Meditation is the mother term of all practices for mental training, just like conditioning is all types of muscle exercise. You can exercise your muscles through weight training, but you can also exercise your muscles through swimming, some types of yoga and so on. Same thing for meditation, many different practices, all of them leading to lasting changes in the brain and specific regions depending on the practice.
In the early 1900s an interest in Buddhism led to the development of new schools of yoga. Some of these schools were introduced to the West by Indian expert yogis. Later, other schools were designed as secularized variants of yoga traditions for use by non-Hindus. For example, the system of transcendental meditation that became popular in the 1960s coincided with the youth revolution and the disenchantment with Western culture.
In the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn trained in meditation and Buddhism, started the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts. The point was to use his technique, mindfulness based stress reduction to treat chronic pain and depression. Since then, there has been an explosion in research on the effects of meditation.
The practice of meditation today, rather than focusing on spiritual growth, is a form of secular meditation that emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation, and self-improvement. So we will talk about the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and contemplative practices such as meditation.
The scientific study of meditation was started by Herbert Benson and other researchers in the 1970s.
Herbert stated that meditation among other contemplative practices is responsible for inducing a relaxation response, and that is what meditation does. So what happens in the body during a stress response? Essentially, what would expect if you were being pursued by a lion. Your heart would beat faster, your lungs would breathe more deeply and quickly, your blood pressure would increase. Your muscles become tense and ready to pounce, your pupils dilate to see better. And at the same time, your gut would slow down because you are not going to be digesting while running for your life.
A relaxation response on the other hand, would do the exact opposite. Your heart and lungs would slow down, your pupils would become smaller, and your gut and reproductive systems would resume their functions. The stress response is mediated by your sympathetic system, whereas your relaxation response is mediated by the parasympathetic system. It's called the fight or flight versus the rest and digest systems. In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson postulated that meditation was a practice that was designed to elicit the relaxation response. The Dalai Lama said the more modern science and the ancient science of mind come together and work together, the more our knowledge will be explained. Then eventually we can educate humanity on the importance of our inner world and mind in order to promote peaceful families, a peaceful society, and a peaceful world. Since the 1970s, the scientific study of meditation has moved beyond merely looking at stress and relaxation responses. And has instead peered deep into the brain to look at structural and functional changes.