Common steps and sub-activities
Meditation is a little like hypnosis in that it is a sort of catch-all name given to a set of techniques to achieve spiritual experience of various sorts. The techniques can differ wildly between practitioners and teachers, so there is no one technique called ‘meditation’. Thus for example meditation techniques may include any number of the suppression activities that I have described.
The objective of all meditation is to still the 5 senses and the nervous system and to calm or subdue the reasoning function enough to let the Composer take over. So it is intended to be an all encompassing set of techniques. Meditation aims to bring a set of proven activities together into one set – a packaged approach.
Whilst it is very useful to have a packaged approach to achieving spiritual experience, an approach where you don’t have to choose activities and which claims to be proven, it can also be deeply confusing, as there seem to be so many on the market that claim they have the ‘answer’.
A cursory look on Amazon using the keyword of ‘meditation’ produced about 50,000 books. Yes - 50,000! The problem with a catch all term like ‘meditation’ is that you don’t know what you are really getting from the teachers or the books.
A whole host of organisations and even religions have sprung up to teach their ‘brand’. But by branding, they do lose the overall picture – the fact that there is homogeneity in the activities at the level I have tried to describe on the site. Of course this may be deliberate on the part of those trying to sell you their brand. If you can see the logic behind the activities used and how they work, then there may be no point in you spending money going on their courses!
Here are some examples from various practitioners to show you that even if the names change, the objectives of each of the approaches is exactly the same:
This meditation is based on the repetition of a mantra - Suppression of learning which leads to suppression of memory and from there the squashing of reason. The mantra is always a sound without meaning. The technique is practiced morning and evening for 15–20 minutes each time. “A mental procedure that uses the nature of the mind to systematically bring the mind to rest. If the mind is given the opportunity, it will go to rest with no effort. That is how the mind works. Indeed, effort is opposed to the natural process of deep meditation. The mind always seeks the path of least resistance to express itself. Most of the time this is by making more and more thoughts. But it is also possible to create a situation in the mind that turns the path of least resistance into one leading to fewer and fewer thoughts.”
This meditation is also based on the repetition of a mantra. TM was introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1914–2008). It was probably thrust into the limelight most when the Beatles took an interest in it. The mantra is used to still the chattering mind, as a means in other words of helping the person achieve “a less active, quieter style of mental functioning”.
Since then it has become a religion, with some strange parallels with what happened to Christianity, except the process here has been quicker. In some countries TM has become a means of making money – which is rather sad. It is often the subject of research in the USA. One focus of research has been the effects of Transcendental Meditation on cardiovascular disease, with over $20 million in funding from the US National Institutes of Health. The Transcendental Meditation technique has even been trademarked and “can be learned only from a certified teacher”.
Believe it or not the technique is taught in the USA on a a standardised seven-step course with lectures, a personal interview, and several instruction sessions given on consecutive days. A real money spinner! In the 1960s, in the United States, the usual fee was one-week's salary. It has gone up since then. By 2003, the fee in the United States was set at $2,500. The Maharishi is probably spinning in his heavenly grave. The Transcendental Meditation movement is now a global organisation with over 1,000 TM centres, and controls property assets of the order of USD 3.5 billion. It has also become a political party. In 1992, the Natural Law Party (NLP) was founded based on the principles of TM and it ran candidates in ten countries. All this on an easily learnt meditation technique based on mantras.
The practise of meditation is found in Buddhism [zen and other branches] and in Hinduism. It is used by Sufis, the Islamic practice of Dhikr involves the repetition of the 99 Names of God in the Qur'an. It is described as part of the Jewish Kabbalah. There are references to meditation with Rishabha in Jainism dating to 500 BC. Some of the earliest written records of meditation date to 1500BC in Hindu Vedantism. Around 500-600BC Taoists in China and Buddhists in India began to develop meditative practices.
In the west, both Philo of Alexandria and Plotinus wrote on meditative techniques. It is found in early Christianity. The use of the term meditatio is attributed to the 12th century monk Guigo II. The philosopher Schopenhauer discussed it.
Meditation and 'invisible input'
If we bear in mind that the activities that encompass meditation are those on this site in various combinations - controlled breathing for example, and contemplation and detachment, then it becomes of great interest that the link with not just the more 'active' elements of spiritual experience have been recognised, but the invisible input has started to become a subject of study too. And this reasearch comes from the scientific community.
One area of quite intensive research has been in the benefits on health of these types of activity - the suppression techniques.
