The mechanisms by which sahaja yoga meditation (SYM), or in fact any meditation technique, exerts its claimed effects are unclear. One very popular view, which has become more or less the default explanation of meditation effects is in terms of the physiological changes that characterise the Relaxation Response — that is, reductions in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and increases in skin temperature, skin resistance and alpha wave activity in the brain. All of these are brought about by reducing activity of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and increasing activity of the parasympathetic components of the ANS. Psychophysiological studies in India certainly appear to confirm that SYM does reduce many parameters of sympathetic activation.
“More recently scholars have proposed that since Mindfulness and similar styles of meditation necessarily allow participants to become “more aware of thoughts and feelings and to change their relationship to them”, therefore somehow “that greater awareness will provide more veridical perception, reduced negative affect and improve vitality and coping”. Then it seems logical that by completely eliminating background mental noise, the meditator would necessarily increase internal and external awareness, possibly to a greater degree than in Mindfulness. Perhaps SYM acts via both the autonomic and cognitive pathways. Aftanas’ brain studies of SYM meditators also suggest that the effect of SYM on the central nervous system may also offer some explanation.
Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Dr Ramesh Manocha discusses the negative impact of the commercialisation of meditation in this excerpt from his thesis.
Another important retarding force impacting on meditation research relates to the fact that meditation has become an important commodity and many of its leading lights have made their fortunes by selling books, CDs, courses and qualifications on or about meditation. Virtually none of these highly commercialised, mass market products discusses or describes how to achieve the mental silence experience. Might this be because its creators are unable to deliver that experience? A vague definition of meditation has commercial advantages since it allows a wide variety of practices to be marketed under an attractive banner without obligating its proponents to deliver much more than a sense of rest, relaxation or even just a an odd sensation, if anything at all. The New Age industry, culturally handicapped academics and a popular media eager for content appear to have unwittingly cooperated to promote a fundamentally inadequate, but much more marketable, idea of meditation.
Dr Ramesh Manocha comments on the historic association of meditation and a sensation of coolnesss:
Interestingly, an association between meditation and the subjective sensation of coolness can be found in some traditional Eastern texts. For example, in the Sikh text Guru Granth Sahib the importance and effects of meditation are described frequently and there are a number of instances in which mental tranquillity, even transcendent experience is associated with a sense of coolness.
Dr Ramesh Manocha describes the benifits of the parents and children who engaged Sahaja Yoga Meditation as a part of a study carried out by Dr Manocha.
The Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM) intervention was designed as a family treatment program, which was expected to impact on parents as well as children. At the end of the program, 92% of parents agreed that the program had been personally beneficial. The overall benefit was rated at 4 (M = 3.91, SD = 0.92) on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale. Specific benefits rated highly (over 3 on a 5-point scale) were “more able to manage stress” (M = 3.79, SD = 0.93), “less stressed” (M = 3.67, SD = 0.96), “happier” (M = 3.45, SD = 1.01), “more able to manage anger” (M = 3.37, SD = 1.25), and “less angry” (M = 3.29, SD = 1.23).
Parents were also asked to rate the extent to which they felt that SYM had benefited the relationship with their children. Mean scores on a 5-point scale showed a consistent pattern of benefit, specifically for “more open communication” (M = 3.83, SD = 0.72), “less exhausting” (M = 3.50, SD = 0.91), “more able to manage conflict” (M = 3.42, SD = 0.67), and “less conflict” (M = 3.33, SD = 0.78). A number of parents commented that participating in the program had made a positive change to their relationship with their child. A father mentioned his pleasure at being able to laugh with his son for the first time in years. One mother wrote: “I truly understand how meditating and becoming more relaxed have helped my son 150% because he feeds off a calmer mum.” Parents also said they had used meditation at home to help deal with difficult situations. One mother commented: “I’m now able to get [my child] to calm down (using meditation). He is then able to focus and carry on with his day.” Another wrote about how she dealt with a difficult time: “We had a good meditation and he went off to bed quite calm and relaxed and went straight to sleep.”
Dr Ramesh Manocha explains why strong controls are necessary when researching the real-world relevance of meditation in this excerpt from his thesis:
“Some might argue that controlling for non-specific effects is an academic exercise with little real-world relevance. This is supposedly because factors such as the placebo effect, expectancy of relief and demand characteristics are a critical component of most health interventions when administered to patients in the field. Thus trials directed at assessing the ecological (“real-world”) relevance and validity of an intervention have no need to control for factors which will be operating in conjunction with the intervention effect anyway. Authors of such reports add that studies with these kinds of controls reflect real-world scenarios since study participants offered either meditation or the “usual care” (i.e. usually nothing) reflect the reality of their environment. This line of argument assumes that the only value of proper controls is its ability to help answer theoretical questions about meditation, but that such controls fail to allow meditation to demonstrate its “practical relevance”.
