As stated previously, the association between religiosity and mental health is not always positive. Larson’s (1992) review of studies exploring the relationship between religious commitment and mental health reported that while 72% described a positive relationship, 16% reported a negative relationship. This proportion is somewhat higher than would be expected by chance alone. Some scholars propose that this wide variation in benefit/detriment may be explained by underlying “essential factors” which although common to all forms of religiosity, vary in their presence, magnitude and the interactions between various other factors.
The persistent association between mental silence experience and health outcomes inevitably leads to the idea that the valence of internal experience might provide some explanation for the association between religiosity and health, across different forms of religiosity.
You can read more about the link between religiosity and health at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
As far as mindfulness meditation itself is concerned, the Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM) approach has some important similarities to mindfulness, in that it also emphasises awareness of the present moment and the idea of disengaging attentional processes from the flow of internal and external events (rather than reduction of physiological arousal). A critical difference however is that this state of “present moment awareness/passive observation” constitutes only the prelude to a more important and specific experience of mental silence — nirvichara Samadhi. Thus while SYM is a specific experience that can be preceded, if not facilitated by present-moment observation and other mindfulness methods, the sine qua non feature — elimination of thought activity — distinguishes it from mindfulness meditation.
You can find information about the implications of the similarities and differences between mindfulness-oriented meditation and mental silence based meditation at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
Since its inception, Sahaja Yoga has been propagated worldwide by a grassroots movement of volunteer practitioners. Its proponents claim that it is now practised in over 80 countries around the world. Instruction in the technique, in keeping with the founder’s philosophy, has been on a free-of-charge, non-commercial basis.
For more information on Sahaja Yoga head to Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
It is difficult to make conclusions about meditation when the definition of the independent variable itself varies from study to study, if not from person to person. A homogeneous definition of meditation is essential for further progress in this field and yet, after almost 40 years of research the scientific community is unable to provide a truly consensus definition. Some argue that this is because meditation is actually a broad collection of disparate methods however it might be equally argued that the lack of consistent definition is symptomatic of our poor understanding.
More discussion on the definition of meditation can be found at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
The Western scientific and health community of scientists and clinicians has generated in excess of 3,000 peer-reviewed articles on or referring to meditation (as featured in the major bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE and PsycINFO). However, despite this impressive accumulation of publications, the number of randomised controlled trials of meditation published per year—studies that would be regarded as serious explorations of meditation’s effects— reveal a different story. Although meditation is often a topic of superficial discussion amongst scientists and clinicians, it is rarely the subject of in-depth scientific examination.
More discussion on the quantity of scientific research exploring meditation can be found at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
Kennedy (1976) described 2 cases in which de-personalisation appeared to be triggered by meditation. The first case developed after the subject used breathing and meditation exercises described in a book on self-development. The experience continued for at least 16 months. The second case involved the use of meditation techniques recommended by the Arica Institute. While at first pleased with the experiences, the subject soon found he was unable to maintain a job and needed professional help.
More information about Kennedy’s study and the adverse effects of meditation can be found at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
The ideas of yoga, sahaja, self-realization and meditation orbit around another central theme in the spiritual culture of the East which, simply put, relates to the idea that one’s perception of true reality is obscured by one’s own mental complexities (preconceptions, emotions, opinion and intellect). Meditation represents the opposite condition to mental complexity because its essential element is the experience of a trans-mind state.
More information regarding the philosophy behind meditation can be found at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.
Researching meditation poses a unique challenge, since participants receiving the “inert” (or “placebo”) treatment must be involved in a placebo-like activity that nevertheless requires their active, conscious and conscientious involvement. They must also be sufficiently convinced of its authenticity to motivate them to participate at a level necessary to maintain the validity of the study.
More information about placebos can be found at Dr Manocha’s blog.
The persistent association between the sahaja yoga meditation mental silence experience and health outcomes brings another area of discussion into focus. There is currently debate about how to define the term spirituality and how it might differ from terms such as religion or religiousness.
For more discussion of the spirituality and religiosity debate, check Dr Manocha’s blog.
In order to contrast the traditional Eastern ideas of meditation with ideas that are currently prevalent in Western culture, it is useful to examine popular, broadly consensual definitions of meditation as an insight into how the modern Western consumer has come to conceptualise it. Both basic and advanced Google searches were conducted using “meditation” and “definition” and “definition of meditation” as search terms.
An informal content analysis was performed to identify key terms and ideas. The two most common definitions of meditation are as a mental exercise that involves either “contemplation” or “continuous thinking” while the third most common definition is as an exercise involving focused attention.
The more specific notion that it involves control of the mind is considerably less widespread, despite the fact that these factors are repeatedly mentioned in traditional Indian texts. Interestingly, the more specific notion of reducing thinking activity appears to be little known, while the key notion of mental silence was mentioned only once.
Find more information about the Eastern and Western perspectives of meditation at Ramesh Manocha’s blog.