They found that the participants' ratings of psychological well-being significantly increased following the meditation intervention in comparison to SR, indicating an enhancement in positive emotional states and decreased stress.
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Similarly, in Mackenzie et al. The intervention and control participants completed a battery of questionnaires before and immediately after the 4-week training program that assesses the emotional and overall well-being. Mackenzie et al.
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Similar findings have been consistently reported dozens of times in previous research where Mindfulness meditation was typically practiced for an 8-week period e. Furthermore, several Yoga practices that emphasize relaxation techniques e. Just as in the case of Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation, the ability of these types of Yoga practices to induce relaxation and relieve stress has been found in previous studies and extensively discussed in the scientific literature [ — ].
As reviewed in Britton et al. As mentioned, tonic alertness is associated with neural activity in the dACC, DLPFC, the anterior insula, the inferior parietal lobule, the thalamus, and the brain stem [ 34 , 63 , 64 ]. In a study that demonstrated tonic alertness in both Vipassana and Shamatha, Manna et al.
Both groups of participants performed 3 experimental blocks inside the fMRI scanner, each of which began with a 3-minute rest condition and was followed by 6 minutes of Shamatha meditation where they focused on their breathing, and 6 minutes of Vipassana meditation.
They found stronger BOLD activation in brain areas related to tonic alertness in highly experienced meditators monks that performed both Shamatha and Vipassana, and in novices that performed Vipassana meditation. Specifically, Manna et al. On the other hand, for the novice meditators, Shamatha meditation did not show an increased BOLD signal that is related to tonic alertness, possibly due to insufficient expertise with this practice, but Vipassana meditation led to increased activation in the left dACC, indicative of enhanced tonic alertness.
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Allen et al. As reviewed by Britton et al. Additional evidence that Theravada types of meditation lead to tonic alertness was obtained by several recent studies that have shown that Mindfulness e. Furthermore, recent studies have investigated the influence of meditation on tonic alertness using behavioural tasks that are specifically designed to measure alerting attention.
In Jha et al. Moreover, the target is preceded by one of three cue conditions: a valid cue, a spatially neutral central cue, a spatially neutral double cue, or a no cue condition. Importantly, the efficiency of alerting attentional processes is assessed by the ANT as the reaction-time RT difference between the double cue and the no cue conditions. Jha et al. The second group practiced Shamatha for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks, and a third group did not undergo any meditation training.
They compared tonic alertness at the beginning of the study Time-point 1 and following the intervention retreat or meditation program: Time-point 2. Moreover, the increase in alerting efficiency was driven by a decrease in RT to no cue trials and suggests that the meditators became more vigilant and their tonic alertness increased. In MacLean et al. They recruited 29 participants [ ] with an average experience of hours of meditation, who participated in a 3-month Shamatha meditation retreat that consisted of 5 hours of meditation training per day.
The sustained attention test was administered before, at the midpoint, and after the meditation retreat. MacLean et al. Hence, the findings of studies that investigated tonic alertness through behavioural measures complement neuroimaging studies, and together they demonstrate that certain Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation can increase the activity in neural areas related to tonic alertness, which in turn leads to improvements on tasks that require tonic alertness.
The recent findings of tonic alertness during Theravada and Mahayana meditation are important because they complement the picture portrayed by Buddhist scriptures, which describe meditation as a practice that generates both a relaxed and an alert state of mind [ 23 , 26 ].
Moreover, our review is consistent with previous findings and reviews that consistently demonstrated a relaxation response during Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation [ 10 — 13 ]. As opposed to Theravada meditative practices, Vajrayana practice does not cultivate relaxation but an arousal response. Furthermore, empirical evidence also suggests that arousal is generated during specific meditative practices. For instance, the generation of arousal during meditation has been observed in Hindu Tantric practices e.
In order to investigate the autonomic activation that is generated during these types of practices, Amihai and Kozhevnikov [ 27 ] compared the EKG activity of experienced Theravada and Vajrayana meditators with 8 and 7.
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The Vajrayana practices studied were Deity and Rig-pa practices. In this study, the participants performed a minute rest condition that was followed by Shamatha and Vipassana meditation 15 minutes each for the Theravada meditators, and Deity and Rig-pa meditation 15 minutes each for the Vajrayana meditators. Moreover, the participants' EKG activity was monitored throughout the experiment. On the other hand, Vajrayana practices produced increased arousal, as indexed by decreased HF both Deity and Rig-pa during the meditation relative to the control condition.
Moreover, Kozhevnikov et al. As mentioned, the dramatic improvements on visual tasks immediately following a stimulus or activity are indicative of enhanced phasic alertness. Hence, the authors hypothesized that improved performance on the visual tests immediately after the meditation practice would indicate that phasic alertness occurred during the meditation and that such an improvement would be observed following Vajrayana practices.
In line with this hypothesis, the experimental results showed that only Vajrayana practices led to a large and immediate increase in performance on these tasks, while Theravada meditators did not demonstrate any improvement in their performance following the practice. Hence, these studies demonstrate that Vajrayana practices and not Theravada types of meditation, lead to an arousal response and phasic alertness. Additional studies that demonstrated that Vajrayana practices can increase the activity of the sympathetic system and generate an arousal response were conducted on practitioners of g-Tummo meditation, which, as mentioned, is associated with intense sensations of bodily heat in the spine.
