In this excerpt from his thesis, Dr Ramesh Manocha discusses the problem of differentiating meditation from relaxation.

“Early uncontrolled or own-control studies of meditation suggested that psycho-physiological parameters such as heart rate could change quite dramatically in a single meditation session and this led to initial enthusiasm for meditation as a potentially unique self control strategy.

“Later however properly controlled studies reported considerably less positive outcomes. For instance, a controlled study comparing TM, general relaxation training and muscle relaxation using electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback, demonstrated that while TM significantly reduced parameters associated with arousal (i.e. a significant within-group difference), it was not any more effective than the comparator interventions. In other words, there were no significant between-group differences. Similarly a study comparing TM to listening to music, found that oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production dropped in the meditating group (consistent with reports in uncontrolled studies) but that the same change occurred in a non-meditating control group (who simply listened to music) and that there were no significant differences between the two practices. In other words, when meditation was compared to rest, and relaxation or other appropriate controls, it demonstrated minimal differences in both the magnitude and direction of any major parameters. Thus emerged the notion that meditation, contemplation, prayer and rest and relaxation, were psycho-physiologically equivalent.”

More information about Dr Manocha’s thesis can be found at his website.