This study demonstrates a skin temperature reduction on the palms of the hands during the experience of mental silence, arising as a result of a single 10 minute session of Sahaja yoga meditation. However when people (non-meditators) were asked to do a simple relaxation exercise, under the same conditions, their skin temperature increased which is the opposite of what occured for those using the mental silence approach to meditation.

The outcomes of this study therefore suggest that “thoughtless awareness” may be both experientially and physiologically different to simple relaxation. Interestingly, all other studies of meditation that have studied skin temperature show changes similar to that of relaxation (ie that skin temperature rises) and none show reductions, adding further scientific weight to the idea that the mental silence definition of meditation may well be the best way to differentiate meditation from relaxation, hypnosis, sleep and other forms of behavior therapy!

meditation results in reduction of skin temperature

Manocha R, Black D, Ryan J, Stough C, Spiro D, Changing Definitions of Meditation: Physiological Corollorary, Journal of the International Society of Life Sciences, Vol 28 (1), Mar 2010

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There is widespread agreement in the literature that meditation reduces sympathetic activation and increases parasympathetic activation of the ANS, that is, it reduces physiological arousal thereby triggering a characteristic spectrum of simultaneous physiological changes: reduced respiratory rate (RR), reduced heart rate (HR), reduced blood pressure (BP), reduced electrodermal activity (EDA) and increased skin temperature (ST). Many studies of non-meditative practices such as relaxation, listening to music and sitting quietly have demonstrated the same pattern, leading to the assumption that meditation can be defined merely as a method of rest or relaxation — no different to other methods.

The significance of my research is that it has challenged current thinking by demonstrating that Sahaja Yoga meditators manifest changes that in some part are opposite to that which one would expect to see in participants who simply undergo rest/relaxation. Specifically, while the “relaxation” explanatory paradigm for meditation predicts that meditators’ ST should increase, this study found that it decreases and that this decrease correlates with the degree of mental silence reported by the meditator. A review of the literature indicates that this pattern of changes is difficult to mimic consciously. The observations in this study correspond closely with other studies on Sahaja Yoga meditation reported in the “grey literature”. Taken together these findings suggest that the mental silence experience may be associated with a relatively unique pattern of physiological activity.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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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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Two cases are described in a report by Xu (1994). The first involved a 22 year-old man who sought treatment for lumbago and experienced the onset of adverse effects while undertaking self-teaching of the Wu Qin Xi form of Qigong. He experienced anxiety, physical pain, psychosis and suicidal thoughts. Some relief was experienced as a result of treatment by a Qigong master, but symptoms recurred. These included hearing the “voices of evil spirits”, uncontrollable behaviour and attempted suicide. Some months later he developed similar symptoms when his family would not allow him to do his Qigong exercises. He attempted suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric institution. After ECT treatment he was discharged and was subsequently stable. The second case involved a 44 year old male who developed delusional psychosis after practicing He Xiang Zhuang (a form of Qigong) for a cervical disorder.

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A reduction of autonomic arousal leads to diversion of blood flow to the viscera and away from the skeletal muscle of the body. Accordingly this leads to increased blood flow to the surface of glabrous skin and thereby an increase in palmar skin temperature. Sahaja Yoga meditation practitioners appear to perform exactly the same overt task as conventional meditators since, like conventional meditators, they appear to sit quietly. If however the physiological changes that occur are different then it would suggest that despite overt similarities, the biological events are quite different. This would suggest that Sahaja Yoga meditation (and hence presumably the mental silence experience) is physiologically atypical. The mental silence experience may be associated with a unique spectrum of physiological activity.

A detailed summary of the physiology of skin temperature can be found at Dr Ramesh Manocha’s website.

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