A national survey of Sahaja Yoga meditation practitioners using standardised measures revealed that meditators experienced significantly better levels of quality of life and mental health as compared to population data drawn from national health surveys using the same instruments. Similar surveys of populations practising Western forms of religiosity also reported better health than the general population but the meditators appeared to experience substantially greater advantages. Remarkably, analysis revealed a robust and consistent relationship between reported frequency of mental silence experience and health scores, especially mental health, thereby providing support for my central hypothesis that is that the experiential mental silence aspect of meditation is associated with health benefits. An association however does not prove causality and so it became necessary to conduct observational experiments to determine if meditation, and more specifically, mental silence, was specifically responsible for the health benefits observed in the health survey.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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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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The popularity of meditation in the West has grown in parallel with the mainstreaming of alternative health and the New Age movement and is now fuelled by a potent combination of traditional anecdote, selective misreadings of the scientific database and marketing hyperbole. Popularity with consumers may well be encouraged by apparent acceptance amongst health professionals.

The scientific evidence clearly shows that prevalent definitions of meditation do not have much of an effect beyond that of simple rest. This is primarily because the original understandings of meditation and its relationship to mental silence have not been successfully translated into the West.

The current lack of clarity about definition is used by the New Age industry and entrepreneurs to perpetuate a misunderstanding of a form of meditation that is basically no more effective than sitting quietly, listening to music or walking in the park. In contrast the traditional understanding of meditation as mental silence does appear to generate scientifically verifiable effects and is therefore likely to be if considerable value to health professional and indeed modern consumers. Sahaja Yoga meditation is an example of such an approach to meditation.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Dr Ramesh Manocha carried out a randomised controlled trial to assess the impact Sahaja Yoga meditation (SYM) has on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

The results of this trial program indicate that SYM has potential as an adjunctive therapy for children with ADHD when offered via a family treatment approach and in combination with existing medical treatment. Although results were limited by the small number of children for whom complete data was available, the consistency of the findings, which drew on different measures of child outcomes, different groups of children and both parent and child respondents, along with the significance of the results, points to the positive potential of this approach.

Core symptoms of ADHD were improved. Parent ratings on the Connors Parent-Teacher Questionnaire, which assesses attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, were significantly reduced over the course of the program. Children also reported that they felt calmer, less panicky, and more relaxed. Parents reported that the children’s approach to school and homework had improved during the SYM program, while the children themselves said that they were more able to concentrate at school. Improved sleep was another positive outcome reported by parents and children.

Evidence for the effectiveness of the SYM intervention, over other possible contributors was provided by the group of “wait-list” children whose baseline ADHD scores remained the same over two pre-treatment assessment points. It consequently dropped significantly over the 6-week SYM program.

Dr Ramesh Manocha wrote an article “2001: A Cosmic Metaphor” in his old student magazine “Knowledge of Reality”. In the article Dr Manocha considers the metaphors the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey made regarding the ancient Eastern outlook on life, the universe and everything.

“Dave, in crossing the void of space (ignorance), surviving the maniacal Hal 9000 (the mind, source of most delusion), the even more terrifying expurgation of his own being (that psychedelic experience which was the process of purification) attained a direct connection (yoga) with the cosmic awareness (self realisation).”

The full article can be found at www.sol.com.au.

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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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