The observed relationship between Sahaja Yoga meditation (SYM) practices and mental health are not similarly as strong for measures of physical health. In many ways this might be expected since the intervention is primarily focused on a mental experience with the specific aim of reducing negative affect, thinking patterns and related behaviours. Mood, thoughts and behaviour patterns are in constant flux, much of it reflecting (and influencing) brain electrical activity and other neuro-behavioural phenomena which change from moment to moment. Aftanas (2001) has shown that the practice of SYM, and the experience of meditation, is strongly reflected in both brain electrophysiology and mood. This might explain why mental health factors are much more likely to be immediately responsive to such an intervention whereas physical health factors, which rely significantly on anatomical structures and mechanical function, will take much longer to manifest (if at all) and are subject to a vast number of other environmental confounders that may obscure any such relationship.

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Neki (1975) describes the sahaja state as a mental health ideal in more detail, asserting that it combines the elements of illumination (the direct experience of reality, devoid of the filtering effect of the mind), equipoise (the absence of emotional turbulence) and its replacement with a sense of underlying joy and spontaneity. It creates a personality that is well adjusted but without pretence, affectation or hidden agenda and also freedom from the desires and motivations that give rise to frustration and destructive behaviours. It leads to harmonisation of the subtle inner rhythms of one’s being and the greater cosmos, a sort of suprasensory perception. All of this suggests a positive, robust and fully functional state of health combined with ongoing and continuous perception of the deeper significance of reality.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The Jadad scoring system is a widely used method of rating randomised controlled trials for basic methodological rigour. The Jadad system is inadequately structured to meaningfully discern the methodological standards of meditation trials. This is because the unique issues associated with controlling for non-specific effects and sources of bias are not adequately represented in this system.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Christian mysticism

Importantly, the experience of “thoughtless awareness” and its connection to higher states of consciousness is not exclusive to the East (although it is more systematically described in that culture than any other). There are isolated descriptions throughout the religious history of the West. For example in the anonymous Christian mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing, the writer encourages the development of a profound, introspective understanding of God that is accessible in the non-thinking state, “strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting” (Walsh, 1981).
St John of the Cross described the state as “silent music” and “the sound of solitude” (Herrera, 2004) while the poet Wordsworth (1849) suggested it in his ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood which is a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of consciousness: “Our noisy years seem moments in the being of the eternal Silence”.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…” (Noyce, 2006).

Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (Hoffman, 1975). The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori (Littleton, 1996).

Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away” (Richard, 1907).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

1.1.1 Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…”224

1.1.2 Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”225. The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori226.

1.1.3 Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away.”227

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Trans-mind states are extensively described in ancient India, and are regarded as a characteristic aspect of the spiritually developed condition.

Mahabharata

In one of India’s most ancient texts, the Mahabhrata,(13.294.16) meditation is described as follows:

He does not hear…smell…taste…see…or experience touch…his mind ceases to imagine…He desires nothing, and like a log he does not think… quoted in Feuerstein, 2006. (p97).

Upanishads

The Upanishads are some thousands of years younger than the Mahabharata. Mascaro, an eminent translator of Indian spiritual texts, summarizes the Upanishadic ideas on meditation and consciousness as follows:

In the infinite struggle of man to know this world and the universe around him, and also to know the mind that allows him to think, he comes before the simple fact that life is above thought: when he sees a fruit he can think about the fruit but in the end he must eat it if he wants to know its taste: the pleasure and nourishment he may get from eating the fruit is not an act of thought (Mascaro, 1965, pp1–47).

Mascaro’s authoritative translations of the Upanishads further illustrate these points. In the Kena Upanishad it is stated:

He (God) comes to the thought of those who know him beyond thought, not to those who imagine he can be attained by thought: he is unknown to the learned and known to the simple (p51).

Further, in the Kaushitaki Upanishad it is stated “It is not thought which we should know: we should know the thinker” (p105).

And in the Katha Upanishad:

When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the path supreme. This calm steadiness of the senses is called yoga. Then one should become watchful, because yoga comes and goes (p55).

Patanjali

One of the most well known yogic treatise is Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms. Patanjali was a physician who attempted to synthesise the many disparate texts on yogic discipline (such as the Hathayogapradipika, cited above) into single coherent practical guide for those aspiring to experience higher consciousness and self realisation, it is stated:

By being aware of the silent void moments pervading the emptiness between thoughts, one can glimpse and expand the skill of thought subjugation which leads to transformation (Messenger, C).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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It seems obvious that the non-specific effect of any intervention is closely related to its credibility and plausibility as a therapeutic intervention i.e. its “face validity”. Now, some of the effects associated with meditation must be non-specific, i.e. comprising a mixture of placebo, therapeutic contact, spontaneous improvement, and so on, whereas some, hopefully, are specific to meditation alone. One might even propose that different meditation techniques have varying proportions of specific and non-specific effects. Within the context of an RCT, the control strategy should ideally:

• elicit all the non-specific effects that meditation might have, but have none of meditation’s specific effects;
• not have any specific effects of its own.

