relationship between mental silence and health

This graph shows the mental health of people sorted by how frequently they meditate with the mental silence based Sahaja Yoga. The graph depicts a correlation between the frequency of meditation for people who meditate and their mental health score. Mental health was measured by the mental health subscale of the Short Form 36 questionnaire.

The correlation was analysed and found to have a correlation coefficient of +0.36 with p<0.001.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Sahaja Yoga meditators health statistics

This graph shows a comparison between a group of Sahaja Yoga meditators and a sample of the general population of Australia on a number of health outcomes. The meditator group performed significantly better on a number of key health outcomes including general health and mental health.

From Manocha R and German E. Meditation, Health and Quality of Life: A Census of a Meditating Population.

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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In some ways the fact that specific effects appear to be associated with the mental silence experience poses a challenge to the philosophical underpinnings of Western culture by not only describing a state of non-thought, but also demonstrating that this state is accessible and of practical importance to the general population.

The cogito ergo sum argument essentially states that “I am thinking therefore I exist”. To some extent Western culture’s difficulty in apprehending the idea of non-thought is the result of its Cartesian underpinnings — the idea that one cannot exist if one is not thinking. The metaphysical implications of Descartes’ phrase, which equate thinking activity with self identity contrast sharply with the Eastern metaphysical idea that existential reality can be perceived only when one is not thinking, which might be stated in Latin as sum cogito ergo (I am, therefore I think)!

The ancient Eastern perspective on meditation, the mind, consciousness and health has here been demonstrated to have an important potential role to play in the health and wellbeing of people both in the East and West.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Of great interest is that the yoga tradition does not just describe philosophical, moral, metaphysical associations between mind, behaviour and health but actually describes the mechanism by which they are interconnected. This is the system of chakras (energy plexuses) and nadis (energy channels). Described since ancient times, the physical body is said to be energized via a complex network of 72,000 nadis and their associated chakras, not unlike the ancient Western understandings of the four “humors”—blood, bile, phlegm and pneuma. Yogic exercises and disciplines are directed at manipulating the subtle energetic system in order to bring about shifts in energy flux which not only impact on physical function, but also on cognitive style, mood and consciousness.

States of enlightened consciousness, whether they be described as self-realization, moksha or sahaja can be characterized by the awakening of an energy called kundalini. This energy is said to lie dormant at or near the base of the spine. At the time of awakening it rises through the spine to enter the brain and then exit via the crown of the head. The kundalini has been described variously and has been compared to many other psycho-cultural and archetypal symbols. For a useful diagramme, see Subbarayappa, 1997.

The ancient subtle-energetic mechanics of the chakra system may offer important clues in the quest to comprehensively describe and integrate the otherwise rather disparate psycho-physiological pathways that are coming to be recognized in modern science.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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I propose that one of the main reasons for the paucity of convincing evidence with regard to meditation is because Western scientists have failed to apprehend the key idea that underlies the meditation tradition: meditation is traditionally defined in Eastern cultures as the experience of mental silence. Modern Western understandings of meditation vary, but probably the most common understanding is that it is a method for eliciting reduction in physiological arousal. The notion that meditation involves a state of consciousness “beyond thought” seems all but absent from modern Western scientific literature on meditation.

Dr Ramesh Manocha.

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Summarising the basic features of Sahaja Yoga meditation, it is:

1. Relatively simple to learn and practice.
2. Appears to have a specific, positive effect on health.
3. Can be made available on a low-cost/zero-cost model.
4. Can be taught via mass media vehicles such as radio, television, Internet.
5. Evidence to date suggests a low side effect profile.

These features make mental silence orientated techniques such as SYM ideally suited as strategies to promote and preserve health as well as prevent disease and mental disorders.

For discussion on the future directions of research for Sahaja Yoga meditation, check Dr Ramesh Manocha’s blog.

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The yogic idea of mental silence implies first, that taming of the mind is the key to successful personal development and second, that the untamed mind is a fundamental factor in the development of disease. These ancient ideas are reflected in modern scientific evidence which demonstrates the deleterious impact of stress and negative affect (emotion/mood) and the constructive impact of positive moods on health. In fact this evidence forms the basis of modern theories such as the bio-psychosocial model of health, positive psychology (and specifically the ideas of mental hygiene, flow state, peak experience and plateau experience) and the religion–health connection (to be discussed later). It represents a development of the idea of psychosomatic disease postulated in the 1970s, psychoneuro-immunology and mind-body medicine.

For more discussion on the aims of yoga check Dr Ramesh Manocha’s site.

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The rise of Western “pop culture” and “alternative lifestyles” in the 1960s, was a crucial social change that led many Western consumers to dabble with spiritual ideas and practices, especially meditation. Symbolising this development was the Beatles’ much-publicised trip to a meditation retreat in Rishikesh, India. The fact that the Beatles left the retreat in disappointment and acrimony not long after their arrival, serves to illustrate the other side of this social phenomenon; that the ancient tradition has been misused by entrepreneurs and cultic organisations who have exploited Westerners’ naiveté and ignorance of the historical, philosophical and cultural context from which meditation emerged.

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The direct impact of negative thoughts and emotions on immunological function seems to be reasonably well documented and, since many Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) phenomena seem to be mediated by negative affect, rather than situational “stress”, strategies that directly modify this factor may manifest greater benefits. While relaxation orientated meditation most likely acts to reduce the impact of stress that are mediated by neuroendocrine mechanisms such as the sympathoadrenal and hypothalamicpituitary axes, so too do other strategies that reduce physiological arousal. It might be argued that since mental silence approaches to meditation aim to not only reduce physiological arousal but also mitigate negative rumination and affect this may be one reason why it seems to be associated with a specific effect.

For more information on the effect a negative mood can have on the immune system, check out Dr Ramesh Manocha’s article on Psychoneuroimmunology.

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