitting and walking meditation. A few of the objects the Buddha recommended his monks to concentrate on include loving-kindness (Pali: Metta), death & impermanence, the loathsomeness of the body, and the breath. In the Buddha’s original teaching, this practice of meditation was meant to lead monks of virtuous conduct towards higher states of inner liberation.

Meditation Is Here To Stay
Most of the meditation styles taught in the West today are descended from either the yogic or Buddhist traditions. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t other powerful forms of meditation around the world. However meditation began, and no matter what school you decide to study, Western science has confirmed there’s a good reason people have passed these traditions down throughout the centuries: they work!