Interestingly, Benson himself reported a phenomenon that was unclear to him at the time, that two of the three g-Tummo practitioners that participated in his study exhibited an activation of the sympathetic system as evidenced by increased metabolism and oxygen consumption [ ], which is consistent with arousal and not a relaxation response.
Moreover, in Kozhevnikov et al.
Nonshivering generation of body heat—thermogenesis—is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system [ 55 , 56 ]. In humans, thermogenesis is caused mainly by brown adipose tissue, which shunts the energy obtained from the oxidation of free fatty acids into heat, which is then distributed throughout the body via the adipose tissue vasculature [ 56 ]. Importantly, brown adipose tissue activity in humans is stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system [ 55 ]. Specifically, an increased discharge from supraspinal sympathetic premotor pathways results in the sympathetic activation of brown adipose tissue, which leads to thermogenesis [ 56 ].
By attaching a small thermometer in the armpit of highly experienced g-Tummo meditators 6—32 years of experience , Kozhevnikov et al. Notably, the thermogenesis induced during g-Tummo was so substantial that it raised the body temperature of the meditators above the normal body temperature range and into the range of slight or moderate fever up to It should be noted that increases in the peripheral body meditators' fingers and toes temperature during g-Tummo were also found in Benson et al. In contrast, Benson et al. In addition to Vajrayana practices, several studies conducted on Hindu Tantric meditators demonstrated increased arousal.
In an early but influential and often cited study, Corby et al. They recruited 30 experienced Ananda Marga meditators an average of 2.
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The GSR and heart rates were recorded during 3 experimental conditions: 1 a relaxation control; 2 an Ananda Marga meditation preparation condition, which involves paying attention to the breath while ignoring external stimuli; 3 Ananda Marga meditation, where the subjects were told to ignore external stimuli, pay attention to their breathing, and silently repeat a two-syllable word in phase with their breathing. In the control group, the participants chose their own word, while meditators used a personal mantra that they received from their meditation instructor.
The results of Corby et al. Both of these measures indicated that sympathetic activation occurred during the meditation, demonstrating an arousal response. Additionally, Telles and Desiraju [ ] measured heart rate and GSR during a different type of meditation which requires concentration on a light source while contemplating a universal force.
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They recruited 18 experienced meditators with an average of The findings of Telles and Desiraju [ ] demonstrated that although there were no significant changes in GSR, an increase in heart rate occurred during the meditation condition, but not during the nonmeditation condition, relative to the baseline heart rate obtained prior to each condition.
Hence, the findings of this study are indicative of increased sympathetic activation and an arousal response during this type of meditation. To conclude this section, as opposed to Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation that demonstrate enhanced relaxation, investigations of Vajrayana and certain Hindu Tantric practices demonstrated increased arousal. The diametrically opposed findings, of relaxation in Theravada and Mahayana practices, and arousal in Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric practices point to the opposite conclusion.
Namely, in order to understand the psychophysiological aspects of meditation, one needs to carefully examine its cultural and religious sources. The aim of this review was to examine the scientific studies of meditation while focusing on the unique influences that different types of meditative traditions have on the activation of the autonomic system and attentional mechanisms. We have presented evidence, summarized in Table 1 , which shows that Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation lead to increased parasympathetic activation that underlies a relaxation response, while Vajrayana and certain Hindu Tantric practices elicit enhanced sympathetic activation that underlies a robust arousal response.
In addition, we outlined the cultural and philosophical motivations that have influenced these meditative practices. While Theravada and Mahayana scriptures emphasize that the purpose of meditation is to cultivate tranquility along with mental stability, Vajrayana scriptures describe practices whose purpose is to elicit states of enhanced arousal. It is important to stress that the influences of Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric practices on physiology and behavior are only beginning to receive their due attention from the scientific community, and the long-term impact of Tantric practices is still not well understood.
Hence, while it has been demonstrated that Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric practices can lead to immediate physiological changes that are coupled with improved cognitive performance, future studies should investigate the long-term cognitive and physiological changes that occur as a consequence of such practices. As previously mentioned, in contrast to Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric practices, many scientific studies have been conducted on Theravada or Mahayana types of meditation, and there is evidence that they can lead to long-term improvements on attentional tasks e.
It is thus prudent that similar long-term studies would be conducted on Tantric practices. Related to the above, another important research direction that has yet to be explored is the long-term influence of Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric meditation on stress and well-being. As mentioned, the finding that Theravada types of meditation produce relaxation has resulted in their incorporation into clinical practices as stress reduction techniques e. Conversely, the finding that Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric types of meditation produce arousal suggests that they could be more problematic for people who are under a high level of stress.
However, it is also likely that as they gain additional meditation experience, Vajrayana and Hindu Tantric meditators develop unique strategies to help them cope with stressful situations that could arise during their meditation practice, for instance, by transforming their negative emotions into the positive emotional states of the visualized Deity. Such possibilities should be examined in future studies.
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