Scientists appear to have established that suppression techniques can ease pain by producing endorphins and the hormone ACTH. ACTH is [crudely put] an anti-stress hormone. A number of studies have served to confirm this, for example
"The present study was undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of the meditative practice of Sahaja yoga on plasma β-endorphin levels. .... There was a significant increase (p<0.01) between control and meditating subjects. "
In one study, Cortisol, beta-endorphin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) were measured in practitioners of meditation against those of a control group. The meditators showed “a different pattern in the daytime secretion of pituitary hormones”. The researchers concluded that although cortisol levels weren’t directly affected by meditation [although they concluded they might be indirectly affected] endorphins and the ACTHs were.
It gets even more complex.
The release of endorphins is proven from scientific research, but the chain of release is still not well understood. Endorphins don’t just pop up as a result of meditation, there is a sort of chain reaction. One key hormone in this chain is corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
There is a significant elevation of CRH after meditation. The scientists looking at this deduced that CRH had a role in beta-endorphin release. CRHs main function is the stimulation of the pituitary synthesis of ACTH. So here we have the one hormone CRH which once produced serves to trigger the production of both ATCH and Endorphins.
CRH -------------------------> ACTH ------------------------> Endorphins
Overall, we can summarise this by saying that there are theoretical health benefits which are borne out in practise from the observations in meditation and scientific literature, for example
“sometimes when we are meditating we will realise that we were off somewhere, not in thoughts, or with mantra, and not unconscious either. This is not the kind of thing we can ponder while it is happening, because there were no thoughts while it was happening. As soon as we recognise we were there, we are not there anymore. This experience of no mantra and no thoughts can leave us with a feeling of pleasantness, lightness or euphoria. It is inner silence – pure bliss consciousness”and
“The use of regulated breathing, meditation, guided imagery, or a massage for a pain sufferer are simple but potentially beneficial inexpensive aids to care that can be easily employed in the emergency department. Some CAM therapies, while not easily practiced in the emergency department, exist as possibilities for exploration of patients after they leave, and may offer an improved sense of well-being and empowerment in the face of suffering and despair. The foundations of good nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and reengagement in life can contribute much to restoring the quality of life to a pain patient. Adding nondrug therapies … can complete the conventional picture. Adding in simple mind/body therapies …, may effect and enhance a conventional pain management program. Armed with an understanding of pain dynamics and treatments, practitioners can better meet patient needs, avoid serious side effects, and improve care when addressing pain management in the emergency department”
Meditation should lower blood pressure. The following quote from a scientific paper is but one of many that showed that it does
“The objective of the study was to evaluate the effect of breathing awareness meditation (BAM), on ambulatory blood pressure and sodium excretion in African American adolescents. Following 3 consecutive days of systolic blood pressure (SBP) screenings, 53 participants…. were randomised into the BAM group. Before and after the intervention, overnight urine samples and 24-hour ambulatory SBP, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate were obtained. The BAM treatment exhibited the greatest overall decreases on these measures. BAM appears to improve hemodynamic function and may affect sodium handling among African American adolescents who are at increased risk for development of cardiovascular disease”
So remember - lots and lots of brand names but a common set of activities that appear to have major benefits on health.
- Deep meditation - Yogani
- Effect of meditation on plasma beta-endorphins in humans - Prof. Ram K. Mishra, Cia Barlas, A. Pradhan, 1993, U. of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies, Department of Psychology
- ACTH and beta-endorphin in transcendental meditation. - Infante JR, Peran F, Martinez M, Roldan A Poyatos R, Ruiz C, Samaniego F, Garrido F.; Clinical Analysis and Immunology Service, Virgen de las Nieves Hospital, Granada, Spain. PMID: 9748098
- The effects of running and meditation on beta-endorphin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol in plasma, and on mood. - Harte JL, Eifert GH, Smith R; School of Behavioral Sciences, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, Australia
- Serum hormonal concentrations following transcendental meditation--potential role of gamma aminobutyric acid. - Elias AN, Wilson AF; Department of Medicine, University of California Medical Center, Irvine, Orange, USA.
- Complementary and alternative pain therapy in the emergency department - Dillard JN, Knapp S. - Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, USA, Emerg Med Clin North Am 2005 May;23(2):529-49.
- Breathing awareness meditation and LifeSkills Training programs influence upon ambulatory blood pressure and sodium excretion among African American adolescents. - Gregoski MJ Barnes VA, Tingen MS, Harshfield GA, Treiber FA - Medical University of South Carolina, College of Nursing and Medicine, Charleston, , USA.
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