Practitioners of sahaja yoga meditaiton (SYM) consistently report that the state of mental silence is characteristically associated with other subjective phenomena such as a natural focusing of attention and a sense of wellbeing which somehow leads to improved physical health. A number of SYM practitioners do describe occasional transcendent experiences, with concomitant benefits to physical and mental health, that in many ways reflect traditional descriptions of mystical experiences and states such as Sahaja yogic tradition, as well as modern SYM practitioners ascribe these experiences to a unique, spontaneous and more or less involuntary psycho-physiological process that occurs during meditation. The process is said to involve a system of yogic energy centres (chakras), interconnecting channels (nadis) and activating energy (kundalini). Modern proponents of the yogic tradition put this “psychic anatomy” forward as a kind of psychosomatic theory of health.

Ramesh Manocha.

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Shapiro (1992) observed the effects of vipassana meditation on a small group of meditators and found that while most participants experienced positive results, a small number of meditators experienced distinctly negative states.

Glueck (1984) studied 110 participants and reported that the practice of transcendental meditation (TM) appeared to release repressed subconscious impressions. A small proportion of participants reacted adversely to this experience. Heide (1983, 1984) found that 54% of anxiety prone participants demonstrated increased anxiety during mantra meditation modelled on TM. Otis (1974) observed a cohort of 62 novices who tried TM and concluded that it was not suitable for those with serious emotional problems.

Read more about the research into the adverse effects of meditation here.

Ramesh Manocha.

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Lazarus (1976, 1984) described several cases in which psychiatric problems such as depression, agitation and schizophrenic de-compensation were observed. These included a 34 year old woman who became suicidal and a 24 year old woman who experienced severe de-personalisation, apparently as a result of transcendental meditation (TM). He also suggested that participants who failed to experience the benefits of meditation might experience a sense of failure and anxiety rather than the enhanced self-understanding that they perhaps were looking for.

Ramesh Manocha.

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The design of RCTs for meditation (or any behaviour-based therapy for that matter) involves a number of unique challenges compared with pharmacological trials. While both categories of trial use an inactive placebo, the pharmaceutical trial uses an inert “sugar tablet” which appears similar to the medication being administered. The participant taking the “sugar tablet” is unable to ascertain whether or not they are taking the active or placebo treatment thus allowing the trial to control for confounding factors that may contribute to changes in the participants condition other than that caused by the treatment being studied.

More information about the use of placebos in meditation research can be found at Dr Manocha’s website.

Ramesh Manocha.

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Sham meditation involves designing control strategies that overtly resemble the intervention, but which do not actually trigger the effects purported to be specifically associated with meditation.

Sham techniques are used in research when the researcher wishes to examine the specific effects a meditation technique may elicit, while controlling for the non-specific effects.

Sham meditation procedures necessarily involve deception of participants and the ethicality of this in clinical trials is open to dispute. Further, this kind of strategy can be logistically challenging and there is always a risk that the deception might be uncovered, thereby immediately invalidating the entire study.

Ramesh Manocha.

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Traditional meditation texts often warn of the potential negative effects of meditation. These can arise as a result of incorrect preparation, instruction, practice or supervision. Traditionally speaking, misconceptions about the ultimate goals of meditation have often led to unfortunate consequences.

Dr Ramesh Manocha further discusses the historical descriptions of the adverse effects that can arise from meditation at his blog.

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A study commissioned by the German government (1980) to assess the effects of TM on youth created controversy when it reported that the majority of participants observed during the trial experienced psychological problems, worsening concentration and variety of physical complaints. Publication of the study was unsuccessfully contested by the TM organization in the German courts.

More information on the adverse effects of meditation can be read at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.


A study commissioned by the German
government to assess the effects of TM on youth created controversy when it
reported that the majority of participants observed during the trial experienced
psychological problems, worsening concentration and variety of physical
complaints
557. Publication of the study was unsuccessfully contested by the TM
organization in the German courts.

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Aftanas et al. (2001) conducted a well designed study of EEG on novice and advanced sahaja yoga meditation practitioners. During meditation substantial changes in midline alpha-theta power, rather than gamma power, distributed more or less symmetrically in the fronto-parietal parts of the brain, occurred in a pattern that was significantly repeatable from subject to subject. Most significantly these changes correlated significantly with the participants’ self-reported experience of mental silence and were more pronounced in the advanced meditators. Thus the mental silence state of sahaja yoga meditation was associated with changes in central nervous system activity that are both reproducible and correlate with subjective experience of meditation. This adds further support to the idea that mental silence may be as much a biological phenomenon as it is a conceptual one. In other words, mental silence may even have a neurophysiology unique to that state of consciousness.

Ramesh Manocha.

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Findings suggest that the mental silence experience may be associated with a specific pattern of activity in both the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system which is more complex than simple reduction of arousal and yet different from the cognitive changes seen in association with mindfulness meditaton.

Thus, although Eastern and Western ideas of meditation may seem externally similar (as might meditation and relaxation) and may initially share a number of physiological similarities, the point of both physiological and philosophical divergence between the two paradigms may be with the onset of the mental silence experience.

Ramesh Manocha

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The mechanism of action provoked by meditation is thought primarily to involve its ability to reduce stress. There are two main theories about how this happens. First, that it reduces somatic-arousal thereby reducing the reactivity of the individual to environmental stressors and, second, that it alters the individual’s cognitive appraisal of and perceived self-efficacy with regard to stressors. By eliminating background mental noise, the meditator probably increases internal and external awareness and therefore somehow achieves more veridical perception, reduced negative affect and improved vitality and coping capacity.

Ramesh Manocha

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