“Yet commercial purveyors of meditation frequently claim that their often expensive proprietary techniques are uniquely effective in order to justify expensive fees. Moreover, many meditation techniques can be arduous and culturally challenging. It is important to determine whether it is justifiable to demand these significant costs and efforts or whether the same effects might be elicited by simpler strategies that are similarly rich in non-specific effects but possibly cheaper and easier to implement. By controlling for non-specific effects, it is possible not only to provide important theoretical information about whether meditation has any unique effects, but also whether it is an economically justifiable option, whether it offers any more of an advantage over accepted strategies and whether the claims of meditation enthusiasts have any basis.”
More information about Dr Manocha’s research can be found at his website.
Dr Ramesh Manocha summarises the findings of his thesis with respect to mental silence.
“Despite the fact that scientific assessment of the mental silence approach is much less common than non-mental silence, approaches in the Western scientific literature the data in this thesis provide some compelling evidence to suggest that this approach to meditation, unlike approaches that do not involve mental silence, has a specific and detectable effect. The mental silence versus non-mental silence dichotomy therefore offers an effective explanation for the discrepancy between popular perceptions of meditation and the current scientific facts.”
More information about Dr Manocha’s thesis can be found at his website.
The following is a summary of a study by Dusek et al. published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2008.
Summary: compares the relaxation response method of meditation against educational classes on a sample with hypertension gathered from the community. The sole outcome measure was physiological blood pressure. The study had a sample size of 122 participants who underwent 8 sessions of treatment over 8 weeks. A t-test change score was used to analyse the results.
Results: The study found no significant difference between the treatment and the control.
Strengths: large sample size; double-blind; solid treatment duration; intent-to-treat used.
Weaknesses: single outcome; unclear results; only a moderately credible comparator.
Dusek, J.A., Hibberd, P.L., Buczynski, B., Chang, B.H., Dusek, K.C. Johnston, J.M. Wohlhueter, A.L., Benson, H. and Zusman, R.M. (2008). Stress Management versus Lifestyle Modification on Systolic Hypertension and Medication Elimination: A Randomized Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol 14(2), 129–138.
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In this excerpt from his thesis, Dr Ramesh Manocha discusses the problem of differentiating meditation from relaxation.
“Early uncontrolled or own-control studies of meditation suggested that psycho-physiological parameters such as heart rate could change quite dramatically in a single meditation session and this led to initial enthusiasm for meditation as a potentially unique self control strategy.
“Later however properly controlled studies reported considerably less positive outcomes. For instance, a controlled study comparing TM, general relaxation training and muscle relaxation using electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback, demonstrated that while TM significantly reduced parameters associated with arousal (i.e. a significant within-group difference), it was not any more effective than the comparator interventions. In other words, there were no significant between-group differences. Similarly a study comparing TM to listening to music, found that oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production dropped in the meditating group (consistent with reports in uncontrolled studies) but that the same change occurred in a non-meditating control group (who simply listened to music) and that there were no significant differences between the two practices. In other words, when meditation was compared to rest, and relaxation or other appropriate controls, it demonstrated minimal differences in both the magnitude and direction of any major parameters. Thus emerged the notion that meditation, contemplation, prayer and rest and relaxation, were psycho-physiologically equivalent.”
More information about Dr Manocha’s thesis can be found at his website.
In this excerpt from his thesis, Dr Ramesh Manocha discusses the support his research found for the ‘mental silence’ definition of meditation.
“In attempt to begin exploring the physiological features of the mental silence state, an exploratory physiological trial of sahaja yoga meditation’s effect on skin temperature was conducted. Physiological studies in India suggested quite potent effects on conventional measures of physiological arousal but importantly while many of the parameters changed in the expected direction skin temperature paradoxically decreased, yet according to the relaxation model of meditation it should increase. We replicated these findings in an Australian psychophysiology laboratory using a physiological trial of experienced meditators compared to novices matched for age, sex and interest in meditation. This unprecedented observation clearly suggests that the mental silence orientated definition of meditation is not just conceptual, philosophical or experiential but quite possibly biological as well.”
More information on Dr Manocha’s thesis can be found at his website.