By fulfilling these criteria the control strategy makes the RCT methodology sensitive to any specific effects of meditation that might be detectable.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Despite the scientific establishment’s equivocal conclusions about the efficacy of meditation, positive perceptions are evident among the Western lay population because of the increasing popularity of the philosophy, metaphysics and folklore associated with the ancient and traditional Indian ideas of meditation. So it is important to develop an understanding of meditation, in the words of Taylor (2005) in the context of its:

“…particular spiritual tradition, situated in a specific historical time period, or codified in a specific text according to the philosophy of some particular individual.”

While the biomedical Cartesian worldview that developed in the West from the mid-19th century weakened the connection between health and spirituality, this did not occur in India. There strong associations between health and spirituality were made and utilised to promote better physical wellbeing and quality of life. Typical of this health philosophy was the practice of yoga, which combined spiritual teachings with more mundane health factors such as lifestyle, diet, physical exercise and positive psychology in order to achieve its ultimate aim, the development of consciousness (this will be explained at greater length below). Similarly, the ancient and still widely used Ayurveda health epistemology was used to cure illness and enhance wellbeing by combining spiritual practices such as meditation, mantras and prayer with lifestyle measures such as exercise, diet and massage. Proponents of this epistemology also advocated the use of an extensive herbal pharmacopoeia, while its diagnostic system was based on psychological predisposition and personality type (Chopra Et al., 2002). In fact the followers of Ayurveda proposed a perspective of the human corpus in which the mind was not contained within the confines of the brain, as in Western perceptions. Instead, it was seen to be closely intertwined with the physical body, thus forming a body-mind whole in which physical health status was seen to be a direct reflection of consciousness and vice versa.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Despite an absence of reliable evidence, complementary and alternative treatments are rapidly increasing in popularity in the treatment of Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They include dietary modification, the use of nutritional supplementation (such as essential fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, amino acids, megavitamins) and herbs (such as ginseng and ginkgo). Also important are environmental therapies (which involve eliminating pollutants such as lead, and manganese from the environment), biofeedback, relaxation training, and meditation. Arnold’s review (2001) of alternative approaches to the management of ADHD noted that meditation was one of a number of promising strategies and warranted further systematic assessment. However, so far there have been only two unpublished dissertations suggesting that in children with ADHD, meditation may mitigate tendencies to impulsiveness both at home and in the classroom.

The EEG studies of Aftanas & Golocheikine (2001, 2002) suggest that meditation might influence those parts of the brain that govern attention. Furthermore, anecdotal feedback from teachers and meditation practitioners has indicated that meditation could help to focus attention, enhance concentration and memory and improve children’s performance at school. Given the background of neurological, physiological, and psychological research as well as practical experience, it seemed reasonable to evaluate the potential of meditation as a useful alternative treatment for children with ADHD.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Methodological validity is therefore the major challenge to meditation research, and the chief problems within this broad category are first, the use of appropriate control strategies, second, the need for randomisation and other strategies to exclude bias and third, a definition of meditation that allows inter-trial comparability and remains consistent with the traditional ideas of meditation as a state of non-thought.

Plausible controls
Plausible control groups are critical in behaviour therapy research because of the need to exclude the significant confounding effects of non-specific factors (such as placebo, therapeutic contact and researcher expectancy). The significance of this issue is borne out by the fact that even comparative trials of behaviour therapies often end up demonstrating equivalence of effect255. Such non-specific factors are also significant in meditation research. Expectancy alone, for instance, has been shown in a number of studies to positively influence the apparent effect of meditation4.
The essential criteria for a control strategy in meditation trials should therefore be first, convincing plausibility as an active intervention in its own right and second, a process that involves relaxation and reduction of somatic arousal (since this is the nearest conventionally understood phenomenon that resembles meditation).

Randomisation and other strategies to exclude bias

There are a large number of controlled meditation trials using dissimilar cohorts in non-randomised trials. The need for randomisation to exclude selection bias is obvious, yet as previously pointed out, less than 4% of the total number of peer-reviewed publications used random allocation of participants.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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