An extensive search of the scientific literature identified 3,500 peer-reviewed publications that featured “meditation” as a key word. Yet, of these, only 135 (approximately 4%) fulfilled the very basic requirements of experimental evaluation, i.e. they were prospective trials using control groups and random allocation. Importantly, even within this subset of more rigorous studies, there is no convincing evidence that meditation has a specific effect. In fact within this set of randomised controlled trials (RCTs), there appeared to be an inverse relationship between methodological rigour and likelihood of an outcome that is favourable to meditation.
Dr Ramesh Manocha
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
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
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
Practitioners of sahaja yoga meditaiton (SYM) consistently report that the state of mental silence is characteristically associated with other subjective phenomena such as a natural focusing of attention and a sense of wellbeing which somehow leads to improved physical health. A number of SYM practitioners do describe occasional transcendent experiences, with concomitant benefits to physical and mental health, that in many ways reflect traditional descriptions of mystical experiences and states such as Sahaja yogic tradition, as well as modern SYM practitioners ascribe these experiences to a unique, spontaneous and more or less involuntary psycho-physiological process that occurs during meditation. The process is said to involve a system of yogic energy centres (chakras), interconnecting channels (nadis) and activating energy (kundalini). Modern proponents of the yogic tradition put this “psychic anatomy” forward as a kind of psychosomatic theory of health.
The mechanisms by which sahaja yoga meditation (SYM), or in fact any meditation technique, exerts its claimed effects are unclear. One very popular view, which has become more or less the default explanation of meditation effects is in terms of the physiological changes that characterise the Relaxation Response — that is, reductions in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and increases in skin temperature, skin resistance and alpha wave activity in the brain. All of these are brought about by reducing activity of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and increasing activity of the parasympathetic components of the ANS. Psychophysiological studies in India certainly appear to confirm that SYM does reduce many parameters of sympathetic activation.
“More recently scholars have proposed that since Mindfulness and similar styles of meditation necessarily allow participants to become “more aware of thoughts and feelings and to change their relationship to them”, therefore somehow “that greater awareness will provide more veridical perception, reduced negative affect and improve vitality and coping”. Then it seems logical that by completely eliminating background mental noise, the meditator would necessarily increase internal and external awareness, possibly to a greater degree than in Mindfulness. Perhaps SYM acts via both the autonomic and cognitive pathways. Aftanas’ brain studies of SYM meditators also suggest that the effect of SYM on the central nervous system may also offer some explanation.
Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Dr Ramesh Manocha describes the benifits of the parents and children who engaged Sahaja Yoga Meditation as a part of a study carried out by Dr Manocha.
The Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM) intervention was designed as a family treatment program, which was expected to impact on parents as well as children. At the end of the program, 92% of parents agreed that the program had been personally beneficial. The overall benefit was rated at 4 (M = 3.91, SD = 0.92) on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale. Specific benefits rated highly (over 3 on a 5-point scale) were “more able to manage stress” (M = 3.79, SD = 0.93), “less stressed” (M = 3.67, SD = 0.96), “happier” (M = 3.45, SD = 1.01), “more able to manage anger” (M = 3.37, SD = 1.25), and “less angry” (M = 3.29, SD = 1.23).
Parents were also asked to rate the extent to which they felt that SYM had benefited the relationship with their children. Mean scores on a 5-point scale showed a consistent pattern of benefit, specifically for “more open communication” (M = 3.83, SD = 0.72), “less exhausting” (M = 3.50, SD = 0.91), “more able to manage conflict” (M = 3.42, SD = 0.67), and “less conflict” (M = 3.33, SD = 0.78). A number of parents commented that participating in the program had made a positive change to their relationship with their child. A father mentioned his pleasure at being able to laugh with his son for the first time in years. One mother wrote: “I truly understand how meditating and becoming more relaxed have helped my son 150% because he feeds off a calmer mum.” Parents also said they had used meditation at home to help deal with difficult situations. One mother commented: “I’m now able to get [my child] to calm down (using meditation). He is then able to focus and carry on with his day.” Another wrote about how she dealt with a difficult time: “We had a good meditation and he went off to bed quite calm and relaxed and went straight to sleep.”