Patricia Monaghan lectures frequently on connections between mythology, spirituality, women's studies, and science. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. Visit her online at

People usually think of meditation as sitting in silence. But your book offers many other options. Are these all really meditation?

Meditation can be defined many ways. Some teachers proclaim their own style to be the only way to meditate. Yet almost all religious traditions offer some kind of meditation. In addition, many non-religious forms of meditation exist, bringing the benefits of meditation without religious imagery or need for belief.

What benefits does meditation bring?

On a physical level, meditation has been shown to be an effective treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure), insomnia and chronic pain. On an emotional level, it provides more resilience to life's ups and downs. Many religious traditions also say that it provides spiritual benefits as well.

Are there any negative side effects of meditation?

Not generally, although some forms of meditation are not advised for people with epilepsy. Other forms could be difficult for people with mobility limitations, but there are forms of meditation appropriate for every person.

What causes meditation drop-out?

When a person is not temperamentally or spiritually suited to a form of meditation, they are unlikely to be successful at sustaining a practice in that form.

What forms of meditation do you personally use?

I am a member of the Society of Friends, have sat za-zen for almost 20 years, and do qigong daily. I also employ many creative meditations, of which sketching from nature is the one I find most effective. I also do many crafts, but I confess that I sometimes fail in the "meditative" aspect by setting deadlines for finishing projects!

Is meditation connected with religion?

Not necessarily, although many major religions have meditative traditions.

How do the major religions feel about meditation? Is there anything "wrong" with meditating if you are, say, a Christian?

Some forms of meditation are connected with a specific religion, as Sufi dancing is with the Sufi Islamic tradition or Taize singing with Christianity. In some cases it is inappropriate to employ the practice without subscribing to the beliefs of that religion. In other cases, as with contemplative reading (often employed in Christian contexts), the meditative form can be adapted to those outside the religion. In addition, there are dozens of forms of meditation unconnected to any religion.

Are non-religious meditations really meditation?

Some people define "meditation" as involving a religious tradition, but my co-author and I do not. For those seeking some of the physical and/or emotional benefits of meditation, there are many activities that can assist them in meeting those goals. For instance, you do not need to do sitting meditation or yoga, if those are inappropriate to you, in order to meditate. You can employ such non-religious techniques as trance-dancing or drumming. (We are aware that some teachers would not agree with this stance towards meditation, but we are also aware that those teachers typically only teach one form, which may not be appropriate for all students.)

Are there differences between people in terms of what meditation works best for them?

Absolutely! Although obviously religious orientation, or lack of it, is an important predictor of whether a specific meditation will work for a person, other physical, mental and emotional considerations should be taken into account. These not hamper a person intent on trying a specific form; some yoga teachers, for instance, can adapt their teachings for even a profoundly physically challenged student. But a misfit between meditator and form of meditation is likely to lead to meditation drop-out.

What are some tips for people who are considering taking up a form of meditation?

First, of course, find a form that seems appropriate to your beliefs, needs and lifestyle. Next, stick with it for awhile — several months at least of regular practice. It takes time for a habit to take hold, and meditation should become a habitual practice. Finally, don't expect change instantly, or even quickly. It might take a year or more for the impact of meditation to be felt. It's not a magic bullet!

Interview provided by New World Library, publishers of Meditation, The Complete Guide.