Meditation Practices

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Meditation Practices

In popular culture, both mindfulness and transcendental meditation are treated as great techniques in the treatment of numerous physical and mental health-related problems. There are numerous research reports, meta-analysis studies, and consensus regarding the benefits of these meditation techniques. The real importance of these techniques in human life can, however, be understood by practicing yoga, in which both the techniques are practiced together in the form of two different stages to attain the stage of 'integration of life.'

BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

There are many benefits of practicing mindfulness. Some of these benefits include a reduction in anxiety levels, a reduction in implicit age and race bias, treatment of depression, increasing body satisfaction levels, improvement in cognition, and many others benefits.

1. REDUCING STRESS
Various clinical studies show that those who regularly practice mindfulness have a tendency of developing lower cortisol levels which are known as "stress hormones."

2. REDUCING ANXIETY
According to the results of clinical trials, 89 patients suffering from anxiety have shown improvements in their anxiety levels which were gauged using Hamilton Anxiety Scale. In the study, the patients were divided into two groups: one group was enrolled for eight weeks in Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program (MBSR), while the other one was enrolled to receive eight weeks of stress management education. Although both these groups have shown improvements, the MBSR group performed much better on Hamilton Anxiety Scale.

3. MODERATING SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
It has also been suggested by research that mindfulness and antidepressants have similar effects in moderating the symptoms of depression in a person.

4. REDUCTION IN BODY WEIGHT
According to a small clinical trial, mindfulness is also linked to the reduction in body weight. Although the trial results were promising, they were not sufficient to make solid conclusions.

5. REDUCING THE METABOLIC RISK FACTORS
Additionally, it has also been found that mindfulness meditation is associated with a reduction in metabolic risk factors with improvement in the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides within 12 months of regular practicing along with the betterment in fasting glucose levels when practiced regularly for 18 months.

6. MAINTAINS PROPER BLOOD PRESSURE AND DIGESTION
Other studies show that mindfulness reduces blood pressure in those with hypertension, and it also helps in maintaining healthy gut microbe levels necessary for digestion. The study was conducted on rodents who were kept in stressful conditions and the results confirmed that stress negatively affects gut microbe levels.

7. REDUCES THE SYMPTOMS OF IBS
When it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the mindfulness meditation training significantly reduced the IBS symptoms in 49 patients, in comparison to those who received standard medical care.

8. REDUCES PREGNANCY RELATED STRESS
It has also been found that five weeks of mindfulness training (given twice a week) significantly reduced stress during pregnancy in 74% pregnant Indian women chosen for the study.

9. LOWERS THE SIDE EFFECTS OF CANCER TREATMENT
Moreover, the mindfulness training has shown a reduction in the symptoms and side effect associated with cancer, which include "stress, anxiety, depression, vitality, fatigue, and sleep levels."

BENEFITS OF TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

The benefits of transcendental meditation are similar to that of mindful meditation. Some of its important health benefits include the reduction in cortisol levels, thereby, reducing stress; improving blood pressure; reduction in sleep disorders like insomnia; lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke; reduction in anxiety and depression levels; and improvement in brain function and memory.
A 2017 meta-analysis, based on the analysis of dozens of studies and thousands of participants for the benefits of transcendental meditation, suggests that the TM is effective in lowering blood pressure in patients with Hypertension. According to another meta-analysis carried out in 2014, in which 14 research papers were studied that examined 16 case studies of 1295 patients, who were given training in TM, there is a significant reduction in the overall anxiety levels of the patients. Moreover, a 2015 meta-analysis study conducted upon the effects of TM on high school students suggested that the training significantly reduced their stress levels and improved their academic excellence. The participating students were specifically the ninth-graders, and the name of TM training (which they received for fifteen minutes a day) was "Quiet Time."

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION VS. MINDFULNESS

According to numerous studies and research on the benefits of both mindfulness and TM, it has been found that both the meditations resulted in the enhancement of gray matter in the brain; reduction in stress; incremental improvements in positive psychological traits like self-acceptance, clarity in purpose of life, and overall autonomy. According to the studies examined, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique was, however, found to be more beneficial in developing "greater cell longevity and immunity, as well as immune system recovery after stress and a lower inflammatory response. There is also more research supporting it as a tool for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and even insomnia."
Other research studies conducted on both the techniques suggests that "Mindfulness techniques produce brain waves in the 4-6 cycles per second range (Theta), whereas TM produces brain waves in the 8-10 cycles per second range." Other than this, TM also produces global brain coherence in EEG, whereas such results were not seen in mindfulness meditation. A meta-analysis of 78 studies shows that TM is better in producing significant and beneficial changes on "composite psychological variables" in comparison to the same for mindfulness meditation techniques.

POOR RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Highlighting the inconsistency and poor designs of mindfulness experiments, a research paper published in 2015 in American Psychologist suggested that "only 9% of research into mindfulness-based interventions has been tested in clinical trials that included a control group." In another research study, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists cautioned against the lack of proper scientific data in support of mindfulness techniques. It has also been found that most of the authors used inconsistent and vague definitions in the articles and studies on mindfulness experiments. Another example of poor methodologies can be seen in a 2007 peer-reviewed report, Meditation Practices for Health released by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it was concluded that the analysis of the effects of meditation techniques in 813 studies was of "poor quality."

MINDFULNESS AND TRANSCENDENCE AS YOGA'S DUAL STAGES

Mindfulness is the first stage of meditation or yoga (in some disciplines) which "in current popular culture encourages the cultivation of nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness both during the practice and in everyday life." Mindfulness is not new. It has been in existence for thousands of years in the yoga tradition, but in modern times it is becoming popular with its integration with popular therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Under the mindfulness stage of yoga, "by repeatedly returning our conscious awareness to the immediate present (e.g. the breath, body, activity, or object), we are able to observe anxious or depressive thought patterns, and empower ourselves to make conscious choices rather than being mindlessly controlled by them, and led into habitual negative behavior."

Going against the popular belief, yoga doesn't mean just a set of physical exercises to relieve pain and suffering, it actually means, "integration of life." One cannot fully understand the process of yoga in the absence of its second (and the most important stage) called transcendence. When silence and activity are actively joined together, that stage is known as transcendence, in which we go beyond the thinking process to the source of thoughts. "If applied correctly, this is a simple, effortless and automatic continuation of the flow of attention beyond mindfulness (the present moment) towards peaceful, blissful silence, like a river flowing spontaneously towards the ocean." The understanding of the dual states of meditation which includes the mindfulness of the thoughts, and transcendence beyond the thinking level "was revived in India in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as transcendental meditation (TM)." So both the mindfulness and transcendental meditation are practiced separately as two different stages of yoga, in which one acts as the preparation for the other, "and each beautifully enhancing the effects of the other."

CONCLUSION

To wrap up, the research above provides detailed information regarding the benefits of mindfulness and transcendental meditation by supplementing data from various scientific studies and meta-analyses covering thousands of study subjects. However, the majority of scientific research and studies conducted on both the techniques have poor methodologies and vaguely defined definitions. The research culminates with the significance of both the techniques as two important stages of yoga.
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