BACKGROUND: While many general practitioners perceive meditation as an acceptable, even mainstream, health care strategy, it is paradoxically a poorly understood discipline. OBJECTIVE: To define meditation, outline the broad types of meditation and give an overview of the extent and validity of available evidence for its efficacy. DISCUSSION: The basic question of what constitutes meditation and what separates it from relaxation therapy has been an impediment to formulating quality studies in order to research meditation techniques. Examining the literature using evidence based criteria reveals that, while meditation does appear to have therapeutic potential, there is a great need for further research before definitive conclusions can be made. Researchers have yet to systematically compare different techniques of meditation to compare their profiles.