Examining randomised controlled trials exploring meditation in my review, control methods were presumptively categorized according to their face-validity into low, moderate or high face validity categories.

The low face-validity controls used strategies that were:
Passive and unstructured: Participants were involved in minimal or no activity relating to the trial and had no interaction with researchers as a result of being allocated to the control group (e.g. waiting list, no treatment, self-directed reading, or referral to community resources). This kind of comparator controls for minor non-specific effects, such as regression to the mean, the natural history of disease states and environmental factors common to all participants. It does not however, control for any non-specific effects that may be elicited by behaviour therapies.

The moderate face-validity controls use strategies:
Passive and structured. These involved some sort of regular and structured interaction with personnel associated with the experiment (e.g. regular lectures, specific reading, structured educational sessions on unrelated topics, regular blood pressure checks). This controls for the same confounders as Category 1 in addition to the effects of therapeutic contact and sense of active involvement.
• That were active in nature and generated some expectation of benefit but did not have effects or credibility as either a method of relaxation or meditation e.g. support groups, education about health factors measured in the study, or lectures on stress and lifestyle management. This controls for the same as Categories 2 and 3 in addition to the effects of social support, improved lifestyle, etc. Social support has been repeatedly demonstrated to be effective in improving mood and quality of life and reducing the severity of disease symptoms. “Standard treatment” was included in this category.

High face-validity controls use strategies that were:
• That were active in nature but not designed to generate significant expectation of therapeutic benefit (e.g. exercise). This controls for the same as Category 2 in addition to the effects of regular physical activity. Regular physical exercise has been shown to improve mood.
Active in nature, generated some expectation of benefit and elicited the simple physiological effects on rest but did not have specific credibility as a meditative method (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation, other relaxation methods, hypnosis, biofeedback, psychotherapy).
• The same as above but also had credibility as a meditative method (e.g. meditation techniques, strategies designed to convincingly mimic meditation) or constituted a legitimate form of psychotherapy (e.g. desensitisation, cognitive behaviour therapy, counselling).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The observations of previous randomised controlled trials assessing meditation could lead to three possible conclusions:

1. Meditation is in fact no more effective than other approaches to rest and relaxation. Yet meditative traditions have existed for thousands of years and at least in India, are widely perceived to have specific and unique features. In other words history and culture do not agree with the idea that meditation is simply a method of mundane relaxation. While this “test of history” does not provide proof of efficacy, it does encourage the undertaking of a thorough examination of the phenomenon before it is discarded as mere folklore and superstition.

2. The measures which have so far been used to assess the effects of meditation are not sensitive to the specific effects of meditation. The wide variety of outcome measures used means that if the specific effects of meditation are not detectable, then the effects are either too small or too esoteric for mundane study. Yet classical descriptions of meditation suggest that despite the metaphysical basis of meditation, its effects do manifest themselves in mundane dimensions such as health and behaviour, implying that at least some of the many measures available to researchers should be able to detect a differential effect. Again, while this might be satisfactorily applied to the genre as a whole, there appear to be isolated exceptions which suggests that certain as yet undetermined categories may be able to generate specific effects. Yet our analysis of the aggregated data has not yet yielded a pattern with sufficient clarity to identify the features of that category.

3. The methods that have been labelled as “meditation” in the trials do not consistently reflect the true nature of meditation. This is the most interesting and important issue and therefore merits considerable discussion. The functional and conceptual definition determines the nature of the intervention, which in turn influences the choice of the control method that ought to be used and therefore the validity and generality of the findings. Yet defining meditation has proven to be a difficult challenge for modern researchers. While early empirical reports seemed to show that measurable distinctions between meditation and rest or simple relaxation existed, rigorous trials did not support these perceptions. As a result, much of the research work on meditation has been based on the assumption that meditation techniques are much the same despite minor external and superficial differences. Indeed Western researchers have proposed that most meditative processes are physiologically similar to simple rest and relaxation and the high quality physiological trial data seems to support this. These perceptions have thus given rise to an assumption of “psycho-physiological uniformity”.

This last idea is the key to the problem because in fact both Western meditation enthusiasts and Western scientists, despite their opposing views, have failed to apprehend a key factor that underlies the ancient tradition of meditation: The idea that meditation necessarily involves the experience of mental silence.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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In view of the seriousness of some of the reactions described above it is questionable whether all forms of meditation can be viewed as “generally safe for general consumption”. Moreover, given that recent reviews of meditation have clearly demonstrated a lack of convincing evidence for a specific effect, the importance of developing a comprehensive understanding of meditation’s adverse effects, and the risk to both healthy and unwell populations is of considerable importance. I propose that a more cautious set of clinical recommendation guidelines be considered until more thorough, independent studies are done.

