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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new paper published on Monday in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reports on the mental and physical changes associated with transcendental meditation, a popular type of meditation.
Written by Fred Travis, from the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, the report details how different meditations have different effects, one potential effect being transcendental experiences, a sense of self-awareness without other sensations.
A previous report co-authored by Travis outlined three different categories of meditation: focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending. Focused attention meditation involves concentrating on an object or emotion and open monitoring meditation involves being mindful of one’s breath or inner thoughts.
According to Travis, transcendental meditation allows the person meditating to transcend their own activity and potentially access higher states of consciousness. He said physiological measures and descriptions of transcendental experiences seem to only accompany this type of meditation.
In his paper, Travis cited a study of transcendental experiences described by 52 subjects practicing the transcendental meditation and discovered that they experienced “a state where thinking, feeling, and individual intention were missing, but Self-awareness remained.”
He also noted explicit physiological changes linked to the practice, such as a shift in breath rate, skin conductance, and EEG patterns. According to Travis, regular meditation allows a person to become more self-aware and able to handle the challenges of everyday life.
While research on transcendental meditation has produced mixed results, several academic studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness mediation – where the subject objectively examines whatever enters the mind without becoming too focused on it. A review of previous studies published last week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and depression, as well as physical pain.
“Anxiety, depression, and stress/distress are different components of negative affect. When we combined each component of negative affect, we saw a small and consistent signal that any domain of negative affect is improved in mindfulness programs when compared with a nonspecific active control,” wrote the study researchers.
The study researchers found that people who performed mindfulness meditation had a 5 to 10 percent improvement in anxiety symptoms and a 10 to 20 percent improvement in depression symptoms over people who did not use the meditation technique.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Allan H. Goroll, from Harvard Medical School said most of the studies were less than 12 months long so, “longer study duration will be needed to address the question of maximum efficacy.”
“Nonetheless, the small but potentially meaningful reductions in the distress of anxiety and depression associated with limited-term mindfulness programs argue for consideration of their use as a means of moderating the need for psychopharmacologic intervention in these conditions,” he added.
Goroll also noted that some of the studies included in the review found no benefit, but the desire to control anxiety appears to be one of the main reasons behind the growing popularity of mindfulness meditation today.
He added that more studies are needed because people make treatment decisions on what they believe instead of data.
“That is particularly the case with alternative and complimentary approaches to treating medical problems. It ranges from taking vitamins to undergoing particular procedures for which the scientific evidence is very slim but people’s beliefs are very great,” Goroll concluded.