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Research on Meditation

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a popularized form of yogic meditation in which meditators concentrate on a word or phrase (mantra), rather than breathing as described by Fast (previous page). TM was practiced by close to a million people in the United States during the mid-70s and attracted scientific attention. Early studies indicated beneficial stress-reducing effects.

What were some research findings about TM?

Follow-up studies produced a series of negative findings. Several studies in the 1970s looked for changes in the stress chemicals, catecholamines, during and after meditation. The researchers found no difference between people who were practicing TM and those who were merely relaxing. Holmes (1984) reached similar conclusions. He reviewed all the experimental research on meditation and found no evidence meditation produces biological effects different from ordinary rest or sleep.

Researchers at Maharishi University (a private institution later renamed the Maharishi University of Management, owned by the TM organization) hotly contested this conclusion. Their own research showed TM to be uniquely effective at raising grades of students, preventing prisoners from committing crimes again when released from prison, ending addiction, and increasing feelings of happiness and well-being, not to mention its spiritual benefits.

What was Maupin's research?

Maupin (in Tart, 1973) did research to find out if college students could be instructed rapidly in a form of "Zen meditation" using the concentration-on-breathing method. During daily 45-minute sessions over a 2- week period, 16 of 28 subjects had significant meditation-related experiences. Maupin put them into five categories, from least to most responsive to meditation.

Type A. The subject experiences dizziness, somewhat unpleasant, and retreats from the task of concentrating. (8 reports)

Type B. Subjects feel calm and relaxed, although complete concentration may not have been sustained. (13 reports)

Type C. Pleasant body sensations occur, some rather strange, such as vibrating, "waves," feelings of being suspended. (11 reports)

Type D. The experience of breathing is exaggerated; belly movements may seem larger, the subject feels "filled with air," concentration seems effortless. (9 reports)

Type E. A lucid state of "nonstriving" consciousness is attained; the subject feels a calmly detached view of thoughts and feelings that happen to emerge. (6 reports) (Maupin, 1969, Tart, 1973, p.191)

How would an accomplished meditator probably regard Type E?

Beginning meditators had many different experiences with relatively little practice. However, even the most profound experience listed above (Type E) is described as a beginning level of meditative experience by expert meditators, who may spend 20 years or more practicing meditation every day.

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