A simple guideline may be that candidates should be recommended to experienced instructors with health professional backgrounds and that referring clinicians should screen for history/susceptibility to serious mental illness. It may be also appropriate to avoid recommending methods in which commercialisation or similar considerations may lead to a conflict of interest. There are many meditation techniques that can be accessed on a low fee/non-commercial or free of charge basis and these ought to be recommended over expensive, commercialised methods. Should negative experiences occur, novices should be advised to cease practising the techniques immediately.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Meditation and its underlying ideas are increasingly popular in Western society but the practice itself has been subjected to little high quality scientific scrutiny.

This website describes the outcomes of the Meditation Research Programme, a serious scientific endeavour aimed at addressing this deficiency.

Some of our key projects, and their implications for meditation research include:

A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis of the entire English-speaking database of randomised controlled trials clearly demonstrates that the extant data is characterised by a number of methodological and conceptual flaws. As a result there is currently no consistent evidence of a specific effect associated with meditation. The most fundamentally important of these flaws, we propose, is the lack of a consistent and meaningful definition of meditation.

To explore the salience of the mental silence concept we conducted a survey of 348 meditators who used a single homogenous form of meditation called Sahaja Yoga which focuses on the experience of mental silence as its defining feature, to assess their functional health and its relationship with their meditative practices. This survey demonstrated that these meditators had not only better mental and physical health but also that a consistent relationship between health, especially mental health, and self-reported experience of mental silence existed.

To investigate the possibility of whether or not this relationship was causal, a series of increasingly rigorous clinical studies were implemented. Two separate observational and case control studies of participants suffering from 1)menopausal symptoms, and 2) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder demonstrated promising outcomes. These were followed by a small but well-designed RCT of meditation for asthma, then the largest RCT of meditation for occupational stress currently in the literature. The latter two studies were specifically designed to exclude non-specific “placebo” effects. The outcomes of these studies provided strong evidence that mental silence is associated with a specific, therapeutic effect.

Finally, in a heuristic physiological study mental silence meditators manifested reductions in skin temperature during meditation thereby contradicting the “reduced physiological arousal” conceptualisation of meditation. This and other data are discussed and the possibility that the mental silence experience is associated with a unique pattern of physiological activity is proposed.

In conclusion, there is credible evidence to support the idea that Sahaja Yoga meditation, and hence the mental silence experience that typifies it, is associated with unique effects.

Future studies that focus on further examination of the mental silence state and potential mechanisms by which its specific effects may occur with emphasis on immunogenetic markers and neuroimaging are now under consideration.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The failure of the proponents of meditation in the West to produce conclusive data on its specific efficacy in the health sphere (see Ospina’s definitive treatment of this issue), has been due to understandings having been largely confined to Westernised versions of the practice. Such understandings have meant that the original ideas about meditation as developed in South Asia and particularly on the Indian sub-continent, have been substituted by more culturally accessible but less effective Western concepts.

Thus our research programme proposes that any solution to the current scientific impasse needs to involve a re-examination of the cultural contexts in which meditation is practiced. Of particular importance in this regard are South Asian cultural themes embodied in ideas such as yoga, moksha, and sahaja. It is argued that Western conceptualisations and definitions of meditation need to be reshaped to more accurately reflect the original meaning of the practice, particularly the experience of mental silence.


Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Meditation can be a simple, effective and enjoyable method to manage stress. At this unique event you will learn an evidence based form of meditation to help manage your own stress as well as that of the people you care for. This simple skill can become a lifelong asset to enhance your health & wellbeing. The meditation technique recommended in this programme is based on world leading research conducted under the auspices of the School of Women’s and Children’s Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales and the Natural Therapies Unit, Royal Hospital for Women.

You can attend one of the following workshops for medical and other health professionals:

  • Sydney — Saturday, 19th July, Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Sydney University, Darlington Campus.
  • Melbourne — Saturday, 9th August, Copland Lecture Theatre, University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus

Further details, including a registration form can be found in this downloadable pdf about the meditation workshop.

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Welcome to the Meditation Research site. The aim of this site is to share with you the development of scientifically studied phenomena associated with the state of consciousness called thoughtless awareness.

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