Skin Temp over time - Sahaja yoga meditation verses generic meditation

The graph displays a key difference between mental silence based meditation and other types of meditation.

Previous definitions of meditation have not differentiated between meditation and relaxation. A key feature of relaxation is that skin temperature increases with the reduced physiological arousal.

This graph shows data from a heuristic physiological study where mental silence meditators manifested reductions in skin temperature during meditation thereby contradicting the “reduced physiological arousal” conceptualisation of meditation.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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In order to effectively tease out the effects of mental silence as opposed to the effects of other aspects of Sahaja Yoga meditation it was obviously necessary to use randomised controlled trial methodology. Having refined the practical approach in previous clinics it became possible to develop a standardised, instructional strategy whose structure could also be mirrored in control strategies in order to optimise the exclusion of non-specific effects.

The first attempt at this was a well-designed RCT involving 59 participants in which SYM was compared to a standard stress management programme for sufferers of moderate to severe asthma (on pre-stabilised, optimised treatment but who remained symptomatic). This trial was designed to compare two similarly active and credible interventions in which the main critical difference was the use of mental silence in the SYM group. While both groups experienced similar improvements in a number of outcome measures, the SYM group demonstrated significantly greater improvements in clinically important subjective measures such as aspects of asthma specific quality of life, mood state and, notably, an objective measure of disease severity known as airway hyper-responsiveness. The outcomes suggest: first, that mental silence does appear to have a specific effect on mood as well as some aspects of quality of life; second, that mental silence also has some effect on pathophysiology itself. Although well designed the sample size was small and drop out rates were somewhat higher than expected thereby raising the possibility that important effects were not detectable because of type 2 errors in the statistical analysis. A larger sample size was needed to overcome this possibility. Moreover, although mental silence had been compared to stress management, it would be more informative to determine its effect in comparison to an intervention that more closely resembled a non-mental silence approach to meditation.

Taking these considerations into account, a second, larger RCT of mental silence orientated meditation is reported. SYM, as an example of the mental silence approach, was compared to a “non-mental silence” approach to meditation. SYM was, on average, twice as effective as the comparator in reducing work related stress, general depressive symptoms and anxiety.

Thus in two well-designed RCTs in which the mental silence approach to meditation was compared to highly credible and active controls, substantial differences in therapeutic effects were observed, clearly suggesting that a specific effect is associated with mental silence orientated meditation techniques.

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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Meditation is widely perceived in the West as an effective method of reducing stress, and enhancing wellbeing. In Australia, a survey conducted by Kaldor (2002) 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. The Australian Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the National Church Life Survey (2004) found that 1.5 million Australians had tried meditation within 12 months of the time of the survey and that while 29% of those surveyed found prayer to be a source of peace and wellbeing, 24% had used meditation to achieve the same effect! Only 21% reported church attendance as a source of peace or wellbeing. In fact the ACS reports that although only about 20% of Australians attend church monthly or more often “around 33% of Australians pray or meditate at least weekly”.

This situation in Australia reflects trends in other Western countries. In 2002 a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), undertaken by the Centers [sic] for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States administered to 31,000 representative adults, demonstrated that 8% of respondents had practiced meditation at some time. That biomedically trained physicians in Australia were also advising patients about the therapeutic effects of meditation, was demonstrated when Pirrotta conducted a survey of Australian GPs in 2000.

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 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

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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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In a letter to the American Heart Journal, Kothari et al. (1973) described a remarkable feat in which an ECG was attached to a yogi before he entered an eight day meditative trance. Remarkably, on the second day of the yogi’s trance, the ECG recorded minimal heart activity indicating that the meditative trance had slowed the yogi’s heart dramatically. The authors of the study ruled out mechanical disturbance or failure, and concluded that a likely cause was that the meditative trance allowed the yogi great control of his heart rate, however conceded that feat could have been a cleverly disguised trick.

The study can be found here.

Tristan Boyd, Dr Ramesh Manocha.

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Probably the most thorough and up to date review of meditation research was published in 2007 by a team led by Ospina, specifically contracted by the US Department of Health and Human Services to assess the evidence base. They included both randomised and non-randomised trials. In their assessment of more than 800 studies they concluded:

“Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterised by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence.

Ospina’s review represented a massive effort by a large team of researchers. Its thorough and comprehensive nature ensures that its contribution to the field of meditation research will be of great value. There are a number of features in the review’s design however that would seem to prevent important questions about specific effects and related issues from being clearly answered, such as:

  1. The inclusion of a wide variety of comparative studies, not just randomised controlled trials.
  2. Techniques that may not be widely accepted as meditation, such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong. These practices include meditation as a component of their practice but also include many other practices such as physical exercise, dietary modification and other lifestyle choices whose confounding and non-specific effects are difficult to separate from any effects of meditation.
  3. Effect size calculations did not seem to take into account the heterogeneity of control groups and their widely varying ability to confound outcomes since the control methods themselves elicit both non-specific and, in some cases, specific effects.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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