In 2000 Pirrotta et al. published the results of a widely publicised survey of family physicians in Australia. Remarkably it reported that almost 80% of respondents had recommended meditation to patients at some time in the course of their practice, yet less than 35% had any formal training or education in the field. This reflects, on the one hand, the growing legitimacy of what was once regarded as a fringe concept and on the other, a lack of quality education on the topic. The medical community’s manifest interest in meditation is often construed by consumers as tacit endorsement of the practice.

Meditation arose from an ancient spiritual tradition centred in India. It has achieved substantial popularity in Western societies as a therapeutic tool as well as a method of self development. In both the East and West it is widely perceived to have potent, specific effects on both the body and mind. In Australia, a survey of a randomly selected but representative sample drawn from the state of Western Australia (n = 1,033) found that 11% of respondents had practiced meditation at least once. This reflects trends in other countries. In the United States for instance, a survey administered to 31,000 representative adults, conducted in 2002 as part of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that 8% of respondents had practiced meditation at some time.

Dr Ramesh Manocha.