Are all Meditation Techniques the same?

by on 18/09/2011

 

Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness and other meditation techniques are not all the same.

They differ in the process used, in brainwave patterns and in results.

Lets get technical.  A study published recently in Consciousness and Cognition, classifies of different types of meditation into three basic categories of process:

1. Focused attention, characterized by beta/gamma activity, included meditations from Tibetan Buddhist (loving kindness and compassion), Buddhist (Zen and Diamond Way), and Chinese (Qigong) traditions.

2. Open monitoring, characterized by theta activity, included meditations from Buddhist (Mindfulness, and ZaZen), Chinese (Qigong), and Vedic (Sahaja Yoga) traditions.

3. Automatic self-transcending, characterized by alpha1 activity, included meditations from Vedic (Transcendental Meditation) and Chinese (Qigong) traditions.

Mindfulness falls into category 2, Transcendental Meditation into category 3.

Mindfulness is described as a state in which one is highly aware and focused on the reality of the present moment. Mindfulness meditation teaches people to be aware of thoughts and perceptions without judging or holding on to them. It aims to teach people to approach stressful situations ‘mindfully’, so that they are better able to deal with them.

Transcendental Meditation does not involve monitoring one’s thoughts or breath, nor is it concentration, contemplation or ‘controlled focus’ (category 1 above). In Transcendental Meditation, one systematically goes beyond mental activity—transcending thoughts, perceptions and sensations—to experience finer states of thought or earlier stages of the thinking process, until one arrives at the source of the thinking process, a state of inner silence. By directly contacting this inner, transcendental source, mind and body are refreshed, stresses get dissolved and mental potential is enlivened, accelerating personal growth.

The main point here is that Mindfulness works on the level of changing attitude, whereas Transcendental Meditation works on the level of producing a physiological state in which the body heals itself, with consequent benefits for mental abilities, emotions and behaviour.

The laudable aims of Mindfulness—increased awareness, improved focus, a healthier recovery from stress and more harmonious behaviour— all result spontaneously as a by-product of TM practice, and increase naturally without the person having to strive consciously  to achieve such qualities by practising mindfulness techniques.

Different Meditation techniques produce different Results and Benefits

Mindfulness: There is by now quite a lot of research on Mindfulness, but most of the areas studied involve psychological variables rather than physical function. They show that it does help reduce anxiety and to improve attitude towards medical conditions. Pain has been studied a lot: there is little evidence that Mindfulness changes physical function but it does improve coping with pain.

There is no evidence that Mindfulness changes physical function in cardiovascular disease, an area where TM research is particularly strong.

A common criticism in the literature of much of the research on Mindfulness is that it does not control for placebo effects. Participants receive a lot of attention, social support, and expectation of benefits from the programme; and most of the studies are short-term psychological changes from before to after the 8 week course.

In contrast to TM research, there are only a small number of ‘controlled’ studies on Mindfulness, i.e. studies that involve a ‘control group’ — a group of people who do not practise the meditation and whose results are compared with the meditator results.

Transcendental Meditation: More than 600 studies, published in over 100 peer-reviewed journals, show TM practice benefits a wide range of areas in health, mental functioning, and behaviour, see www.mum.edu/tm_research/. Ignore wikipedia comments on TM research – the page contains many distortions such as quoting text out of context.

Findings relevant to education include: growth of intelligence (IQ), even among adults; improvements in ADHD; increased creativity; and greater integration in brain functioning. For more information on educational benefits, see www.cbesa.org

A number of recent studies on university students have found reduced stress, reduced high blood pressure, and improved cognitive development.  See www.tm.org/2010-03-tm-resets-brain

Cardiovascular health: In the US the National Institutes of Health has invested $25 million over the past 20 years  in funding research on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. Findings include: reduced high blood pressure; reduced atherosclerosis; reduced insulin resistance; decreased left ventricular mass; and improved heart function in patients with congestive heart failure.

The cardiovascular research highlights an important difference between Transcendental Meditation and other meditation techniques including Mindfulness. It shows that very profound physical changes are taking place during TM, far beyond just a change of attitude or mood. Atherosclerosis, enlargement of the heart, and insulin resistance are physical conditions, and the improvements through TM were achieved without any change in lifestyle or diet or exercise, typically within as little as three months. The changes take place due to the very deep physical rest gained during TM, and the spontaneous dissolving of stress

Other meditation techniques: Five published meta-analyses involving hundreds of studies have shown significantly greater results from Transcendental Meditation as compared to other meditation or relaxation techniques, in the areas of reduced anxiety; reduced high blood pressure; decreased markers of physiological stress; reduced addictive behaviours (cigarette smoking, alcohol, and drugs); improved self-actualisation; and improved psychological health. Here is a really superb discussion by possibly the world’s most-published writer on research on Transcendental Meditation.

Some of these meta-analyses were conducted before Mindfulness research had really taken off, and there were no published Mindfulness studies available at that time to be included in the comparison.

For this reason, we have dealt with Mindfulness separately above.

    Systematic teaching procedure

    An additional difference between Transcendental Meditation and other techniques is the highly systematic teaching procedure. TM teachers have been rigorously trained, during international residential courses lasting several months. They teach according to a standardised, tried and tested procedure that is effective in providing the necessary experience and understanding of the technique in a short time. The technique is non-religious, simple to learn, and easy and enjoyable to do. It can therefore be considered unique, in terms of both the process and its results.

     

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